As much as we wish we could sit down at any given time and work on any given task with a high degree of focus and productivity, it’s often not that easy. Instead, there are factors like time of day, work type, and environment that play a big role in our success. While it’s a good start to write achievable goals, our chances of getting them done hinges on our ability to create productive time to work on them.
But what is this magic “productive time”? How can we determine when we can get the most bang for our buck and produce the best output? Here are 3 simple steps to finding your most productive time.
First, Reflect and Hypothesize
Take some time to reflect back on your productive “highs” and “lows”. Let’s start with the “highs”. In other words, when you’ve been most productive, what factors were at play? Look at the time of day, type of work, duration, and environment.
For me, for example, I’ve noticed that I’m typically sharpest in the mornings and am able to get a lot of strategic and “heavy” work done at that time like writing and editing blog posts and working through courses and training. In fact, I’m normally at a pretty high performance level from about 7:30am until 3:00pm. In terms of the environment, I’m most productive when working alone in my office with light background music and no distractions. I’ll often use the Pomodoro Technique to work in time blocks with short breaks, and that works well for me too.
Next, let’s reflect on the “lows”. When do you find it hardest to concentrate or get anything done? Again, look at things like the time of day, type of work, duration, and environment.
If I were to reflect, I would say I’m least productive when my fiancé is home, since I’d rather just spend time with him! I also tend to be less productive on weekends since I’m more drained from the week. Lastly, I’ve noticed I crash around 3:00-4:00pm on weekdays and need to do something like go outside, meditate, or read in order to recharge.
With this information in mind, we can start to create some hypotheses. Here are some examples.
- I’m most productive weekdays from 7:30am-3:30pm, with mornings being best for strategic work and content creation.
- Administrative tasks and less high focus activities are best done in the late afternoon, evenings, or on weekends.
- To be most productive, I need to take a break when my energy sags mid-afternoon.
Second, Track Your Time
My next tip is to actually track your time to prove or disprove your hypotheses. (Or in non-scientific terms, to see what’s actually going on!)
Use the hypotheses from the first step to set up a schedule that maximizes your productivity. It can be as simple as a bulleted list:
- Emails and catch-up: 7:30am-8:00am
- Project A (strategic): 8:00am-10:00am
- Work out: 10:00am-10:30am
- Project B (training): 10:30am-12:30pm
And so on.
Tracking your time involves keeping a log of what you’re working on when and for how long. It can be something as simple as rough notes, or as thorough as a colour coded calendar. The key is just to get a record of how you’re working.
As I mention in my post about how to best use weekly calendar, I use the Apple Calendar to plan my days and track my time. Not only do I plan my days before they unfold, but I update the schedule with my actual work flow as it happens. It works really well for me and gives me great insight into how I spend my time.
Also, take notes as to how you’re feeling throughout the day. Some specific things you may want to record are:
- How are you feeling physically? Are you sluggish, energized, or somewhere in between?
- How are you feeling mentally? Are you sharp and focuses? Are you feeling creative?
Third, Analyze Your Actuals
The third step is to analyze your tracker and see what patterns emerge. For example, did you find yourself working on a big project in the evening a few nights during the week because you were just in the mood? Maybe evenings are a good time to tackle your biggest goals. Did you find yourself feeling low energy after lunch every day? Maybe that’s a good time to go for a walk or do something else to get more energy and make the most of your afternoon.
Also look at what worked well and what didn’t. Was your schedule something sustainable or will you need to make some wholesale changes? Which hypotheses were accurate and which ones didn’t pan out?
With those steps done, you should be able to quickly identify your most productive times and then put a plan in place to use them to your advantage in working towards your goals.
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