Riding the Wave: How to Optimize Your Work Cycle


surfboardWhich days of the week are the most productive for you? We all know that we have different ways of working, and that for each of us, a week (or given work period) represents a cycle, as Angus Kidman reminded us this week.

That cycle has highs, lows and plateaus, as well as the in-between bits that are not particularly good or bad for getting work done. Having a good idea of when you can expect to be at your best — and at the other end of the spectrum — can help you get the absolute best out of your working week. It can also make that work week a whole lot more enjoyable.

Of course, those working on-site have work rhythms too. But I’ve found that working solo in my own space has made the patterns much clearer. In an office I could rely on the unpredictable — office chatter, my manager asking me to action something immediately, a good excuse to head out and grab a coffee — to punctuate my day and create countless mini-highs and -lows. On the other hand, working remotely has far fewer interruptions for me, which means I’ve been able to get a pretty clear idea of my work cycle.

Now I’m learning to make the most of this cycle, and to feel less guilty about the lows.

Identifying Your Work Cycle

It’s not hard to identify your work cycle. All you need to do is think about the last few weeks and identify the points at which you regularly felt stressed, bored, aflame with enthusiasm, very productive, and so on. A number of factors can influence the way you feel each week, so take these into account as you go.

  1. Natural motivation. The first factor is fairly nebulous: it’s your natural motivation. I know, for example, that Mondays are pretty good for me work-wise (the start of a new week!), as, perhaps perversely, are Friday afternoons — since the weekend’s in sight, I usually crank up and knock over quite a few things then. You’ll undoubtedly have times during each week that, perhaps inexplicably, are simply more productive for you than others.
  2. Regular commitments. Regular commitments — at work and in our personal lives — help break up the week, and our attitude to these appointments can affect our motivation levels before and after them. For example, I have a regular meeting that takes up a good chunk of my late Wednesday afternoons. Because the meeting’s in my schedule, I tend to work hectically on Wednesday morning. However, since I know I can’t settle into a task for the day, those mornings end up being fractured, filled with small bits and pieces rather than large chunks of work.
  3. Ad hoc commitments. For most of us, every week is different, as various ad hoc commitments crop up both in and out of work time, requiring us to adjust our schedules and plan accordingly. These commitments can further affect the way we work, and how productive our week is overall.

Try assessing your week in these terms, and you’ll find that certain times stand out as being better for certain tasks. As an example, since my Wednesday mornings are fairly fractured, they’re a good time for me to complete small tasks like sending and chasing up invoices, planning and so on. Since Mondays and Thursdays are good, solid work days following time I’ve spent away from my desk, they’re ideal for writing, research, pitching and larger tasks.

Make Your Cycle Work For You

Once you have a clear idea of your work cycle, you can learn how to make the most of it. For example, if this week I have a meeting scheduled for 10am on Monday, and I expect I’ll need to do some work as a result of it, I’ll know that I’ll lose some very productive, focused time from my week. I could schedule some research time into my week elsewhere, to ensure that I still get a chance to do some really focused work — even if it’s at a less productive time during the week. Of course, I’ll know not to schedule it on Wednesday morning, because I just can’t settle down then, and that’s the best time I have to plough through the smaller tasks my work entails.

The other benefit of knowing your work cycle is that you can accept the troughs in your week. I know, for example, that Tuesday afternoons are usually a bit of a low point for me, so if I find my attention waning, I have a raft of “easy” tasks to fall back on: I can catch up on my work-related reading, head out to a cafe to do some project planning over a coffee, and so on.

Previously I’d have seen this as “wasted” or “unproductive” time, and felt as if I should be doing more. Now I accept that it’s a low point in my work cycle. I no longer feel guilty about it, but it’s no wonder — I’m getting more done, and enjoying it more, than I would if I were staring at my monitor trying to force myself to “keep at it”. Also, because I have a good knowledge of my work cycle, I know that I can expect to settle down to a couple of days of very focused work on Thursday and Friday.

Are you aware of your work cycle? And how are you using it to your advantage?


John Bartell

What I find is that, without the distractions of a formal work environment, I can get lots more done on my own. That said, much of my contribution in a traditional job was helping others. So, perhaps, working alone does not have the organizational leverage, but it does allow for greater individual contribution. Then again, the Internet has so many ways to provide leverage…

Comments are closed.