Cafe Witness

Thursday, February 22, 2007

When Are You Most Productive?

I'm nocturnal. I can't help it. Every time I try to adapt my schedule to do more work earlier in the day, I end up falling behind.

Conversely, I can stay up until 4 in the morning without fail and get much more work done with a later-in-the-day start than most human beings would think is acceptable.


Because I know when my mind is ready to tackle certain tasks.

The Day Is Not Equal

At certain times of day, or when in certain mindsets, I can do some types of work much faster than others.

For example, in the early morning, I'm great for answering email, searching for clerical information or editing video according to an easy-to-follow script. Anything that doesn't require much independent thought, basically.

But when I'm fully awake, recharged and relaxed, that's when my mind automatically kicks into overdrive. That's when tackling larger projects, creative brainstorming and problem-solving, and multi-part objectives become much easier to navigate.

This isn't a matter of "getting enough sleep," because even a full tank depletes throughout the day. This is a matter of understanding when I'm best able to achieve what I need to accomplish during the average day.

Mentally Homeless

A recent survey by Jim Citrin found that most CEOs in mega-successful corporations are up and running well before 6 AM. In fact 6 AM was the latest any of those he talked to directly said they wake up; some are on the move as early as 4 AM.

This illustrates the problem with nocturnal folks like me: the bulk of humanity is trained to operate on a daylight-driven, 9-5 workday. Evenings are for relaxation with friends and family. This is endlessly frustrating to me because I'm at my creative and motivational peak at about the exact same time that the rest of the world just wants to curl up with a good book; meanwhile, when they need something from me, I'm usually too incapacitated to be much help. (Ask my girlfriend.)

This leads to a "homeless" feeling, as though I'm living on the fringe of society. I'm never around when I'm needed, but I'm never needed when I'm around.

The 24-7 "Solution"

For better or worse, the workday has been steadily evolving over the past century and is now almost universally recognized as neverending. I tend to go to bed just as the CEOs of the world are waking up. This means that exchanging important emails or project specs at 1 AM is increasingly common, as more and more people begin to realize:

a) Different parts of the day are better for various tasks, and
b) The ever-increasing pressure to "get more done" means we're all working more hours every day.

I'm not so sure this is the best approach. I've never been a fan of the "Dude, I just pulled an 18 hour workday" Hercules mentality. It seems that working MORE isn't the answer, so much as working smarter.

I also wonder if people aren't working more hours because they're more distracted than ever before, AND because they're trying to force themselves to be productive at non-optimal times.

Think about it: how much work do you ACTUALLY get done in the average 9 hour workday? 4 hours? 5?

What if you could start your workday whenever you wanted to -- say, 11 AM -- and work until YOU felt you were "done"? What if you could accomplish in 4 or 5 hours of steady work -- when you're at your creative and cognizant peak -- what it currently takes you 9 or 10 or even 12 hours to accomplish, every day?

Think of what you could do with all those extra hours!

It's your day. What would YOU like to do with it?

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  • I'm in with the CEOs. I get up at 5:15 AM, in the office by 6 AM, cranking out the podcast by 7 AM, doing post and all that stuff. I am NOT wired like that, but I've adapted to fit Boston's commuting schedule. Arrive at 6, leave at 4, work from home for a few hours, go to bed at midnight.

    By Blogger Christopher, at 9:06 PM  

  • RE: your buzz machine post

    here's the start of our filters:

    By Anonymous David Mastio, at 7:08 AM  

  • My mom did her master's thesis on the productivity of high schoolers throughout the day. It was proven (at least by her research) that most students only reached their fullest learning potential somewhere around 10:00 am.

    I've changed to match my work schedule and my own personal need for quite a bit of sleep. I'm up by 7 am and hitting my ceiling by about 11 pm on weekdays. I used to be a night owl, but the world has since shaped me into a lark. Every now and then that preference still comes out, however, I find myself hitting a great stride from about 9pm to 2 am, but those occasions are happening less often and farther apart.

    And I think I read somewhere that Americans work more than any other country. I propose a strictly enforced siesta period...

    By Blogger righteoustetris, at 10:19 AM  

  • Funny you should mention siestas. According to a recent travel documentary about Madrid, the people there tend to have a massive lunch around 1 PM and then take a break for the afternoon. They return to work from 5-8 PM and then spend the evening socializing and restaurant-hopping.

    Last time I checked, their economy hadn't fallen into the abyss.

    By Blogger STBD, at 1:24 PM  

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