The Best Time of Day to Get Things Done

productivity tips

Ever notice how coffee can sometimes give you the jitters, while other times you can drink a whole pot and still stifle yawns? Or how you kill your to-do list with ease some days, and other days find it hard to get through even the easiest tasks? 

You can thank (or blame!) your biological clock for those times you feel really “on” and the times when you’re feeling a little off, according to productivity research. There are teams of scientists, researchers and doctors who are studying “chronobiology,” or how to get the optimal performance out of your body’s natural rhythm. Here’s how to capitalize on the best times of day to knock to-do items off your list. 

The Other Clock

The Other Clock

Ever notice how coffee can sometimes give you the jitters, while other times you can drink a whole pot and still stifle yawns? Or how you kill your to-do list with ease some days, and other days find it hard to get through even the easiest tasks? 

You can thank (or blame!) your biological clock for those times you feel really “on” and the times when you’re feeling a little off, according to productivity research. There are teams of scientists, researchers and doctors who are studying “chronobiology,” or how to get the optimal performance out of your body’s natural rhythm. Here’s how to capitalize on the best times of day to knock to-do items off your list. 

Daybreak: Pay Bills

Daybreak: Pay Bills

Or clean the bathroom. Ideally, you should tackle any task that you really don’t like doing when you first get up because we’re are at our happiest and most optimistic first thing in the morning,  according to Cornell research published in Science. After tracking worldwide usage of Twitter conversations of 2.4 million social media users, the study authors found that people are the most cheery and tweet their most upbeat statuses in the morning. 

So capitalize on your feel-good mood by doing the things that can make us grumpy (like paying bills). By the way, scientists have also identified which days give us the most smiles (and it’s no surprise): “People are happier on weekends, but the morning peak in positive affect is delayed by two hours, which suggests that people awaken later on weekends.”

Early Morning: See Your Doctor

Early Morning: See Your Doctor

It may mean you’ll have to skip the gym or show up at work a little late, but if you have to see the doctor, aim to be her first appointment of the day. According to a study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, doctors are less likely to detect warning signs, like cancerous polyps, later in the day because of fatigue. You’re also likely to spend less time waiting with an early appointment.

Mid-Morning: Check Off Detail-Oriented Tasks

Mid-Morning: Check Off Detail-Oriented Tasks

According to a Pennsylvania State University study published in Experimental Brain Research on alertness in 80 subjects, you’ll able to do more accurate work and focus better if you get to it early. The study authors found that optimal accomplishment happened around 8am and declined between noon and 4pm, especially after eating a meal.

Late Morning or Late Afternoon: Drink Coffee

Late Morning or Late Afternoon: Drink Coffee

Maybe that wakeup cup of joe isn’t the best idea. According to scientists who study chronopharmacology — the study of how time of day may affect drugs’ impact on your body — you may be wasting your caffeine on the mornings when you’re naturally the most alert. Instead, save it for after 9:30am and after 2pm, two times of day when you naturally begin to feel lethargic.

Late Afternoon to Evening: Do Creative Work

Late Afternoon to Evening: Do Creative Work

After knocking out your detailed-oriented tasks in the morning, how do you deal with fatigue in the afternoons? Is there nothing else you can work on? Turns out, this is the best time to explore more open-ended problem solving. Fatigue makes us come up with more creative solutions, found Albion College research published in Thinking and Reasoning. When you have what the researchers called “reduced inhibitory control,” then “results showed consistently greater insight problem solving performance during non-optimal times of day.”

Early Evening: Take Your Medicine and Work Out

Early Evening: Take Your Medicine and Work Out

If you or someone you know is taking medications to help reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke for example, it may be better to take those pills at night and not in the morning, found researchers who studied 691 subjects. The study, published in Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, found that those who took their blood pressure meds at night had better results and possibly fewer side effects. The reason? You’re optimizing the drug’s impact on your body’s natural biological rhythm. Generally, blood pressure rises naturally before you get out of bed and peaks midday. It then gradually falls, reaching its lowest between midnight and 4am. So when you take pills in the morning or at lunch you may not actually be managing the hours when your blood pressure is at its peak. Popping the pill at night, however, will keep the morning rise down.   

Something else to do in the early evenings? Work out. Turns out that just showing up to the gym isn’t enough. Aim to work out in the late afternoon to early evening, found research published by the American College of Sports Medicine, for peak performance and to prevent the feeling that you’re dragging your heels. Since body temperature is higher during that time frame, it is believed that muscle mobility increases, allowing you to get more out of your workout. Plus, warm muscles are less susceptible to injury. Another reason to sleep in and get to the gym after work instead.

Every 90 minutes: Take a Break

Every 90 minutes: Take a Break

Even when we’re getting enough shut-eye at night, we can’t work endlessly on projects without getting fatigued. We need to take breaks throughout the day, found Florida State University researchers, thanks to the constant shifts of our biological clock that adjust the levels of hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. Ideally, we should work in 90-minute intervals for best productivity, found the authors who studied elites in music, sports and chess.

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