8. Circadian Rhythms & Productivity
Show Notes
In this episode, I talk about circadian rhythms and the importance of becoming aware of your body’s natural energy cycles in order to use and support those cycles to enhance your productivity.

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Episode Transcription: 
[00:00:00] Welcome I'm Kristi Backman. This is my podcast, Cultivating Creativity. It's about helping you build your creative life. Giving creatives a way to make space for artistic growth through the insights for the mind of an artist, instructor and art coach about the creative process and living that crazy creative life.

[00:00:27] In this episode, we will talk about circadian rhythms and the importance of becoming aware of your body's natural energy cycles in order to use and support those cycles to enhance your productivity. 

[00:00:39] Approaching this from the big picture, your circadian rhythm is your body's internal clock. Or your energy cycle and it's influenced by several factors. The number one series of factors that impacts this cycle is your sleep, your diet and your activity patterns. So that refers to how much sleep you get when you go to sleep, what you eat, when you eat it. Is that consistent? And then what you do. How early do you get up? How late do you stay up? When do you exercise? Or when are you more active? When are you more sedentary? And starting to look at some of those patterns. For a lot of us, those patterns are reflective of whatever our work schedule and life schedule is. But we have a little bit more control in there then we often take advantage of. 

[00:01:32] Other things that impact your circadian rhythm are the environment. For example, light. Light is one of the biggest impact factors for your circadian rhythms. And that's why people are often so affected when in winter months it gets darker earlier and there's not as much natural light. But what you can do to supplement this is to increase your artificial light. Turning your lights on first thing in the morning will actually help you wake up more. It'll help your brain start to think about being more awake and getting more energized and ready to go for the day. 

[00:02:08] If you're wanting to either energize or relax your body consider the light in your environment. And that is something that can truly help modulate these systems. Temperature is another one. Obviously, sometimes we don't have a whole lot of control over this, but I think we can all relate to when it's kind of chilly and we want to get cozy and relax, as opposed to, if it's warm, we tend to want to be more active, do more things. That being said, when it gets too hot, personally, I don't want to do anything. So, again, some of these things can be personally impacted, but it's something to consider. 

[00:02:45] Another factor is social stimuli. If you're out with friends or if you're doing something social, that's going to keep you awake. That's going to activate you. Now, it's not to say that you may not get tired during this function, but overall, that is stimulating you in a way that your brain, that your body are maintaining an energized status. Also, this applies to physical activity. If you're laying on the couch watching TV, this'll probably make you tired. However, if you're taking a walk, if you're doing some exercise or something that's moving your body, that also energizes your mind. These are some of the things that we can use to help influence our natural rhythms. 

[00:03:27] The circadian rhythm actually coordinates both mental and physical body systems. It impacts how your body's systems work. The alertness of your brain, the focus of your mind. When our body starts to crave food. So creating schedules, and or patterns if we don't want to think about it so rigidly, can be really helpful because the body can start to anticipate things. 

[00:03:51] One way to create more consistency and more energy is to create systems, create patterns. This doesn't have to be a rigid schedule. It doesn't have to be. "I wake up at 7:00 AM every day. I go to bed at 11:30 PM every day." I mean, it doesn't need to look like that. But the more consistent you can be with the times that you wake up, the times that you eat, the times that you go to bed. Your body starts to adjust to that and starts to anticipate that. Which can lead to deeper sleep, more beneficial rest, more energy when you're awake. You can start to see the advantages of this. If you start to create these systems. 

[00:04:30] For some This idea may seem not possible right now. And I understand that. There are times in my life that if you had told me about this,  I'm like, I can't do that right now. My job is all over the place. When I was working at the Art Institute, we were on the quarter system and got new class schedules every 12 weeks. I would have totally different schedules. There were things that I could have done looking back. To create a little bit more stability in my schedule and my patterns, but at that time I wasn't really aware of how beneficial these systems could 

[00:05:04] So I understand if this doesn't feel like it applies to you. That's totally fine. One thing I want you to consider, which we'll touch on a little bit later, is these systems can change and we enter into different seasons in our life. Where we're maybe at different jobs or we're doing different things. We're living in different places. Our lives start to look different, and this may pop up on your radar and become something that would be beneficial down the road. Even if it's not something that you can see really focusing on right now. 

