When to work: discover when you work best

Written on January 25, 2018

There’s a lot of pseudo-science floating around online about the best time of day to work. Sadly, there is no neat universal answer to this question – you need to conduct your own productivity investigation! And we’ve got a stupidly simple approach to help you get there.

Before you start…

Drop the early bird/night owl classification

Many self-declared “birds of dawn” might be surprised to learn they’re actually pretty productive in the early evening. Whatever feathery friend you see in yourself, realize that productivity isn’t a static thing: it comes in bursts throughout the day.

Beware of false prophets

While graphs claiming to reveal “the most productive day of the week” are nice, remember they work on averages and necessarily discard the wider picture. These averages themselves are often worked out using dubious private data sets. Not cool.

Remember productivity doesn’t exist in a vacuum

The time of year, weather, quality of your sleep, what you ate last night, when you last exercised – and countless other physiological and psychological factors – impact the energy you have each day for productive work. They will always interfere with what you think is your best time of day to work.

Calculate when to work

1. Track your work

To identifying your most productive times of day, you first need to understand exactly what you get up to. Luckily, this doesn’t need to involve any extra effort. Tools like Timely collect all your data for you and log everything you work on – including the time you spend in meetings, working on documents, taking calls, emailing, travelling, and browsing websites. With an exact picture of how you work, you're ready to analyze your productive performance.

2. Analyze how you work

Discover your productive habits from the data you've collected and find out how you work. Focus on where your longest periods of concentration fall, where you turn to low-value tasks, and how long different tasks take you. By seeing the maximum amount of time you stay focused at a time, you can work out your base attention span. It's also good to take a look at where you get distracted. From aimless internet browsing, routine email checking and refreshing social media, identify what disruptive habits you need to control. These periods of distraction are great indicators of spent energy, and can show you the length and frequency of breaks you should be taking.

3. Optimize your work schedule

With your productivity insights, reconfigure your working day to compliment the way you actually work. This might be as simple as introducing a “communications blackout” until midday or changing when you break for lunch. But it could be more drastic: you might try breaking productive work into time-limited chunks, or distributing work periods throughout the day with huge breaks in between, instead of bunching everything into the morning. Try prioritizing the most challenging tasks for the periods where you tend to be most productive, and save low-energy tasks for periods where your attention flags.

4. Measure your productivity

Now put your new work schedule to the test - continue tracking your work activity for another week or so and then compare it with your previous productive performance. Did your new work schedule make a difference? Did the data confirm your suspicions about your most productive times of day, or show few significant findings? Do you still find it useful to think in terms of a “best time of day for work"?

Increase your productivity

Your productivity experiment will hopefully lead you to a more grounding discovery: no one just wakes up productive all the time. Productivity requires ongoing effort, innovation and reward: understand how you work, create the perfect conditions, stick at it, and have well-deserved breaks.

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