Red, Yellow, and Green Energy

Imagine you could plug yourself into a power outlet and work all night. Like a computer, you could crank away around the clock at a steady pace.

Fortunately or unfortunately, humans don’t work like this (yet), so we must deal with the moist, temperamental machines inside our heads. Unlike computers, our brains perform at varying efficiency throughout the day.

Think of your mental energy like a tri-color gas gauge. Sometimes, it’s on green (a full tank), and other times it’s on yellow (a half-tank). And, inevitably, it drops to red (empty).

Despite the volatility, this indicator seems to follow a daily pattern. The pattern is different for everyone based on circadian rhythms, caffeine consumption, genetics, etc.; but this is what it looks like for me:

What if we scheduled our work to optimize energy?

  • Green. Awake & alert but also calm and creative. Great deep work potential—heavy thinking, problem-solving, presentations.
  • Yellow. Awake, calm, and average energy. Suitable for run-of-the-mill work—meetings, operational tasks, etc.
  • Red. Diminished energy. OK for work of little consequence—email or chores—but best for a nap.