Circadian clocks play a pivotal role in orchestrating numerous physiological and developmental events. Waveform shapes of the oscillations of protein abundances can be informative about the underlying biochemical processes of circadian clocks. We derive a mathematical framework where waveforms do reveal hidden biochemical mechanisms of circadian timekeeping. We find that the cost of synthesizing proteins with particular waveforms can be substantially reduced by rhythmic protein half-lives over time, as supported by previous plant and mammalian data, as well as our own seedling experiment. We also find that previously enigmatic, cyclic expression of positive arm components within the mammalian and insect clocks allows both a broad range of peak time differences between protein waveforms and the symmetries of the waveforms about the peak times. Such various peak-time differences may facilitate tissue-specific or developmental stage-specific multicellular processes. Our waveform-guided approach can be extended to various biological oscillators, including cell-cycle and synthetic genetic oscillators.