You are staring at the computer screen in a fog. After an initial spurt of productivity, your brain is moving at a snail’s pace. If you’re being good, you continue to perform low-level tasks like checking email. If you’re procrastinating instead, it’s clicking around the internet to your favorite blogs like Agile Lifestyle.
No matter how much coffee you drink or how many times you get up to go to the bathroom, you can’t shake that tired, unmotivated feeling.
Aspiring agile lifestylers who are stuck in the 9 to 5 grind know how this feels. Outside of a few productive hours in the morning, and maybe a flurry in the afternoon or evening, it seems like most of the hours you spend at the office are moving in slow motion.
What can you do?
Peak Productivity Time: The Key to Supercharging Your Work Life
Craig Ballantyne at Early to Rise theorizes that we all have a Magic Time when your productivity triples relative to other times of the day. This intuition is backed up by studies that suggest elite violin players practice in only two well-defined sessions a day. In contrast, average violin players practiced at random times during the day and didn’t seem to get better. Trent at The Simple Dollar even goes as far as to say your good hours are the only valuable hours in your day.
This fits with what science is learning about Circadian Rhythms, the internal clock in animals that regulates sleep, wakefulness, and energy levels throughout the day. For most people, their Circadian Rhythm follows the pattern of the sun. But for a significant portion of the population, as many as 20%, their internal clock is set differently. The Circadian Rhythm for these people marches to a different drum.
Figuring out which times of the day coincide with your body and mind working at peak effectiveness is therefore highly individual. Your Peak Productivity Time might be totally different from your neighbor’s or your coworker’s.
So how do you find your Peak Productivity Time or PPT?
Step 1 – Comb Through Your Past Experience
Chances are good that you have an intuition about your PPT. You have a treasure trove of experiences to draw insights from, after all.
Do you hate 8:00 AM meetings because you can barely stay awake? Is the afternoon a great time to bang out a few assignments, or is it a great time for a nap? Do you find that you do your best work after your significant other has fallen asleep at night?
After you audit your past experiences, you will discover that you probably fall into one of two camps: morning person or night owl.
One type is not naturally more effective or more productive than the other (despite the insistence from early risers that they’re healthier, wealthier, and wiser).
My peak productivity hits very late in the night (9:00 to 11:00 PM). That makes me an extreme night owl. Trust me, I can sympathize if you’ve experienced social jet lag for most of your life and thought something was wrong with you. There isn’t.
Corporate life is structured to cater to morning people. The Morning Person Bias is an artifact of our agricultural past, when people could only work while the sun was out. With the advent of electricity and light bulbs however, the rationale for working 9 to 5 is gone, but the practice remains.
The result is millions of us aren’t adapted to do our best work in a 9 to 5 job, but of course the Herd isn’t sympathetic.
Step 2 – Pinpoint Your Peak Productivity Time
Even after you determine whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, there’s still a great amount of variation within your group.
For instance, are you more effective tackling your first priority from 8 to 10 AM, and then checking emails? Or maybe you need your first hour to prioritize for the day and get coffee into your system before hitting peak productivity an hour or two before lunch.
The only way to know for sure is to track and experiment. I suggest a week of shuffling your schedule around to do different types of activities in different time slots each day.
For example, if you are a graphic designer, try doing your main creative work before lunch, after lunch, and at night at least once this week. You’ll naturally shuffle administrative and business tasks to other parts of the day. You might be surprised at the results.
If you thought of yourself as a night owl, you might find that there is a one hour slot right after you wake up, but before lunch, where you reach peak productivity composing emails or interacting with clients. Even though it’s not your main activity, this knowledge is an immense help to planning out your ideal productive day.
Step 3 – Find Your Second or Third Peaks
Once you experiment for a week and find your PPT, you will most likely find that you have one or two other “mini-peaks” throughout your day. These second or third tier PPTs aren’t quite three times as productive for you, but you do get a better feeling of flow at these times. Tasks are a bit easier and you feel more efficient.
As I said, my peak productivity time occurs quite late at night. But I do have two other peaks throughout the day. One is in the morning, beginning at 10 or 11 AM right before lunch. Another starts in the late afternoon around 4:00 PM, after I recover from my post-lunch food coma.
In total, my peak productivity time graph looks like this:
It took deliberate experimentation to discover these other two peaks. Even though I’m a total night owl, having two other mini-peaks during regular work hours made the corporate grind at least livable, if not optimal, for my productivity.
You might have three peaks like me. Or you might only have two “camel hump” style PPTs, like the elite violin players. Or just one huge block of time where you’re in the zone.
Whichever it is, discovering your Peak Productivity Time is the single most important action you can take to improve your time management.
After you figure out your Peak Productivity Times, the key to optimizing your time is to protect your PPTs from interruptions, distractions, and unwanted obligations.
But that topic deserves its own post!
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Image by epSos.de.