The Science of Planning Your Training Day around Energy Highs and Lows


CIRCADIAN RHYTHM“The Ideal Work Schedule, As Defined by Circadian Rhythms,” an article by Christopher M. Barnes in The Harvard Business Review, explores the energy peaks and valleys that most people experience through the course of a day. The author writes that it is important to consider those biological rhythms when planning employees’ work schedules . . .

“Humans have a well-defined internal clock that shapes our energy levels throughout the day: our circadian process, which is often referred to as a circadian rhythm because it tends to be very regular.”

To summarize his points . . .

  • Most people reach their first energy peak of the day a few hours after the start of the workday, or at about 10:00 A.M.
  • That energy peak lasts about two hours, until lunchtime.
  • Energy levels then fall after lunch, hitting bottom at around 3:00 P.M.
  • Energy levels then begin to rise, hitting the final peak of the day at about 6:00 P.M.

The information he provides about our “internal clocks” can also help learning designers plan training days where learners can absorb the most information possible.

Planning Training to Synch with Biological Rhythms

After reading that summary, it might be tempting to think that the most logical approach to planning a training day would be to schedule “low-energy” activities during low-energy times of the day and “high-energy” activities at times when energy is peaking.

But as training designers know, that can invite problems. If you turn down the lights and show a 30-minute video right after lunch, for example, chances are pretty good that people will nod off. In fact, low-energy times are often the best times to get trainees out of their chairs and dark classrooms to take part in work simulation exercises, group breakout sessions, and games.

High-energy times, like the two hours before lunch, are often great times to schedule high-content learning experiences that require trainees to be seated, like panel discussions, talks by invited speakers and interactive exercises.

If you are a training professional, you already know how challenging it is to create a high-performing day of training. It takes experience, intuition, the ability to match lesson content to trainees, the skill to create learning that is engaging, and many other skills. But when you get your training just right, both you and your trainees know it. As we have written before on this blog, training design is both an art and a science.