You Can't Power Through Circadian Rhythms

Pay attention to your body's natural rhythms to maximize your productivity. Get-It-Done Guy explains. 

Stever Robbins
2-minute read


You’ll be most productive if you plan your meetings around your biology.

A teaching program I’m part of had our recent kick-off meeting. We started early, and the moderator declared, “We have a very full morning, so we’re going to power through and cover everything.” Then we jumped right in and kept going.

There’s just one problem: We really did keep going. They had served coffee, tea, and water. As will happen after coffee, tea, and water, people began shifting uncomfortably in their seats, waiting for the bio break that never came.

People have rhythms. You may care so much about your content that you wish to deny that people need to hit the washroom an hour after eating. Your denial will not, however, change that reality. People will trickle out of the room, missing a point here and a point there. Far better to declare a 10-minute bio break about an hour after breakfast (expect it to last 15-minutes). Everyone will stay in sync, and the movement will get their brains going again, as well.

This isn’t just about food. Our attention has cycles too. I facilitated a meeting of the 20-person board of an arts organization (one participant called it the best meeting she’d every attended. Of course). After almost exactly 80 minutes, people suddenly got punchy. They started shifting in their seats, making jokes, and going off-topic. As much as I wanted people to pay attention, focus, and be thoughtful, it wasn’t going to happen. Not because we didn’t want it to happen, but because our biology has cycles, no matter how much we wish to pretend otherwise.

Next time you schedule a meeting that runs over an hour, schedule appropriate bathroom breaks and attention breaks. Even though it means less time for the meeting, people will pay closer attention and be able to re-focus their attention after the breaks.

Sleeping clock image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.