Do you know when and how you’re most productive? Sure, you might know whether you like working early in the morning or prefer late night hours, but most people don’t really understand much about their own internal rhythms.
A lot of the productivity advice out there assumes that all times of the day are equal. But before you should start finding ways to increase your output, you should figure out what hours of the day are best for your personal productivity.
Mastering your patterns can help you be a lot more productive.
Answering these questions can help you identify patterns, and come up with strategies to increase your efficiency.
Find out how you can you figure out which hours of the day are best for your productivity — and how you can adjust your habits accordingly.
Start With Analysis
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans work about 8.8 hours every day, but that doesn’t mean that all of those hours are equally productive. Most workers don’t spend 8.8 hours deep in their tasks. In fact, according to a Gallup survey, only 13% of employees feel engaged at work.
So how and when are you currently getting your best work done? Before you can leverage that knowledge, you have to analyze where you stand. If you start tracking when you’re productive, you’ll soon see patterns.
For example, you might press start on a time-tracking app when you begin a project in the morning, and see how long it takes before your mind wanders and you open your email inbox or check Facebook. If you do this for a whole week, you’ll have a good idea of when you’re super productive, and when you’re disengaged.
Alternatively, set up an app like RescueTime to run in the background and collect that data for you. Then take a few minutes to review the results and to think about what they say about you.
Think About the Past
Today, you’re a busy professional, but once upon a time, you may have had more freedom to choose when you got things done. When you were a college student, when did you find that it was easiest to write papers?
Maybe you were easily able to pull all-nighters, liked to work in the library in the afternoon, or set an alarm to wake up extra-early the day an assignment was due. Whatever your patterns, they say something about the time of day you’re most productive, and you can work to leverage these trends in your workday now.
If you’re most productive later in the day, then do your best to schedule most of your meetings in the morning so you have the second half of the day to yourself. While that’s not always feasible, do your best to become a guardian of your most valuable work hours.
Ask Your Colleagues
No one knows you as well as you do, but those that work around you know more than you think. When trying to find out when you’re most productive, it’s worth talking to your colleagues, friends, and family.
If you work at home and have a significant other, they probably have an idea of when you’re most likely to stop working and send them a text message. If you have an assistant, he might notice that you’re not very productive in the afternoon, so he’s less likely to block off that time for your project work.
Colleagues may have already noticed trends, such as your preferences for meeting times, when you put on your headphones, and how likely you are to take an extra-long lunch break. Ask your colleagues what they’ve observed about your work habits — you might be surprised by what they reveal.
Maximize Your First Two Hours
Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions and other books, as well as the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, talked about productivity and time of day in a Reddit Ask Me Anything Q&A. He pointed out that the first two hours of the day are when most people are most alert, and when they have the propensity to be the most productive.
Unfortunately, most people’s morning routines are scattered. As a result, whether they’re actually morning people or not, this isn’t the time when they’re productive. Instead, it’s when they’re trying to get themselves out the door.
If you’re like most people, try to revamp the first two hours of your work day. What steps can you take to reduce the frenzy and ensure you can get things done?
Find out how to give your morning routine a makeover >>
Some people really are more productive at night, and if you know this about yourself, that’s valuable information. The best thing you can do is to make changes in your schedule to maximize the amount of hours later in the day that you can spend on essential tasks.
Engineer Your Optimal Time to Work
It’s nice to know when you can be productive, but time of day is not the only factor that goes into getting things done. The Draugiem Group recently found that employees with higher productivity were not spending more time than the others. Instead, they were taking more frequent breaks. The Draugiem Group was able to get even more specific, noting that these “super producers” took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work.
That may seem like a lot of break time, but what the study discovered is that breaks are necessary, and that it’s impossible to spend 8.8 hours of your day deep in your tasks. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, taking frequent breaks is just as important than finding the exact hours when you’re most productive.
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