Scheduling through Circadian Rhythms for Optimal Productivity

Every day after my baby lies down for his afternoon nap, I get to go work on my dissertation. That has not been working out at all. In theory, it kind of works. 5 hours of baby time, 5 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep and plenty of time left over to go to the gym, waste time online, and otherwise recharge. But those hours are not experienced in equal ways.

Current (ideal) Schedule:

7am – 12pm: Childcare (including running errands). Spouse helping on and off and may take the baby out for up to 2 hours in this time frame.

12pm – 5pm: Work. Baby naps until about 2pm. Then spouse watches baby until dinner time. I am lethargic and unproductive until about 2:30 pm-3:00 pm each afternoon.  Eat all the sugar.

5pm – 7pm: Family time and bedtime routine for baby.

7pm – 11pm: Personal time. While I feel pretty tired and lazy, I usually go for a run around 7:30 pm. By the time I come home and shower, I just want to watch a video or play games on my phone until lights out.

11pm – 7am: Sleep. Though, I almost always sleep well past 11.  Whenever the baby’s sleep is compromised from illness, teething, Wonder Weeks, that window of time gets fragmented and I always regret not sleeping earlier or keeping better sleep hygiene.

Trouble shooting…
Aside from tons of blog posts and news articles, there are a few accessible scientific articles detailing circadian rhythms and productivity. This one and this one stood out on Google Scholar so I skimmed them and learned:

The neural processes that control alertness and sleep produce an increased sleep tendency and diminished capacity to  function during the early morning hours (circa 2 to 7 AM) 12 and, to a lesser extent, during a period in the midafternoon (circa noon to 5 PM). This period during the very early morning hours corresponds to the period of minimum core body temperature and high levels of melatonin

FUCKING HELL, of course this is the only time of day when I get to work.

I knew this of course but there isn’t a lot of wiggle room with our schedule. Up until now, I had been trying to eliminate as many decision-making-scenarios as possible between 7am-12pm to avoid ego depletion. This may have helped stave off afternoon exhaustion but ultimately, all that morning activity and natural circadian rhythms will inevitably lead to tiredness. It doesn’t hurt to make mornings as efficient as possible but maybe the real trick is tweaking the afternoon routine.

I have been afraid to tamper with the 12pm-5pm for so long. If I go to the gym earlier in the day, will I make myself too physically tired to work later on? I also tend to “turn off” after dinner as I get closer to bedtime so working from home in the evening is a huge gamble. The question is, will I be more productive substituting 2 hours of evening work for 2 hours of afternoon work? The linked article on shift work for medical physicians suggest one idea: an afternoon nap that aligns with natural circadian rhythms. One side note was that people usually cannot fall asleep between 8-10pm. This makes sense considering this is “prime time” by entertainment industry planners, who have likely done the research to show that mental levels perk up right then.

Experimental Schedule

I am going to follow this experimental schedule for 2 weeks and note how things go.

7am – 12pm: Still childcare (including running errands). Spouse helping on and off and may take the baby out for up to 2 hours in this time frame. Try to eliminate as much mental stress as possible.

12pm – 5pm: Power nap + Work + Gym + shower.  I’m not sure if I’ll work after the nap or go to the gym after the nap. Either way, I will incorporate both nap + gym in this period and squeeze work to 3 hours.

5pm – 7pm: Family time and bedtime routine for baby.

7pm – 9pm: Work from home. I’ll have to be smart about this. It has to be legitimate work  with a clear goal – not just dinking around on my computer.

9pm – 11pm: Personal time. Watch a video or play games on my phone until lights out.

11pm – 7am: Sleep. Though, I almost always sleep well past 11.  Whenever the baby’s sleep is compromised from illness, teething, Wonder Weeks, that window of time gets fragmented and I always regret not sleeping earlier or keeping better sleep hygiene.

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