Match time, tasks and natural rhythm to thrive.

alert daily rhythm task matching task types time management May 21, 2024
Daily rhythm

What do the following people have in common?

  • The famous artist who works in their studio from 9am to 5pm even if no paint is applied to a canvas.
  • The composer who starts work at 1am and does all their correspondence in bed.
  • The writer who goes to a shed in the garden when the kids are at school, for six hours every weekday for two years.
  • The leading investment strategist who makes all his key decisions in the morning but has no meetings, swims for two hours every lunch time and actions all his decisions by 5.30 every evening.

They have learnt their personal relationship to time-and-task. Time and task, not as separate things but as a combined pair where they bring time and the task together in ways they personally found most effective. They do not do ‘time management’.

The secret behind their approach, is to recognise two important truths and line them up:

  1. We are cyclic creatures, alert and energised for some part of the 24 hour day and recovering for the rest of it.
  2. We have tasks for which it’s essential that we are alert in a particular way, and for which we need to coordinate with other people, but this is not all the time.

Sometimes it takes insightful feedback to show us what we really need and how to best use our waking hours. To get help with a permanent health setback that makes self-management a survival skill. To write into the early hours, only to lose track of quality and destroy most of the manuscript the next day. To notice how simply walking the dog evokes the insight which eluded us when we were battering at a tangled issue. To learn that our afternoon conversations seem to be more creative than the morning’s, when we’re blind to everything except getting things done fast.

To get fired because ‘the chemistry’s wrong’.

The firm’s culture may not be right.

Although we each have an optimal pattern for doing different kinds of task, organisations over time lock in a ‘way we do things here’ (culture), that it’s assumed everyone likes. If you grow, for example because you become less interested in standard procedures and more interested in innovating for clients or developing new offerings, the firm can act in subtle and not so subtle ways, to bring you back into line. Constantly doing something visible, to be seen to be doing something, gets in the way of doing the right less-visible thing. That’s why some of my top clients leave the office for a ‘meeting’, just to sit alone in the park.

The cost of this systemic naivety can be huge to both the ‘recalcitrant’ individual and the firm.

Investigate your relationship to tasks.

So how can you avoid this clash, especially when the stakes are high, as they are for experienced partners? The answer is not just ‘time management’ though that’s helpful in some cases. There are some useful aspects of our relationship to tasks that are worth opening out and working with.

  • First is your natural cycle and how it suits different aspects of your work. While it’s normal to be less alert after lunch and late in the evening, for some people the evening is when they get a second wind, without the distractions of the office environment. When are you quickest and most analytical; when are you reflective and receptive to slowly cooking a tricky task?
  • Next is to understand task types and how you respond to them. For some of my clients, there’s a big difference between the tasks that demand their unique accurate, high level, factual knowledge and expertise, and those that require close involvement with less experienced colleagues or collaborators from other fields. Recovery is a task that is necessary to offset effort and requires equal design and skill. Designing a process requires a different mindset from executing it.
  • Then there is the context. What’s possible? In some offices there’s constant music, people talk loudly to each other across the room and there’s a vibrant atmosphere of excited creativity. The noise stimulates the task. In others everything is silent, and all the office doors are closed. Communication between adjacent offices is by email. People’s need for isolated concentration is respected.

Which is right for you and when? Do things sometime get so frustrating that you do as one of my clients did? She booked a return interstate flight to a ‘marketing meeting’ so that she could work on a massive proposal for 12 hours with no distractions.  Some tasks require that much clean, uninterrupted time and the environment that supports your thought process.

Rhythm and change

This all matters more when you’ve changed something important about your work. The change can be intrinsic to the work, such as redesigning a core process. A new rhythm can emerge because you have changed simply because your experience has brought you to a new career threshold. In a new phase, writing about your work may more important than doing it, and will underpin the next stage of the firm’s growth. The task, the rhythm for doing it, and the environment conducive to effectiveness can all change.

When my clients learn to see their task rhythm in a different light and set themselves up properly to match their most effective times for their core tasks, I see a new light in their eyes. Work becomes fun in a more mature way, and they learn to relish the paradox - that you can be more effective when you make the big tasks easier, not harder.

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.