Not all hours in the day are created equal. When you first wake up—especially if you’re a night owl—you’re probably a bit groggy (and desperately in need of coffee). Or maybe you’re an early riser, so for you it’s the hour or two you spend watching TV before bed. You just know your brain is tired, so it’s not a good time to make any difficult decisions or to dive into any important work.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are times during the day when you just know you are alert and your brain is firing on all cylinders. When you do your work, you feel momentum and you’re able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
This time period when you are most productive is something I like to call Prime Time. During this period, it is essential to do your most important work. (Cal Newport refers to this as Deep Work in this summary here.) It’s kind of surprising if you just look at the numbers, but in most cases, one hour of work during Prime Time is often better than four hours of work when you’re fatigued.
For every hour you’re awake, your body’s internal drive craves more sleep. Your body’s natural rhythm, which is called the circadian biological clock, tells you how tired you are. If you are sleep deprived, you crave sleep much more. The hours between 2-4 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. are when people are most tired, so most likely these are not your Prime Time hours.
Figure out when you work best, and then do what is most important to you. Not sure when this time is? Ask yourself these questions:
1.When do you feel best?
Another way to look at this is when do you feel most alert? When do things just seem to come more naturally to you?
2.When can you find some uninterrupted silence?
Silence is very helpful for you to do your best work. While music can be beneficial at times, there will be times that it is a distraction. Minimizing distraction leads to more focus and clarity—especially during Prime Time.
3.When are you less likely to make excuses?
In some cases, making excuses and procrastinating can be a sign that you are mentally drained. Perhaps your body is trying to tell you something.
If you’d like to when you are most productive, ask yourself these three questions and write the answers down in your journal for a week or so. Then you have some documentation to guide you instead of just guessing. I’ve concluded that my Prime Time is from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Does that mean I only work then? No. It just means I section out my day to focus on the most important work during those hours.
In many cases, the ideal time to do your best work is one to two hours after waking up. Protect this time with boundaries and use it to your advantage. Do whatever it takes to stay on target. Set an alarm. Write down the specific task you are working on and put it on a sticky note on your computer screen. Don’t take phone calls, answer email or texts during this time. Keep your boundaries in place. Don’t break them until your alarm sounds to tell you that Prime Time is over.
When do you think you are most productive? Are you more of an early riser or a night owl? Please share in the comments below.