Why you experience the 3pm slump — how to unlock your energy cycles

How to track your energy cycles and structure your calendar to get 15 hours of genuinely productive work done in 7.


We all feel ups and downs throughout the day, but like most people, you probably pay little attention to what you work on and when you do the work. For example, you might do your meetings in the first half of the day and then do your emails, etc at the end of the day — because that’s what everyone else does.

Understanding your energy cycles and the impact they have on your mood and clarity of thought can actually help you be more productive and work fewer hours each day.

But what are energy cycles and how can you measure them?

Measuring your energy cycles

Put simply, your energy cycles are the points throughout the day when you feel “up” (happy, positive, motivated) and when you feel “down” (unhappy, negative, less motivated).

The best way to determine your energy cycles is to chart them for a few days, which is really easy to do. Here’s how:

  1. Set a reminder in your calendar every hour during work (such as 9am, 10am, 11am…. 4pm, 5pm) to write down how you feel on a scale of 1 (down) to 10 (up)
  2. Do this every day for 3 days
  3. After 3 days, create a basic chart in Excel to show your trends over the last few days

Here’s my energy chart from the last 3 days (yes, I tracked my energy levels for this blog post). Each color represents a single day of tracking my energy levels on a scale of 1–10:

In the chart above you can clearly see that my energy levels are highest between 9am and 11am, as well as 4pm and 5pm. They are the lowest between 12pm and 3pm.

What you can then do is “map out” the times throughout the day when you’re “up” and when you’re “down”, as I’ve done below:

The trick now is to schedule the right kinds of activities throughout the day.

Scheduling activities based on your energy levels

If you work in an office then you probably have two kinds of activities:

  1. Those that involve people (meetings, phone calls, presentations)
  2. Those that don’t (email, planning, writing)

The good news is that it’s really easy to schedule activities to maximize your energy cycles. Quite simply, you schedule the “people tasks” when you’re “up” and the “non-people tasks” when you’re “down”.

The logic behind this is simple — when you’re “up” you’ll be in a better mood, will feel like talking and the energy will be apparent in everything you do. Those are the times when you want people to see you and be around you.

On the other hand, when you’re “down” your mood takes a hit. You feel less motivated and as a result should try to avoid “people tasks”. When you’re “down” it’s best to focus on tasks that involve just you. These are typically responding to emails, planning your day and doing any writing that needs to be done, such as putting together presentations.

Boosting your “up” time

What if you track your energy cycles for a few days and your results show that you have a lot of “down” time? How can you improve your results so you have more “up” time and therefore improve your mood and motivation?

The best trick is to exercise at a time just before your energy levels start to drop. Referring back to my chart, the ideal time for me to exercise is either 10:30am or 5:30pm:

Exercise releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine — it’s commonly called “the pleasure hormone”. That dopamine will not only curb any further drop in your energy levels, but it will shoot them right back up to where they need to be (a 7 or more) for you to get back to being “up”.

What kind of exercise should you do and how long should you exercise for? The answer depends on when you work out and where. Generally at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise (walking, riding a bike, lifting weights) will do the trick and get enough dopamine released to get you back on track.

Restructuring your calendar

The final step to bring everything together and take advantage of your energy levels is to look at how your days are laid out in your calendar.

In a perfect world you’d move your “people tasks” to the times of the day when you’re “up” and your “non-people tasks” to the times when you’re “down”, but that’s not always possible. If you work for someone else, then move as many of the recurring events around as you can.

If you have regular big meetings scheduled right in the middle of some “down” time, then ask your boss or the other attendees if you can move them a few hours back or forward. It can’t hurt to ask, right?

Once you’ve restructured your calendar it’s time to think about applying the principles of energy levels to the other areas of your life outside of work.

What about time outside of work?

Now that you’ve optimized your calendar to take advantage of your energy cycles at work, why not do the same at home?

The best way to start is to track your energy cycles beyond work hours, from when you wake up until when you go to sleep for 3 days. As you did at work, determine when you’re “up” and when you’re “down” and try to do the “people tasks” (sounds a little harsh, but this would be the time you spend with your family, friends, etc) when your energy levels are high and the “non-people tasks” (cooking, gardening, reading, etc) when your energy levels and mood are low.

Reassess every 90 days

Finally, reassess your energy cycles every 90 days or so. Depending on your job, home situation, etc, they can and will change. Just repeat the same 3-day tracking process explained above and if you see they’ve changed you’ll need to adjust your calendar to reflect the new “up” and “down” periods throughout the day.

Key take-aways:

  • The most successful people organize their day around their energy cycles
  • Do “people tasks” when you’re “up” (in a good mood and feeling happy)
  • Do “non-people tasks” when you’re “down (low energy, feeling lack of motivation)
  • Start by utilizing your energy cycles to be more productive at work, but then use them outside of work too

Get my new book “SANE: How To Build Your Business Rapidly Without Going Insane” at http://www.dontgoinsane.com 📚