Finding Your Best Work Hours
People naturally have times when they are more energetic and able to focus. If you can figure out what those hours are for you, you can maximize your productivity without working more hours. In fact, you may find that you can work fewer hours and get more done just by adjusting your schedule so that you do the most important work during your most productive times. (See also: 10 Ways to Save Time With Batch Processing)
Defining Your Best Work Hours
Chances are you can already pinpoint your best work hours just by how you describe your energy patterns — are you a morning person or a night person?
You know you're in your best work hours when:
- You're better able to focus
- You complete tasks quicker
- You approach projects with confidence
- You have more energy
- You're excited about work rather than dreading it
- You feel fresh and full of ideas
Of course, those are comparative signs; no matter what hour of the day you sit down to tackle a project that intimidates you, you're more likely to feel dread than expectation. But you'll notice a difference in your overall demeanor and approach to work during your best work hours.
You know you're in your worst work hours when:
- You're very low energy
- You feel sluggish and find it hard to focus
- You're easily distracted
- You're more prone to procrastination
- Routine tasks take much longer than they should
- You can't seem to get started on creative work
- You feel drained and out of ideas
Unless you arrange your work tasks to line up with your best work hours, you might trudge along, wasting your best working time on routine tasks, meetings, or chores.
How to Make Your Best Work Hours Work for You
Figure out your natural best work time, then incorporate a few tactics to make the most of it.
1. Map out your best to worst work hours.
If you already have a good idea of when you're at your best (and worst), then write it down to get an idea of the flow of your day. If you're not quite sure, use the Daily Productivity Heatmap developed by Charlie Gilkey. This free download is a map of a 24-hour cycle with a color code. You fill in a color for each hour to identify where you are on a productivity scale.
2. Categorize your projects.
Identify the projects/tasks that need your full focus (creative work) and those that don't (routine tasks).
3. Schedule appropriately.
Schedule your best work hours for your creative work by:
- Getting rid of appointments, meetings, and scheduled events during those times
- Refusing to run errands or do chores during those times
- Streamlining your "get started" routine
- Blocking out lower-productivity time for those routine tasks, errands, meetings, etc.
4. Guard your best work hours ferociously.
Remember that there are cycles. You can't function at maximum productivity all the time, but you can make the most of those times when you are at your maximum productivity levels. Don't let them be stolen away by obligations, interruptions, or your own lack of planning.
It's worth a little effort to figure out and arrange your schedule to use your best work hours. You'll get more done, you'll do it faster, you'll produce work of higher quality, and you'll be more creative. You'll also enjoy the work you're doing more when you are at your best. When you're able to plow through projects and quickly come up with creative solutions, work becomes less like work and more like fun. And who couldn't use a little more fun?