What time of day is your most productive? That’s the question I posed in a poll on my LinkedIn account a while back. The question is one I’ve noodled around with for several years.
In my capacity as a management and marketing consultant over the past 25 years, I’ve noticed some definite distinctions in my own and my clients’ productivity flows. I have encountered executives who were balls of fire mid-morning, but turned into stone by 4 p.m.; I’ve coached creative types who rocked the house in the early a.m. and later in the day, but were slackers at lunchtime; and I’ve seen consultants whose best work got done after dinner.
So while there seems to be no fixed time of day that is the most productive for everyone, my recent poll of 181 people did provide some insights into who gets the most done when. Here, then, are some insights into people’s most productive times of day.
In second place was early morning, when 31 percent of those who responded said their productivity was at its highest. “I love the time between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. when no one else is in the office. It’s my time to think more creatively (rather than reacting to what’s going on around me),” reported Dan Muse, Senior Executive Editor at Jupitermedia.
The lowest time for productivity was between 12 and 2 p.m., with only 6 percent of respondents saying this was their most productive time of day. A mere 9 percent said the evening between 7:30 and 10 was their most productive. “I actually am most productive during two segments of the day — from 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. The morning is when I have an expected task to be completed each day, so I arrive ready to go, and late in the day, I stop any procrastination and finish the most important items of the day,” says Howard Sholkin, Director of Corporate Communications at International Data Group.
However, breaking the results down by job function told a slightly different story. 40 percent of the people who identified themselves in the “consulting” category reported that they were more productive in the evening between 7:30 and 10, while 57 percent of the people who identified themselves in the “creative” category said they were most productive in the early morning, before 9 a.m.
So what does all this mean to you, and how can you apply it to your daily life as a web worker? Here’s the two suggestions I give my clients about how to find and take advantage of their most productive time of day.
Start by locating your power times. Are you an early riser who tackles your morning to-do list with all the gusto of a bear eating honey? Perhaps you’re a night owl and crank through your most pressing projects at 11 p.m.? Either way, knowing and taking advantage of your natural energy patterns — your power times — will help you be at your most productive by using these times to tackle the projects you find most challenging.
If you’re not sure when your power times are, try using a handy tool called a heat map, customized by blogger and productivity expert Charlie Gilkey. Gilkey’s heat map provides a pathway to plot your productivity tempos during the day by assigning a color to each time slot on a 24-hour map. Here’s Gilkey’s quick key to the colors you would use to determine your most productive time of day.
- Red: This is when your productive capacity is the highest. All systems are fired up and ready to go. Gilkey says that this is where he gets all of his creative heavy lifting done
- Orange: This level of productivity is a step down from the smoking hot creativity in the flow you experience in the red zone. Gilkey says that while a lot of work can get done here, you’ll be somewhat aware that you’re working.
- Yellow: At this level, you are in idle status. Some productive work can get done, but it’s not going to be the high-level, lose-track-of-time type of productivity you can accomplish in your power times.
- Green: When you find yourself in the green productivity zone, you’re spending more energy trying to keep working than actually doing the work itself. “Creativity, motivation or focus is pretty much gone,” says Gilkey.
- Gray: “Hopefully I’m asleep at this level,” says Gilkey. Unfortunately, all too often, you may still be trying to get something done or can’t sleep due to all the items on your to-do list that are keeping you awake.
Plan you day around your productivity tempo: Once you know what your power times are, get into the habit of planning your day around your productivity tempo. Knowing your productivity tempo can help you plan to do the most important tasks at the times when you are feeling focused and full of creative energy.
Many freelancers and telecommuters look at their day as one big, wide-open space of time. But in reality, all hours of the day are not equally productive. You might find that you get twice as much done on that wayward web project by working on it from 9 to 11 a.m. as you would pounding away on it from 1 to 3 p.m.
As for you full-time employed folks, while your time might not be wholly your own, by being aware of your power times you can make the hours you spend more productive.
So this week, before you open your planner to make your schedule, ask yourself: What is my most productive time of day? And just in case you want to share it with the rest of us — take the poll.
What’s your most productive time of day?
Related GigaOM Pro research: Can Developers Help LinkedIn Learn to Have Fun?