The most productive part of the day

What’s the most productive part of your day? That time of day when you feel your distractions and annoyances melt away, and against all odds, manage to find yourself in a flow state where work actually gets finished?

Maybe you’re one of those self-starters who are raring to go right when you sit down at your desk. Or maybe you’re one of those who needs a few minutes—or hours—to “warm up” and get in a rhythm. You may even be, shockingly, one of those rare people who is more productive after lunch than at any other time.

You get the idea: it’s different for everyone.

But the inarguable truth is that, as a literal mathematical certainty, there is indeed a specific moment in your day when you are more productive than any other. Often, it will be a similar time, or the same one, each and every day.

All you have to do is find it and harness it. Arrange your routines so that you’re available and present at just the right times. Don’t tire yourself out too early and miss your window, or waste time floundering in stretches where you’re not as on top of things. Quite simply, find your productive time, and make sure you show up for it.

Here are some first steps towards how to do that.

2 hours and 48 minutes


With the way life and technology have evolved recently (throw in some societal shifts and the rise of remote work while you’re at it) sticking to a rigid daily schedule is something that feels increasingly harder to do. But the real kicker against the traditional daily grind isn’t just its outdated nature; it’s also its negative impact on business.

Our research reveals that high-skilled and knowledge workers clock in at a mere 2 hours and 48 minutes of productive time each day, against an average 8 total hours spent at their desks. There are, of course, myriad factors that hinder our productivity daily—from stress and procrastination to difficulty focusing—but one of the worst offenders is a sneaky one: working at the wrong time.

Aligning our most crucial tasks with our peak productivity periods makes sense on paper. But the million-dollar question remains: how do we pinpoint when we’re operating at our optimal best?

How we can become productivity superheroes


Ever wondered how some folks manage to accomplish so much in so little time? Conversely, have you ever thought to yourself: if we’re only genuinely productive for only about 3 hours a day, why slog through those extra hours at the office?

The reality is, the conventional 9-5 grind wasn’t invented with today’s work rhythms in mind. It was instituted back in 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was created—its main purpose being to end the 100-hour+ workweeks common in factories. And it goes without saying: creative knowledge work isn’t akin to clocking in on an assembly line.

Obviously, there’s a better solution out there.

As Alex Pang, author “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less,” puts it, the most efficient individuals often zero in on just a few peak hours each day:

“Take writers, scientists, and mathematicians tackling complex problems. They typically dive into their work in the morning, break for a quick lunch, then head out for a stroll lasting an hour or two. Interestingly, during those walks, they’re still gently pondering the very issues they’d been grappling with.”

These people have a better handle on the ebb and flow of energy and focus throughout the day. And with that knowledge, they choose reserve their most intense focus for when their energy levels are at their peak.

You know what it feels like when your energy dips—everything becomes harder. And on the flip side, research suggests that when we hit that sweet spot of flow, our productivity can skyrocket by up to 500%.

Entrepreneur Srinivas Rao sums it up nicely:

“What really counts isn’t how long you grind away at something, but rather how deeply you’re immersed in it. With intense focus, you can actually slash the time needed to achieve the same or even better results.”

The aim here isn’t to banish those less productive moments altogether. Instead, if we can pinpoint our peak productivity periods each day, we can supercharge our effectiveness, efficiency, and overall productivity.

3 steps to productivity


Finding your peak productivity time each day is just a matter of being mindful, experimenting with your routine, and analyzing some activity data (with the help of RescueTime).

Rather than solely relying on self-assessment or attempting to monitor your energy levels throughout the day, leveraging a time-tracking tool like RescueTime can provide a more accurate picture by automatically compiling your personal data. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Collect your data

Once RescueTime is installed across your devices, it starts collecting information on your app and website usage, as well as generating an estimate of productivity levels throughout the day.

After approximately a week of accumulating raw data, you’ll be able to uncover meaningful patterns. Start by examining the weekly view of your Dashboard to get an idea of how you allocate your time.

For instance, you may find that a bulk of your work hours are dedicated to productive tasks like writing and design, which is good. But then you might notice a little detour to entertainment and distraction apps. That’s fine too, of course, but not ideal.

Next, look into your productivity trends for a typical week. Go to Reports > Productivity > Time of Day for a clear visualization of your most productive periods. Here, you might find that your productivity peaks early in the morning before tapering off in the afternoon. You may also identify significant distractions during your peak productive hours, highlighting areas for improvement.

A last step could be taking a deeper look into your data by examining your Top Categories by Time of Day. This not only reveals productivity trends but also illustrates how you’re currently utilizing your time. For example, if writing emerges as your most productive task, you can deduce that your optimal writing window is between 10 am and 12 pm (like it is for me).

Step 2: Arrange Your High (and Low) Energy Work Times

Now that you’re armed with a better understanding of the flow of your day, you can incorporate it into your daily routine. Essentially, your goals should be simple:

  1. Tackle difficult or complex tasks during your peak energy hours.
  2. Reserve meetings, calls, email, and other errands for when your energy levels dip.
  3. Allow for breaks for when slumps typically come.

One effective method to organize all this is through time blocking, which just means allocating specific “blocks” of time in your schedule for each activity. The perk here is that instead of being at the mercy of interruptions and reacting to others, you’ve already structured your ideal day.

Step 3: Monitor Your Progress and Make Adjustments

This is the part of the process where many people stumble: making adjustments.

We all have ingrained work habits. So much of our behavior is habitual. And just because you’ve mapped out your day, doesn’t mean you’ll stick to it.

To stay on track with your energy-efficient schedule, you need a system to keep tabs on your progress and gently guide you back on course. This is where tools like RescueTime come in handy again.

With RescueTime’s Goals & Alerts feature, you can establish boundaries for your day.

Set a goal for a specific number of hours dedicated to your most important work in the morning.

Next, create an alert for when you spend more than a certain amount of time on social media during a time you’d like to be especially productive.

And finally, be stringent with it. Hold yourself accountable. If you don’t hit your hours, try harder the next time. If you have to, break out the classics: phone in another room while you work, all that good stuff.

You don’t need total control


What if your schedule isn’t exactly yours to command? It’s true—not everyone gets to call all the shots on how they spend their time. And in reality, only about 10% of folks feel like they’re truly in control of their daily schedules.

But don’t let that discourage you from adopting some helpful strategies. Here are a few suggestions to help you make the most of your peak productivity times each day:

  1. Follow the Peak, Trough, Recovery Cycle: According to a scholar named Daniel Pink, the brain has three main stages throughout the day. There’s the peak when we’re best suited for focused, analytical work. Then comes the “trough,” where our energy takes a dip. And last, there’s the recovery phase, where we get a bit of a second wind toward the end of the day (the 3 pm surge, if that sounds familiar). If you’re a night owl, the timing might shift, but the pattern generally remains the same.
  2. Work with Your Ultradian Rhythm: Another energy cycle to consider is the Ultradian Rhythm, consisting of 90–120-minute bursts of alertness before needing a break. Try to limit your deep work sessions to 90 minutes or less to maintain your energy levels.
  3. Limit Communication to “Bursts”: Email and chat can easily drain your energy and derail your focus. To combat this, schedule specific times for communication “bursts” throughout the day. Research suggests that teams who adopt this approach tend to be more productive and creative compared to those in constant communication mode. (This is my favorite little strategy—it’s the way that maps onto my brain the best.)

Remember, you won’t always have complete control over your day. However, by understanding your most productive times, you can still set yourself up for success.

Good luck out there. Mornings are more productive than you think.

Robin Copple

Robin Copple is a writer and editor from Los Angeles, California.

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