how to effectively break up your time for maximum productivity

PSA: you do not have to get up at 5 AM

Nancy Chen
Apr 16, 2018 · 8 min read

“Everyone has the same 24 hours as Beyonce.”— someone on the Internet

Here’s a pic of Queen B, for your enjoyment.

While that is arguably not true — we may not have the money or resources to outsource grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, etc. — we do have the same 24 hours as crazily productive people.

It’s what you do in those 24 hours that matters.

I’m sure you’ve seen the Medium articles that tell you if you do not get up at 4 or 5 AM every day, work on your life mission and do 25 other things before 9 AM, or tell you that you must take a nap at exactly 2:39 PM every day for 90 minutes for optimal work, then you will not be productive. Ever.

Don’t let that scare you into setting your alarm clock at an ungodly hour.

Instead, keep reading to find out how you can work with your personal habits to find your ideal state of flow.

1. Find your peaks and valleys of energy.

I’m a morning person. I do my best work right when I wake up and get settled. I thrive in coffee shops in the earlier side of weekends, when the bustle hasn’t arrived in full force, and escape to work out, eat, or take a walk when it has.

I also try and schedule meetings, coffee breaks, industry reading, and workouts in the afternoon / evening when I know my energy is lagging. I won’t be able to focus on deep work anyway, and this allows me to come back to work refreshed.

Generally, humans work best in 90-120 minute chunks (so 1.5 hours -2 hours), based off of Nathaniel Kleitman’s concept of ultradian rhythms.

I know I can feel my productivity slow to a halt when I hit the 2.5 hour mark (unless I’m in a flow state, in which I can go to maybe 3.5-4 hours, but more on that later).

So whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, map your day according to these 90 minute cycles and how you feel your energy is during the day.

Quick tip: Block off your calendar in these chunks of time (AKA “chunking”). Dedicate one or two tasks to these blocks. This prevents people from disrupting your potential state of flow, reminds you what you need to work on, and prevents multi-tasking.

2. Map out what your ideal day looks like.

Now that you have a handle on when you work best and when you need to take a break, write out what your day would look like if there were no rules.

I actually have written this out multiple times over the course of a few years and find that it changes from time to time.

Somewhere from 6 AM-6:30 AM (this is when I pretty naturally get up): Wake up. Scroll through the notifications on my phone (I rarely open and respond; I’m just checking for anything urgent). Go through my morning routine. Make my bed.

6:45 AM-7 AM: Make my daily cup of collagen matcha and turmeric apple cider vinegar drink. Get settled at the kitchen table. Organize my day in my Passion Planner and write all my to-do’s for the day.

7 AM-7:45 AM: Reflect, write, brainstorm.

7:45 AM-8 AM: Make breakfast. Photograph. Eat.

8 AM-9:30 AM: Work.

9:30 AM-11 AM: Head to workout. Workout.

11 AM-12 PM: Head back home. Shower, make lunch, add to Instagram story, check social media.

12 PM-1:30 PM: Eat lunch. Do work.

1:30 PM-2:45 PM: Meetings. If none, more work.

2:45 PM-5 PM: Head to coffee shop. Work at coffee shop.

5 PM-7 PM: Head to gym. Teach boxing. Hang around after to chat with students/co-workers.

7 PM-8 PM: Shower. Do any dishes from the day/little kitchen chores. Make dinner. Check social media.

8 PM-10 PM: Set up my essential oil diffuser. Journal, read, prep for the next day. Get ready for bed. Do some more work if I’m feeling it. Spend time with loved ones, whether that’s from a call or in person.

10 PM: Bedtime.

3. Figure out how to make it realistic.

Obviously, that doesn’t happen all the time. Not everyone can work from home all the time, gym classes aren’t when we want them to be or where we want them to be, we’re too tired to journal or read… you know, life.

5 AM-5:13 AM: Wake up. Sometimes grumble a loud “ughhh” while checking the weather and praying it’s not cold. Chug the leftover mason jar half full of water on my nightstand. Brush teeth. Splash cold water on my face. Throw on clothes.

5:30 AM-6 AM: Unlock and open up the gym and meet my client. I love her, which makes the early mornings not to myself bearable.

6:10 AM-6:35 AM: Get a mini strength training session in for myself.

6:35 AM-6:55 AM: Chat with my co-workers at the gym while stretching or half-assedly continuing to “work out.”

