Who knows, maybe early mornings are the best time of the day to catch a worm - ornithologists probably know the answer. But in the second part of our Time Management Month series, we’ll concentrate on what is the best time of day to do your work tasks.
By understanding your internal clock and knowing your peak times of the day, you can maximize your productivity. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make the most out of low-energy times, because during times our brains are idle and not bombarded with constant stimulants, we often come up with fresh new ideas. Just think about all the things you have come up with in the shower or after a good night’s sleep.
The following schedule is just an example time table. Each person has their own internal clock and has to find out what their peak and dip times during the day are. If you’re actively aware of these times, you can schedule the appropriate tasks at the right time of day and work at your most productive.
Before 9 am: Eat breakfast, check the news, social media etc.
Take your time to “boot up” and start the day with a good breakfast. This is the perfect time to check the news and get up to date with what has happened in the world while you were asleep. You might be tempted to check your emails as soon as you wake up, but resist it and allow yourself to start the day without any work stress.
9 to 11 am: High-priority, highly complex tasks
The first thing a lot of people do as soon as they’re in the office is to check and answer their emails. This is the wrong technique, because you’re wasting your most productive time of day on a routine task. Schedule high-priority and/or complex tasks for the time between 9am and 11am, because it is the time when most people are most alert. As the day progresses, you will become less focused and your concentration sinks. Make sure to mark these hours in your calendar or even block them, so there won’t be any distractions.
11 to 12 am: Answer emails
When your productivity levels are slowly sinking after reaching their peak, you can use that time to finally answer your emails. It’s better to dedicate specific time frames for your email management instead of constantly checking and answering emails.
12 to 1 pm: Lunch
You should take a short break after 1 to 1 ½ hours of work, or after finishing a task - whichever comes first (see Pomodoro Technique). Take a longer break after about 2-3 hours of intensive work as your mind and body need a break to recharge.
There are many fast lunch options out there, but these meals are often full of sugar and fat, which will only enhance the dreaded “afternoon fatigue” or “drowsiness after lunch”. Try to go for protein and fiber rich meals instead. If possible, go for a quick walk before or after lunch, the change of scenery will give you a productivity and creativity boost.
1 to 2 pm: Idea Generation
You can limit the post-lunch drowsiness somewhat, but it’s not possible to fight it completely –that’s OK, because it’s natural. Avoid making important decisions or tackling complex tasks after lunch. In some companies afternoon naps are a work perk, but even if your company doesn’t offer this, you can use the time after lunch for idea generation. Some studies have shown that when you’re tired you come up with new and fresh ideas, because your brain can’t filter out all the distractions and ‘wandering thoughts’ (the source of new ideas).
2 to 3pm: Meeting
By 2 -3 pm, your lunch fatigue has improved somewhat, but you’re still not as alert as during your peak time. So this is the perfect time to schedule meetings. The advantage is that being with other people and having to actively listen, requires you to be more alert than if you were alone.
4 to 5 pm: Routine tasks
After working 8 hours at the most, your energy levels will drop drastically and you will be much less alert and productive. Just like after lunch, it’s not advisable to make any (last-minute) decisions. It’s better to defer important decisions and tasks to the next day and do them during your peak hours. It is better to do routine tasks or tasks that are not too complex in the last hour of work before going home.