How often do you look at a pile of unfinished work or tasks and can’t muster up the energy to get it done? Instead, you procrastinate and the stack grows higher and higher until you’re completely overwhelmed with work. We’ve all been there: the productivity slump.
Working longer hours won’t drag you out of it. We often mistake “working hard”, or even just doing stuff for being productive. Work smarter, not harder. Discovering your most productive hours may do the trick.
How can you maximize all the hours in your day? Let’s not waste time and get right into it.
The best time of day to be active
There are times of the day when every person is most alert and has the most concentration and energy. You can call this your productivity peak time or your golden hours. This is when you should carry out your most important or most challenging tasks.
But how do you identify these productivity hours?
First you need to pay close attention to your daily habits and routine and you’ll be able to discover the times when your energy level is highest. Some people are early birds, and can achieve peak productivity at the beginning of their day. Some are night owls, preferring to work at night, when everywhere is serene and quiet. Some prefer the hustle and bustle of noon; the active environment fires them up and provides a drive for them.
If you’re an early bird, it would be counterproductive to try and work late into the night to finish a task. It would be far better to rest at night and then wake up in the early hours of the morning and complete that task.
How to find your productive peak hours if you work a 9 to 5 job
Most offices have their work hours from 9am to 5pm. But that doesn’t mean that you can be your most productive self for all 8 hours. We already know that’s not going to happen. Try to benefit from identifying your most productive hours during the 9 to 5. Here are some ways you can try:
#1. 15-minute breaks
This work pattern involves planning two 15-minute breaks during your eight-hour workday. Make one break midmorning, and the other midafternoon. That way, you can break up long stretches of work.
The break itself serves a purpose (we need them!), but it also divides your day into bite sizes of hours. At the end of the day, review how much you were able to achieve before each break. The period when you recurrently achieved more is likely your most productive time of the day.
#2. The Pomodoro technique
Named after the tomato-shaped “pomodoro” kitchen timer, this technique involves breaking your day into 30-minute segments called pomodoros. Each segment includes 25 minutes of focus followed by 5 minutes of rest.
When you complete four pomodoros (2 hours), you take a longer 15-20 minute break before you resume another set of four pomodoros. This technique is particularly helpful if you have a short attention span.
Again, recording your progress helps you to tell afterwards what period you were most alert thus productive.
#3. The 90-minute window method
Another technique involves longer work periods, splitting your day into 90-minute windows to which you assign a single task to focus on for each 90 minutes. In between, take 20-minute breaks from work before your next window.
Try all techniques to find out which works best for you. Once you become a pro, you may be able to identify that different techniques suit different tasks.
Also try to experiment with doing the same type of work on different parts of day, for example as soon as you get to the office versus right after lunch the next day. What worked best? Try to build routine like this. It may help you discover what hours you should do lower-priority and higher-priority tasks and create a rhythm that helps you maximize your productivity.
Another thing to do is to recognise the type of task to attend to at the beginning of your productive peak and what should come soon after. The major task that you should attack first when you get to work is the one you consider most difficult. Get rid of that dreaded task and then rest assured that the day will get better from then on. Put a task that you feel excited working on, right after a difficult task. That way, you’ll be motivated to finish the particularly difficult task and get on to the task you enjoy.
How to maximize productivity peak hours
There are different steps that you can take to ensure that you use your productivity peak periods most effectively at work. We’ve listed 6 of them below.
#1. Find the distractions and kill them
The next thing to do is to avoid distractions during your productivity peak hours. The way to go about this is to find out everything that is capable of taking your attention while you’re working. It’s the things that belong to your “Not-to-do-list”.
If it’s the calls or messages that distract you, you may want to set your phone on a mode that allows notifications for only very important messages. And of course don’t check your phone every other minute or go on social media. Put the screen down facing the table.
Simply put: determine what holds you back from getting all your work done and get rid of them.
#2. Don’t multitask
When using your productivity peak hours, don’t set unrealistic targets. Unrealistic targets can kill your productivity. Set only SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
This means that you may have to quit trying to multitask. The fact is: multitasking hardly ever results in quality output. Instead, it increases your tendencies for making mistakes. So focus on completing your tasks one at a time and only move on to the next one when you’re done with the other.
#3. Record your progress
Another way to maximize productivity is to keep a journal of your accomplishments. Identify patterns that can help you structure your productive work hours and will help you find ways to improve and motivation to do better.
#4. Be accountable
Staying accountable for finishing tasks on time can be in the form of setting your own deadlines and announcing them to others or being a part of a support group with coworkers. It can force you to get the job done.
#5. Manage your time
Time management is an important factor when it comes to optimizing productivity peaks.
For instance, if you’ve established that your peak hours are between 7 in the morning until 12 noon, make it your priority to work during these hours. That means you should limit time-consuming interruptions, you shouldn’t schedule meetings and you should know what tasks you want to finish in this time.
With the proper planning, you can make the best use of your active hours. And remember:
- Don’t underestimate the amount of time or effort that a task will take.
- Don’t procrastinate. Recognise that you can go on breaks after you complete the task.
- Don’t do things at the last minute. If you do, you’ll rush through the tasks and may end up completing a task but not doing a good job on it.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Accept that you are human: you may still miss targets, be distracted on days or have a bad day altogether. Focus on moving on rather than dwelling on your mistakes.
Celebrate the small wins. The change will be gradual.
Are we still talking about getting more work done? Becoming more productive doesn’t just mean getting more work done. It also means getting the work done AND still having enough free time to do other things that you love.