7 AM-8:15 AM: Shower. Make breakfast. Pack lunch. Scroll through social media. Draft an Instagram post and some stories. Finally make my bed. Change into a different pair of leggings and a tank top to go to work.

8:15 AM-9:05 AM: Head to work. Sometimes I listen to a podcast on my walk to the T; sometimes I’m blasting Drake and J.Cole. Sometimes I stop by Whole Foods to get snacks for the day and end up spending $10 more than I should’ve.

9:05 AM-9:15 AM: Say hi to my co-workers. Usually drop many things while attempting to get settled at my desk. Confess that I fell asleep at 8:50 PM last night because I was working too hard all weekend. Go pee because I honestly pee every hour.

9:15 AM-11 AM: Start work. Dig through my inbox. Check over my to-do’s for the day (I write them all out on Mondays). Plow through them. Grab a coffee if I’m mentally stumped or need a break.

11 AM- 11:15 AM: Start to get hungry. Thinks about lunch. Ends up snacking. Maybe ends up eating lunch.

11:15 AM-2 PM: Usually where meetings happen. Hopefully it’s when they happen. I get annoyed when there are morning meetings. If not, I continue digging through work. Maybe I’m eating lunch during this time.

2 PM-2:15 PM: Usually feeling snack-y again. If I’ve failed to get snacks from home or Whole Foods, I take a short walk to CVS, Peet’s, or Flour Bakery to get some and welcome the walk. If I have snacks, I eat them at my desk.

2:15 PM-3 PM: Feeling refreshed from the walk, work some more.

3 PM-4 PM: Thoroughly pooped. Do some industry reading. Clear out my inbox for the last time.

Anywhere from 4:30 PM-5:30 PM: Head home or to go teach or to a workout class.

Anywhere from 6 PM-9 PM: Shower and eat dinner.

Anywhere from 9 PM-11 PM: Grudgingly get ready for bed. Crawl into bed without moisturizing like I should. I do set up my diffuser, though. I’m probably listening to Taylor Swift or Adele as I drift off.

I could 1) take real lunch breaks or 2) workout during the day when I feel that lag happening.

But the reason I have my schedule stacked this way, even with a flexible work schedule, is that I’d rather power through my work.

I have more jobs (i.e. teaching boxing, going to yoga teacher training) or influencer events post-work. I don’t love going to the athletic club my company has a partnership with because I rarely get a good workout on my own; instead I prefer the fitness studios where I feel like home.

So instead, I do the little things: using a standing desk (nothing fancy — it was a couple of cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other for months), getting water and peeing every hour, taking phone calls on a walk, walking further to go get coffee, scheduling times to meet up with people I haven’t seen in awhile for coffee.

Met up with this lovely lady from IG

I keep an essential oil rollerball and a refreshing face mist at my desk for a quick pick-me-up.

When I need to focus deeply, I put my headphones on so no one really bothers me. This helps me enter a “flow state” — the ultimate state of productivity where time seems to slip by.

When I’m ready to re-emerge, I chat with my co-workers.

Use your environment to your advantage. Don’t feel like you can’t make change because your environment is a certain way — while you can’t necessarily change your surroundings, you can change how you prepare and approach it.

Bonus: Actually make it happen.

So follow that schedule for a couple of days. Bring whatever you need to make your workplace more you. See how it makes you feel. Adjust if necessary.

For tips on changing habits: I love Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before. Life. Changer.

Extra tips for anyone in the workplace:

  • Don’t be reactionary. Do your deep work first before responding to others’ requests. Otherwise, you’re just running on the hamster wheel. If it’s urgent, people will either ask you in person, call you, or message you.
  • If you’re feeling stressed, tell someone. No one wants you to suffer in silence. Whether it’s an unrealistic deadline, external pressures, burnout, etc., it’s good to talk it out. (This doesn’t need to be your boss — HR or a work buddy works!)
  • Respect others’ time. Everyone else wants to be productive too! Think before you send off an email or schedule a meeting. Ask yourself if it’s necessary or if a quick stop-by their desk will do the trick. (I recommend the book Writing Without Bullshit!)

Want to read more? Check these out:

Nancy Chen

Written by

wellness blogger | psych/human behavior nerd | email marketing @perfectketo | I get weirdly enthusiastic about productivity ideas

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