This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Managing Your Metabolism. It describes how moving from reactive to proactive is a positive brain-body exercise that will help you do things right, do things better, and foster more constructive relationships.
Imagine you won that big lottery. No more worries about making money, no need to get up when the alarm clock tell you to do so, what would you do with your life? Not so much in terms of your hobbies and interests, but how would you structure your day? Would you continue to get up early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise or would find yourself rising later and later and enjoying the evening nightlife instead?
When you look at this ultimate situation where you have complete control over the coming and goings of your day, you get to see what your metabolism is really like; how you would be ideally suited for a 24-hour cycle. Some people are morning-oriented. They are naturally able to wake up in the morning, while others are night owls who find themselves doing their best work as the sun goes down and as the evening moves on.
So, who are you? How do you operate? What you do with your time reveals a lot about you and becomes the beginning of an understanding of your metabolism – how you operate as a person.
We can’t all win that lottery. Most of us have to go back to work some way or other, but when it comes to getting things done, managing time, seeking out a balance in life, it’s essential to look at your metabolism. This is your vehicle that carries you through time; your brain, your body, your “self”. But it is so often overlooked. You can make it work far more effectively once you understand it.
The Metabolic Blood Sugar Level Chart
This wavy rollercoaster line that heads in an overall downward direction throughout the day, represents, in simplified form, your metabolic blood sugar level. Your personal metabolic blood sugar level will vary based on how well you slept the night before, as well as what you ate for breakfast.
Your Golden Hour: 9:00-10:30
Most people, on a busy workday, have a breakfast that consists of coffee and some carbs, such as toast, bagels, muffins or cereal. These tend to burn off extremely quickly. So the blood sugar level moves through the day with its peak around 9:00 a.m. That is the best time of day for getting things done: 9:00 a.m.
This high blood sugar level period is a result of a confluence of three significant activities:
- Your breakfast
- The presence of morning sunlight – Sunlight is a natural stimulant that removes the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin from your bloodstream. These three stimulants, working together, make the period between 9:00 and 10:30 the most productive period of the day, at least for the 8 out of every 10 adults who are morning oriented. It’s when most of us are at our intellectual and attentive best. For learning, strategy, research focus, sales… whatever it is that you do, that’s the best time to do it.
- The energy and mental shift expended in getting to work
Unfortunately, it is often overlooked, and we spend that time doing more mundane things like checking and returning email.
The 10:30 Crash
For many people, the first blood sugar crash of the day happens around 10:30 p.m. This is when the coffee and the carbs have been completely used up, and you hit a blood sugar low. Traditionally people take a break mid-morning to get more coffee and more carbohydrates to get themselves through to lunchtime. So the rollercoaster continues. We buoy ourselves back up wit this energy until noon.
The Tragedy of Over-Lunching
Noon is a difficult time because if you are already hungry by lunchtime, you will fall into the trap of overeating, which is something that fast food restaurants exploit hugely. It’s a hunger urge brought on because people do not eat in a regular and controlled fashion. If you fast between 10:30 and 12:00, the hunger urge will make you want to eat more than you need to at noon.
Moving from the 10:30 crash to noontime, the ideal approach is to graze, to take food in in a more regular fashion. This means grazing on healthy foods not junk. The idea here is to keep hunger at bay by satisfying your body’s nutritional needs like stoking coal onto a fire: smaller more regular amounts work much better.
The 2:30 Crash
This mid-afternoon time is a double threat to productivity. First, we tend to echo the deep sleep period of 12 hours earlier (called the ultradian rhythm), and there is a tendency to lose focus and abilities somewhat at this time. In some countries, this was culturally accepted as time for a siesta. It’s an energy trough initiated by the ultradian echo and then compounded by the demands on the digestive system brought on by overeating at lunchtime.
These troughs can be substantially lessened in their depth and severity. One of the easiest ways to do this is to change your choice of foods to include a morning protein source. There are many types of food to choose from:
- Protein smoothies
- Dairy products
An intake of protein in the morning will allow your blood sugar to stay much more level throughout the entire day, even long after breakfast has been digested.
What about Taking a Nap?
Is it OK or even advisable to take a nap in the afternoon? For the North American and growing globalized working communities, a nap is not looked upon favorably as an ideal use of company time, even though I would venture to disagree, assuming the napper returns to a more alert state immediately afterward.
It’s ironic that being stuck in a useless meeting where 20 minutes or more are wasted, is seen as a normal part of doing business. But spending those same 20 minutes having a nap may be career-limiting.
Ultimately, if you are a natural napper, you would know this by now. It will already have inserted itself into your daily ritual. If napping does not come naturally to you, then it’s not worth pursuing, because the opposite reaction can occur. A nap can rob you of part of your natural sleep cycle later that night, which can rob you of quality sleep and make the following day less productive.
What if You are a Night Owl?
The proportion of night owls in any group of people anywhere in the world is generally 20% or two out for every ten people. For this group of people, their circadian wiring extends into the evening and the night.
If you know this about yourself, perhaps you can find or create a line of work that matches it. That’s not so farfetched. This is an age where work-life integration is a reality. It may be very possible to negotiate a job starts at 2:00 p.m. and ends at 10:00 p.m. It might also be very useful.
When I graduated and joined the workforce, I joined a temp agency who would send me to work at banks. I would start my “day” at 5:00, taking over the typing and number crunching that a 9-to-5 staffer could not finish. When they arrived at work the next morning, the work was ready and waiting for them. Although you could argue that this work could have been done by a person halfway around the world for less, the fact was, they hired me because I immediately understood the job, and was physically onsite to talk to the stakeholders face-to-face before they left for the day.
There are many types of work that require people to be available on a different schedule. It might be up to you to find them and make your pitch.
However, this might not be possible, at least for the moment. So if you are a night owl stuck in a day job, what can you do to compensate? Negotiate with your “morning person” colleagues and managers to schedule morning meetings a little bit later in the morning or perhaps opt out of the meeting and read the summary instead. Or schedule the meetings in the afternoon, after making sure the meeting room can contribute to productivity, as we described in the previous podcast.
Why is This Nutrition Lecture Important?
The reason for talking about nutrition here is because this is the fuel for your metabolism – your body and your brain. You cannot expect this device to work at a constant level of standard energy throughout the day. Blood sugar ups-and-downs are a fact of life. Knowing how to work with them is an amazingly powerful way to ensure you get the right things done at the right time.
If the morning is the best time for you, then that should be the time for you to assign yourself your most important tasks of the day. If the afternoon doldrums are particularly hard for you, then assign the less challenging work, such as returning emails, or if you have meetings at that time, make sure you can compensate for the doldrums with:
- Natural light
- Good ventilation
So What About Exercise?
For people working a traditional workday or wok week, it can be very hard to find time to put exercise into your day. Many people think that exercise must be formalized in terms of going to the gym and working out. This again is a personal thing. If you are someone who can exercise at 5:00 a.m., or 5:00 p.m., if that feels natural and good for you then go for it. But if it doesn’t, then don’t, because that‘s not the right form of exercise for you.
Instead, figure out what things do work for you. Do you like to cycle? Or walk briskly? When you connect your wireless headphones or earbuds to Spotify where you can download cardio-friendly music, it becomes very easy and very motivating to take five or ten minutes to squeeze some exercise into your day.
There’s always a way that will fit you. Take that lottery-winning vacation dream, observe how your body would prefer to work if there were no rules, look upon the way you like to do things and identify what really works for you, your metabolism and the context of your life.
This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Managing Your Metabolism. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html