Do you get your best ideas in the middle of the night when you are the most creative? Do you rise with the sun, ready to conquer the day, until early evening rolls around and you are exhausted? Perhaps you exist within a happy medium, where you are not necessarily a morning person, but you don’t consider yourself a creature of the night? Every one of us falls somewhere along these lines, and it affects our day-to-day activities, especially productivity. Fortunately, there are ways to sync your to-do list to the most productive blocks of time in your day.
The first step is to develop an understanding of your unique circadian rhythm, the biological process that determines your wakefulness. Even though most American adults are expected to adhere to the typical 9 to 5 workday, it isn’t ideal for everyone. However, there are ways to work around your body’s natural clock, regardless.
First, take a moment to assess how you feel at different points of the day, mentally and physically. Do you feel the most alert around lunchtime or after the sun sets? In contrast, maybe you spring out of bed before your alarm clock goes off. Alternatively, when do you have the most trouble concentrating? At what point in the day do you feel sluggish? Knowing your peaks and troughs is key to daily scheduling, with your most important tasks taking place during the energetic high points of your day and all else saved for the downswing. If you work in an environment where you don’t have much control over your schedule, there are still things you can do to maximize your time and energy.
According to Daniel H. Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, certain tasks are best delegated to certain parts of the day, depending on your chronotype (internal clock). For example, analytic tasks, such as research, communication, and making decisions, are best done in the morning if you’re an early riser, but night owls should save these tasks for the late afternoon or evening.
There are many ways to maximize productivity, based on your chronotype, that go beyond a single blog post. It’s important to be in tune with your natural rhythms and plan your days accordingly. If you don’t have much control over your days, finagle your schedule the best you can. If you are a morning person, suggest that meetings be scheduled earlier in the day. If you’re an owl and you have no choice but to take an early meeting, do some planning the night before, like making a list of everything you’ll need to be prepared or practicing your presentation. Likewise, early birds should spend their precious mornings on the most important tasks of their day, as opposed to something mundane like opening and answering email. On off-days, follow a schedule that works best for your habits.
Small deeds of proactivity and an understanding of one’s own natural rhythms have the potential to conquer the most daunting to-do lists. Not every day will be perfect, and chronotypes aren’t the only determining factors of productivity, but they are a healthy start.