Getting it Done: Improve Productivity with a Well-timed Day

by Tiffany Parnell, Senior Copywriter - 02/01/17


Find out how establishing a science-based timeline for meals, exercise, tasks, brainstorming, and problem-solving can improve productivity.

You know the feeling: You have meetings to attend, content to prep, and a community health fair to plan—but you’re having trouble getting motivated and staying on task. In these situations, it’s sometimes easy to get discouraged or blame your struggle on a lack of willpower. But you may be sabotaging your efforts by trying to tackle the wrong tasks at the wrong time.

How Circadian Rhythms Influence Productivity

The idea that there are optimal times to perform certain tasks may sound far-fetched, but most people function at their best during specific windows of time.

Throughout the day, you likely notice periods where you feel more alert or sleepier than others. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), you can credit your biological clock, which controls your body’s circadian rhythms, for this phenomenon.

The NIGMS defines circadian rhythms as “physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle.” During the day, your circadian rhythms experience peaks and valleys.

Between 2 and 4 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m.— the typical time for the dreaded afternoon lull—most adults experience their greatest urge to sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

The largest peaks in productivity for most people occur within an hour of noon and 6 p.m., according to Harvard Business Review.

A Clock-based Approach to Improve Productivity

Deadlines, carpool, and other work and family commitments can make it difficult to plan ahead, but most people find it beneficial to stick to some sort of schedule. While it’s important to note that peak productivity times may vary from individual to individual, keep a few of these planning tips in mind: 

1. You really do need three meals a day, and the timing of meals count.

An infographic shared by HubSpot recommends that people eat lunch no more than 4.5 hours after breakfast and finish dinner by 7 p.m. Because your body burns more calories earlier in the day when you’re more active, limiting late-night dinners can safeguard your waistline. Eating dinner no later than three to four hours before bedtime can also prevent uncomfortable heartburn.

2. The jury is out on the best time to exercise.

Some people swear by heading to the gym in the morning before breakfast. Exercise offers a rush of mood-boosting endorphins and relieves stress and anxiety. When you exercise, it also gets your heart and blood pumping, promoting alertness.

Following this line of thinking, exercising in the morning can give you a feel-good, self-confidence-promoting rush that sticks with you throughout the day. Another reason to schedule a morning workout? The National Sleep Foundation states that people who exercise in the mornings typically sleep better at night.

If you are training for a marathon or other endurance activity, however, you may get more benefit from exercising in the evening when your body temperature is higher. This helps reduce your risk of injury. Since late-night exercise can affect sleep, it’s important not to exercise too close to bedtime.

3. Words may flow best first thing in the morning

For several reasons—from brain activity that occurs right after waking to increased willpower—you may benefit from tackling writing tasks first thing in the morning and saving editing for the afternoon, according to a Buffer Social article.

4. Peak times to post on social media vary by site.

A Fast Company infographic reveals that Facebook posts get the most engagement when people hit their afternoon productivity slump and need a brain break—usually between 1 and 4 p.m.—and that it’s best to save your LinkedIn and Twitter posts for midday to early afternoon. The day of the week matters, too—Tuesdays and Thursdays are prime for posting to LinkedIn, for example, while posts scheduled for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday are typically left unread.

Around 8 p.m., when people are starting to unwind after a long day, Facebook engagement typically takes another upswing, making early evening another good time to post.

5. People are more likely to attend afternoon meetings.

Having trouble getting everyone in a conference room at the same time? Try moving your morning meetings to 2 or 3 p.m. when people aren’t scrambling to catch up on tasks or preparing or finishing checking their email. 

Pump Up Your Productivity

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