[00:05:35] So looking at the circadian rhythms is a big picture. It's how our whole body energy cycle works. Now looking a little bit deeper, we all have what are called chronotypes, which is a personal circadian rhythm. Like I'm a morning person or I'm a night person. Where people have those types of preferences. And learning to work within them is so beneficial and understanding how your body ideally would like to operate. Chronotypes have three main categories, a morning type an evening type, and what's classified as either neither or intermediate type. And those are people that have their energy more in the middle of the day. 

[00:06:18] There are several specific systems. These systems have been created by different doctors, or groups. Some categories have been around forever. The idea of an early bird or a night owl. There's another system that has a bear, a lion, a wolf, and a dolphin. If you're interested in learning more about some of these specific systems and some of the qualities of each,  in the show notes I have a link to a couple of articles. I found, a really great article on Health Line. And then another great article from Rise, which is a sleep app. Both of them have quizzes, have general information and can help you identify your specific chronotype. Once you have a better idea of what your chronotype is, you can start thinking about when and how to use some of these ideas. It's a more specific application of your circadian rhythm. Like I said, the circadian rhythm is the big picture and the chronotype is how this works for you specifically. 

[00:07:14] Our chronotype is impacted by several factors. First is age. Chronotypes actually do change over time. Naturally. Most children are morning people. And if you're a parent or around small children, you're probably saying, oh, I know. Speaking generally, it's about the teenage years where we cycle out of the morning person phase. And then as adults, we settle into our natural chronotype. However, as we approach midlife to later life. sometimes this shifts again. So, it's something to just tune into as we progress and enter into different phases of our life. 

[00:07:53] Another thing I wanted to talk about is really thinking about how to make it work for you. I realize that schedule is not always a choice. Sometimes it's a necessity. I have been in situations where I had little to no say over what my schedule is and just grateful to have a job. I totally understand that. And you may be able to relate to that. Maybe you're in a situation where you can't modify your schedule. One of the benefits of being post COVID is sometimes you can have a little bit more flexibility in your schedule and how you approach your daily patterns. So, I understand as a preface that this may not be something you have a ton of control over, however, things that we can control are the times around those set features that we can't change. 

[00:08:45] For example, what I mean is if you identify as a morning person, then creating some more productive time may look like getting up earlier. And if you identify more as a night person, perhaps staying up later will allow you some more productive time. This can also be impacted by your family situation. If you have children, if you have others in your household that you might be caring for, or, sharing space with. This can also impact how you work these systems, but it's something to consider. 

[00:09:18] Carve out individual time within some of your stronger energy or productivity cycles. Work with some of these rhythms and patterns to create more energy in general, which honestly, who could not do with some more energy? A lot of what we do makes us tired, makes us feel stressed and this can combat things like anxiety and low energy. And create better overall moods. 

[00:09:45] The key is simply regularity. And again, I'm not saying you have to be strict and set alarms for these things, but having things happen at similar times allows your body to understand that the next phase is coming, and it won't go into say starvation mode, or won't go into exhaustion mode. And so it's really comes down to understanding what your rhythms are and coming up with patterns and rhythms and cycles for your life. 

[00:10:15] Talking more specifically about productivity. I wanted to talk a little bit about types of work. This means, what are you doing? Or what can you do during different times to be productive? We all have different types of work, there's brainless work, like doing dishes. I don't have to be really focused or alert to wash the dishes, just enough that the dishes are getting clean. 

[00:10:39] But, if I'm creating something, if I'm writing something, if I'm creating something new, if I'm brainstorming, I need a different level of mental acuity. I need some focus. I need some mental energy. So, it's thinking about what times some of those things peak and applying our work to the times that fit best within our natural rhythms. 

[00:11:02] I like to break this down into three energies zones, basically the mind, body, and the spirit. That makes a lot of sense, right? Those are the basic systems. So, mind energy is energy focus. This is when you can really focus on details, tackle challenges, problem solve. And really get a ton of focus on something that you're trying to work through. Body energy is physical energy. This has to do with movement, physical dexterity. As an example, working in the studio. If I'm doing some very small detail work, I need to not be physically exhausted. I need some body energy. In order to really get some of the details that I'm wanting. And finally, spirit energy is energy depth. This has to do with creative thinking emotion and some inner focus. This has a different quality of energy. It really allows us to dig a little bit deeper, to think a little bit, to open up. 

