There are many definitions of different cycles. The main definition for your purpose is: ”a course or series of events or operations that recur regularly and usually lead back to the starting point. Everything and everyone have their own natural cycles. You can also talk about natural rhytms. The longer the cycle, the less people are aware of its existence. The lengths of the cycles have lots of variation. One of the shortest cycles is breathing. Exhaling and Inhaling is a whole cycle. The longest ones can take decades like longer term debt cycles. There is a lot to say about cycles. And right now, we will cover only basics in terms of personal life, expertise, and other things, through the viewpoint of individuals. In this text, we are concentrating mostly on the daily cycle.
A typical cycle has it´s ups and downs
You can see a one normal sine wave cycle in the picture below. The purpose is not to teach mathematics or physics. The idea is to look at the wave cycle and think about what it really means in terms of individuals. Here is the link for the picture.
What you really see is that every cycle has its starting point and the end point. In reality, all the cycles are not the same. Only principles stay the same. The length and the depth of the upper part and the lower part of the cycles vary. For example, focus on the day´s tasks has variation during the day. The wave in the picture is not a perfect description for it. What really happens is that after a good sleep, you probably still function below the mid point of our ability to focus. Without sleeping you would definitely be in the bottom of the focus cycle. There is no way of maintaining the highest focus throughout the day. If you try to do it too long, the fall from the top to the bottom will be faster and the recovery will be longer. The bottom of the cycle will also be deeper. The most important thing about performance cycles is that you need to maximize the usefulness and the lenght of the upper part of the cycle and minimize the damage done in the bottom of the cycle and it´s length. There are certain limits you cannot overcome and we need to be aware of them.
The upper part of the cycle is for the most important things, sleep is the exception
The length of the upper part of the cycle matters, but you cannot keep ourselves in the upper part of the cycle forever, no matter what you are talking about. Going too far in lengthening the upper part of the cycle will create the worst damage. And the bottom part of the cycle will be much longer. Practicing will make the upper part longer and the lower part shorter. Temporarily, you can stay longer in the upper part of the cycle. For example, you can work overtime for days or sometimes even longer. Eventually, the quality of the work will be so poor that you have already moved to the lower part of the cycle. You may have not noticed it and there is the danger of going too far. The result of this is lots of damage.
You need to maximize the good things during the upper part of the cycle. You should reserve the times for the most important things for it. The most important tasks at work should be done during the highest part of the cycle. The biggest decisions should be made only during this time. Buying a house or other big expenses should be considered then. Practicing a new skill should also be done only during the best hours of the day. The right nerve fiber chains need to be strengthened. The probability of this happening is the greatest during the best hours. If it is not possible during these hours, you should improve our skills during the next best hours like early in the evening after having a break from work.
The lower part of the cycle is for the less important things and recovery
You need to minimize the bad things during the lower part of the cycle. The lower part of the cycle is also for the less important things. You shouldn´t start anything important after utilizing the full force of the upper part of the cycle. Eventually, you will move to lower part of the performance cycle. You have some less important things to do during the day, or you are lying to yourself. When the ability to perform have diminished, you can start doing things that do not really matter, like watching TV, surfing the web, or checking our mails. You should do these things when we are not efficient. For most of us, this means during the last working hours or the evenings.
The lower part of the performance cycle should also be used for recovering from the performance of the upper part of the cycle. It is not the question of ”should you do it?” You must do it. The upper part of the cycle has a limited length. It depends on your mental and physical abilities, but even the people with the greatest abilities have their limits. Ninety minutes of full concentration is the natural limit. Then we need to have a break. It should be used for recovery This ninety minute cycle is called the Basic Rest-Activity Cycle (BRAC). People with greatest abilities need shorter breaks. Ability to recover faster is one of the clearest signs of an expert in any physical field. This works well with mental expertise too, but it is harder to notice.
The best way to recover is sleeping. You cannot always do that, but you should at least aim for it. Top performers sleep a lot. Especially, in any physical expertise like in sports. They need to sleep more to recover after their work outs. Most of the top performers in physical fields take naps and sleep longer hours than normal people. It is a necessity for them. Sleeping enough is good for you. Whether you are an expert in physical or mental field. It is one of the less well used tool for achieving better performance. Some other ways of recovering is getting your glucose level optimal by eating a correct amount of good nutrition and getting some fresh air during the day while doing some kind of exercise. Latter may not be possible, but the former is for everyone.
Planning your days by optimizing your daily cycles
This plan is for the people with normal daily cycles. Sleeping well and enough should be our top priorities. It is the best way to recover after yesterday´s loads. It is actually the only way. It boostsy our performance during the next day. You cannot be a top performer right after you have woken up. Your most productive hours are probably 2-4 hours after that. Before getting into the most productive hours, you should prepare yourself for top performance and you can also do some less important things, whatever they may be. You should use your most productive hours for the most important things. And you should have at least a small break or a lunch after ninety minutes of working with high intensity and focus. Then you can repeat the high intensity work for another 90 minutes.
Some people can still manage the high intensity work for a while after another break. For most people, the daily limit of productive high intensity work is only three hours. Most people do not really believe this and they think they can work longer with the same intensity and focus, but it is a lie people tell themselves. They can still work by doing the less important things, but the intensity won´t be the same. It is not so important what you do after working as long as it is not destroying the recovery period. The optimal way is to accelerate the recovery by exercising, relaxing and sleeping enough. Doing things that feel great is the best way after sleeping to recover from the working day´s efforts.