Our brains, unlike machines, don’t perform equally well at all times. Our physical responses to the events of the day are not consistent at all times. Intuitively, you are probably aware that you have a dip in concentration after eating. But our neurological responses fluctuate much more than just in a post-lunch slump.
How can we schedule work to leverage maximize brain efficiency?
Schedule high-stress tasks in the morning
Evidence suggests that if you are not naturally a morning type, it is best not to try to force yourself to be one. Shifting your sleep pattern does not necessarily result in better performance if it is not part of your natural rhythm, according to a BBC.com feature.
However, the morning is still a very important part of the day, a study of Japanese workers has found that we respond better to stressful events in the morning. The study found that workers’ cortisol levels were significantly increased after an early stress test, but not after a one late in the day.
“Cortisol plays an important role for protecting our body,” says Yujiro Yamanaka, a professor from Hokkaido University in Japan. “Cortisol is the main hormone involved in the fight-or-flight response.”
Find your afternoon peak
Being a morning or evening person is influenced by a lot of things: age, sex, social and environmental factors. Our bodies prepare us for the stresses of the day shortly after waking up – so while you have this chemical advantage, it is best to make the most of it.
However, for some tasks it takes our bodies a while to get up to speed. Performance in simple tasks like mental arithmetic correlate with the body’s core temperature – the higher the temperature, the better the performance.
Be aware of your sleep cycle
For more complex tasks, however, the best time of day is much more dependent on whether you are a morning or an evening person. What’s most important is isolating yourself from distractions – and it’s best to do this in a way that suits your sleep cycle.
It’s safe to say that stressful work situations like presentations or dealing with conflict should be scheduled earlier in your day, giving you the best opportunity to settle back down to work afterwards. This gives you time to focus on more solitary tasks that require mental focus later in the day, but allow yourself a bit of flexibility depending on whether you know yourself to be a morning or evening person.