The Sweet Spot For Deep Work

Photo by Leon Biss on Unsplash

There’s a good and bad day for just about everything.

If you’re looking for a job, the best day to apply is Monday.

If you want your customers to open your emails, send them on Tuesday. If you want to hold an efficient meeting, Tuesday is also the winner.

Everyone goes through productivity slumps during the workday, and yet they still try to power through and keep working, even if it means substandard output.

This often leads people to work at odd hours to make up for their less-than-productive workday hours.

Not all hours are created equal. Sometimes an hour is enough to blaze through a massive task, and other times all you can manage is to tiredly react to emails.

According to research, you can also figure our when to do focused or deep work and when to make time for shallow or reactive work.

You can pack more into each day if you did everything at the optimal time.

Peak work times can significanrly change how you work.

The idea is that there are certain times of day when you are super productive or hyper creative.

If you work on your most important tasks (MIT’s) at your non-peak times, you could be wasting your time or getting little done.

It’s insanely important to use your peak time, when you feel alert and excited, for projects that involve problem-solving, complex thought, and critical decisions.

If you work on these activities when your energy level is low, you will have to fight your groggy brain, and the task will take much longer.

Like anything in nature, humans run in cycles

Our body clock is a small group of cells made up of unique ‘body clock’ genes.

These cells turn on and off and tell other parts of the body what time it is and what to do.

A growing body of research suggests that paying attention to the body clock, and its effects on energy and alertness, can help pinpoint the different times of day when most of us perform our best at specific tasks.

At the beginning of the cycle, we experience heightened energy and focus, and at the end, we may feel scatterbrained and fatigued.

For many people working in the AM feels effortless, but PM’s are always a struggle.

If you take note of how your body reacts to work at any time of day, you will be able to figure out when you should focus on getting stuff done, when to brainstorm, and most importantly when you should avoid meetings.

When the body’s master clock can synchronize functioning of all its metabolic, cardiovascular and behavioral rhythms in response to light and other natural stimuli, it “gives us an edge in daily life,” says Steve Kay, a professor of molecular and computational biology at the University of Southern California.

But, what is the best day for you (or your team) to be productive?

Peak productivity, it seems, happens at the same time during your workday, no matter where you are in the world.

A two-year global study conducted by project management software company Redbooth found that productivity among office workers worldwide is at its highest point at 11 a.m., and plummets completely after 4 p.m.

John Trougakos, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto in Canada, says the reason we’re most productive in the morning is down to circadian rhythms, or our internal body clock, which tells our bodies when to get up, eat, and sleep throughout 24-hour cycles.

According to Trougakos, about 75% of people tend to be most mentally alert between 9 a.m and 11 a.m.

And a survey that looked into the the habits of 2,000 UK workers seems to agree with Trougakos’ research, showing Tuesday morning as the most productive time for Brits.

The findings “are consistent with considerable research on the ebbs and flows of mental acuity,” says Don Drummond, economist and adjunct professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that we get the least amount work done on a Friday, with Redbooth’s survey showing a 20% drop in productivity across the globe.

Sleepiness also tends to peak around 2 p.m., making that a good time for a nap, says Martin Moore-Ede, chairman and chief executive of Circadian, a Stoneham, Mass., training and consulting firm.

To get a little more precise and make sure you’re really matching your best work to your peak times, try experimenting.

Tackle complex projects early in the day, make time for brainstorming, meetings and collaboration in the afternoon.

Most people are more easily distracted from noon to 4 p.m., according to recent research led by Robert Matchock, an associate professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University.

But guess, what surprisingly, fatigue boost creative powers.

Problems that require open-ended thinking are often best tackled in the evening when you are tired, according to a study in the journal Thinking & Reasoning.

Journal for better cycle insights

Everyone’s body clock isn’t the same.

What works for me may not work for you.

Take your initial impression of your peak times and track how you work and most importantly when you work better.

Be open to the idea that your peak times may not be what you initially thought they were.

You can find your most productive work times and patterns just by paying closer attention to your daily habits, as well as your energy and focus levels.

Once you understand the periods of the day in which you feel most productive, you can begin planning your tasks accordingly.

Use your peak time carefully.

Protect your peak time from intrusions and commitments that don’t require your full brain power.

Dig deeper

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