I’ve spent my whole life dodging early-morning meetings. Eight-o’clock classes were the order of the day in my first year of college. Who could concentrate at that time of the morning, much less learn chemistry or calculus?

My first job out of college was testing computers in a large manufacturing plant. Guess what? My department started work at 7:30 AM! There must be some natural law dictating that manufacturing has to start early. Many a morning I envied people in the product design department, the department that came in at nine and sipped coffee until ten.

It wasn’t so much the early start that bothered me; it was the attitude of my managers. Early starts were their red badge of courage. “Wake up, man, you’re in production.” We had “macho mornings.” It meant that we were tough.

After three years of macho mornings, the company transferred me to that enviable office job. We still started at a regular time–there was no such thing as flextime in those days. But at least we started at a decent hour. Or so I thought.

Then I found out that the macho morning types weren’t confined to the manufacturing department. Some managers insisted on scheduling staff meetings at 7:30 AM. Furthermore, they used them as tests. Anyone who arrived late would find the manager looking at his (yes, his) watch as if he was counting the seconds. Of course, the manager made sure that the first five minutes were the most important part of the agenda.

Over the years, I developed elaborate schemes to mask my daily rhythm. If there were tasks to do the next morning, I’d finish them the day before. When I managed a group, I’d designate early mornings as “manage-by-walking-around time.” My assistants learned to schedule critical decision-making or problem-solving meetings between ten and three o’clock, my most productive time, while late afternoon and early evening were devoted to loose ends and mop-ups. But corporate life demanded conformity with the company’s daily schedule. They wanted smooth performance throughout the day, day in and day out.

When I finally started my own company, I designed my workday to match my most productive times. I always worked long hours, but what a luxury to be able to schedule work to match my personal energy cycle!

All of us have daily cycles. How often do you hear a colleague say, “Tm a morning person” or “I’m a night owl”? Most people know their own general patterns but haven’t taken the time to observe their energy cycles hour-by-hour over a period of time. Try it for a week. Make a note in your agenda each hour to indicate your personal energy level. Rate it from 1 (sleepy) to 5 (energetic). Then look back over the week to check for a pattern.

What does that pattern tell you? Can you arrange your work so that you work on the most critical tasks during your peak energy period? Does it explain why you’re totally bored with meetings at three in the afternoon? Look at your daily activities and rate them according to the amount of energy required. Can you match the tasks to your daily cycle? Give it a try; you’ll probably be a lot more productive–plus, you’ll be less drained when you go home at night.

What’s the trouble with this scheme? Other people, of course. Most of us don’t completely control our own schedules. Other people call meetings. Bosses tell us when to complete jobs. You can’t tell a customer, “Wait until I’m more energetic–see me at eleven.” Outside influences prevail. Yet, a lot of your work is probably under your own control. See if you can find a way to balance it.

Macho mornings won’t go away We all have to work when needed, but the more we know ourselves, the better we can balance our working days. Just don’t call me before nine.