[00:12:03] So, we have different periods of the day where we peak with different energy types. While I wouldn't classify myself as a morning person. I have found through trial and error that in the morning, I tend to do best with mind and spirit energy. And so, I'm open. I can create new curriculum, new artwork. And push into those new ideas with a lot of focus. In the afternoons I really start to bring in the physical energy. This is a great time to work in the studio and then in the evenings for me, I tend to be more depleted. I tend to schedule tasks that don't require a lot of thinking or focus. 

[00:12:45] Before I really started to understand body rhythms in this way, I tried to make myself do things that were not comfortable at different times a day. And I was met with failure every time and I would get so frustrated, and I would think I'm just not creative anymore. I can't create new art and it wasn't that it was just that I was doing it at a time that I didn't have the reserves of energy and focus and openness that I needed to do those particular tasks. You already know the answer to this. This is something that you deal with every single day. I mean, you've lived in your body. You just may have never thought about it. 

[00:13:23] So I'm just asking you to start to pay attention. When do you feel the most alert? When do you feel the most open to new ideas? When do you feel the most creative? When do you feel like really doing something physical? Based on the needs of your current schedule you may not to be able to use some of the optimal times, but there will be times that you can, 
[00:13:46] Another idea that goes with this, is what I like to think about as time-blocking. And this is to block out larger blocks of time for specific types of work. For example, if you were to look at one of my weekly schedules, you would see that in the mornings is when I tend to work on idea creation, curriculum development, these podcasts ideas. And then in the afternoons, I tend to continue work. And so, I already have an idea and I just need to keep going. I still need that alertness. And then in the evenings, I do some of those different tasks that we never probably look forward to. And sometimes I combine that with some music, or audio books, cause it doesn't require complete focus. I have found that blocking my time that way and setting tasks within those time periods, that make sense for my energy levels, allow me to be so much more productive. So how could you apply this to yourself? What types of work do you do? And how do you break down? Some of the tasks that you do I recommend kind of blocking it into two or three types of work and thinking about it in those ways. And know that different tasks would fall in those different categories. Keep it simple, but really start to identify. Then as you're working, be open to change and to flexibility of these concepts. 

[00:15:08] This takes a little bit of practice to really tune into our energy. As a society, we have been so conditioned to constantly be productive, nine to five consistent production. That's not how the natural world works. That's not how our bodies work. And you'll find during a regular day that you have times where you're more productive and less productive. And if you can arrange tasks to fit those times and those energy levels overall, you'll see an increase in productivity. So, think about the types of works that you do identify when those energy types peak for you and see if you can align them. 

[00:15:45] Another concept that can help transition into these different zones of work or time blocks. Are different types of ritual. Like creating a night ritual or a morning ritual. And some people don't like the word ritual, that's fine, just call it a routine. But creating a standardized routine is a great way to get your body and your mind to understand what comes next. 

[00:16:11] Another ritual is what I call a creativity ritual. And this is something where, as you enter your studio you have a couple of things that you do that basically tell your body this is what we're doing next. 

[00:16:24] For example I prepare a cup of tea, cup of coffee, depending on the time of day. For the scent I'll turn on a wax smelt, and then I will turn on some music I refer to as spa music (which is just more energetic sound without words). Then once I have those things on, I sit down and mentally I'm prepared. My body is like, okay, I know what we're doing. That's the reason that these rituals can be so helpful. They trigger the response. The body starts to recognize these repeated activities and helps transition you into that next phase. So having some of these small rituals, can be really helpful. What transitions do you have? 

[00:17:05] Think about how this might apply to you and your life and how you can use some of these tools to help you. Really, the key is identifying when your energies are at their peak. And identifying how you can create routines and habits to support those energies and using those in a way that enhance your life. 

[00:17:25] I hope you found this helpful. This is not a new idea, many of us have never taken the time to see how this could be beneficial. Take some time to see what this means for you to increase and support not only your productivity, but your energy levels as well. Find the links to the articles I mentioned in the show notes. And if you enjoyed this episode subscribe to my podcast and leave a review. And follow me on Instagram. Until next time! 


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