There are many definitions of different cycles. The main definition for our purposes 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. We 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 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
We 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 we 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, after a good sleep, we are probably still functioning below the mid point of our ability to focus. Without sleeping we would definitely be in the bottom of the focus cycle. There is no way of maintaining the highest focus throughout the day. If we 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 we 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 we 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 we cannot keep ourselves in the upper part of the cycle forever, no matter what we 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, we can stay longer in the upper part of the cycle. For example, we can work overtime for days or sometimes even longer. Eventually, the quality of the work will be so poor that we have already moved to the lower part of the cycle. We may have not noticed it and there is the danger of going too far. The result of this is lots of damage.
We need to maximize the good things during the upper part of the cycle. We 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, we 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
We 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. We shouldn´t start anything important after utilizing the full force of the upper part of the cycle. Eventually, we move to lower part of the performance cycle. All of us have some less important things to do during the day, or we are lying to ourselves. When the ability to perform have diminished, we can start doing things that do not really matter, like watching TV, surfing the web, or checking our mails. We 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 we do it?” We must do it. The upper part of the cycle has a limited length. It depends on our 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. 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. We cannot always do that, but we 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 all of us. Whether we are experts in physical or mental fields. It is one of the less well used tool for achieving better performance. Some other ways of recovering is getting our 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 our days by optimizing our 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 boosts our performance during the next day. Most of us cannot be top performers right after waking up. Our most productive hours are 2-4 hours after that. Before getting into the most productive hours, we should prepare ourselves for top performance and we can also do some less important things, whatever they may be. We should use our most productive hours for the most important things. And we should have at least a small break or a lunch after ninety minutes of working with high intensity and focus. Then we can repeat the high intensity work for another 90 minutes.
Some of us can still manage the high intensity work for a while after another break. For most of us, 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 we are telling ourselves. We can still work by doing the less important things, but the intensity won´t be the same. It is not so important what we 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.