The real winners in life get up early. We’ve all read about these new masters of productivity. Leaping out of bed well before dawn, they put themselves through their paces in the gym, maybe a session or two of meditation before speeding through a couple of chapters of the latest inspirational business bestseller. Then while the rest of us lazy mortals are still dozing in our beds, the early-bird elite are already heading to the office in the dark, ready to launch the latest idea to break into the Fortune 500.
Or so the story goes…The idea that the early bird is more virtuous and much more likely to get the proverbial worm is deeply engrained. Witness, for example, the cult following of The 5AM Club by renowned success and productivity guru Robin Sharma, who claims that by actually getting up before the birds themselves, we will feel more energized and productive for the whole day ahead.
But human beings are simply not all wired the same way. For every example of legendary early-risers like Napoleon, Thomas Edison and Apple CEO Tim Cook, there are stories of famous night owl high-achievers like Charles Darwin, Barack Obama or Winston Churchill (who would write until 2 or 3 AM and stay in bed until late morning).
Know your Chronotype!
And while some of us are built for the 5AM club, others are built more for the night club. Depending on our chronotype, some of us are more productive early in the morning, while others get way more done later in the day or even at night. For instance, I have a colleague that swears that a light seems to switch on in her brain at around 11 AM. That’s when she can suddenly feels her energy start to rise. Even if she manages to get up early, she feels tired, miserable and unfocused until her natural rhythm kicks in. So in order to be successful, we need to know when we are at our most productive and organize our time accordingly.
Take full advantage of your good times!
Astonishingly, a recent survey found that the average UK office worker is only productive for around three hours a day…2 hours and 53 minutes to be precise! So, what happens to the rest of the eight-hour working day? Social media, coffee breaks and non-work related chatter swallow up much of the time. So if you’re only really productive for three hours a day, you’d better know when they are!
The truth is, most productive people get more done by taking full advantage of these key hours in their work day (or night!). They realise that unlike Superman, their energy is not unlimited and instead identify the times when they work best. Here’s how you can do something similar:
Four easy ways to boost your productivity
1. Find your peak
First, log your time during a typical working week to discover exactly where your time goes; and identify the hours when you are most productive. The best way to do this is to look back at the end of the day. Good apps for this are OfficeTime and TimeCamp –good old pen and paper works too of course!
2. Schedule your high-energy work tasks
Our energy levels fluctuate during the day, so make sure you schedule your most important (and high concentration) work for when your energy levels are high. Productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done advises, “If your energy is low, for example, select actions that are easier to complete, such as busywork or administrative chores or errands, to get you up and moving”. In other words, do high-value work when your energy is high and low-value work when your energy is low. Follow the sun!
3. Give yourself a little TLC!
Thirdly, take breaks…nobody can maintain high levels of energy all through an eight-hour day. Remember to include break times for when you’re likely to be losing focus, particularly when you’re looking to stimulate your creativity. As Allen says: “Sometimes the smartest thing to do is to take a break and go for a walk”. And Robin Sharma shares this “game-changing” tip he uses to do his best work: “Work in 90 minute blocks with 10 minute intervals to recover and refuel”.
In addition, be careful to eat well. Skipping meals or subsisting on Coke and Pringles will alter your blood sugar, making it difficult to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. Keep your body and your brain well fuelled and hydrated to help you maximize your productivity.
4. Less is more…Set realistic goals and re-adjust
Last but not least, limit the number of daily goals you set for yourself . That way you can focus on completing them and allow time for long-term initiatives. Also, always leave a 20% margin for the unexpected. Monitor your progress and adjust your plans as necessary. Allen concludes: “When it comes to productivity and creating to-do lists, the biggest mistake that even smart people make is focusing too much on their goals and not giving themselves the freedom to take a step back to recalibrate their focus”.
Finally, if we look at the natural world, animals can teach us a valuable lesson about productivity. Some do their best work at night, while others are more effective during the day. Why the difference? In nature it’s all about survival. Owls and bats have big eyes and big ears because they’re built to be more successful at night. Early is not the only way! So remember, in order to be more productive it doesn’t matter whether you’re a night owl or an early bird. You just need to know yourself and play to your strengths!
Interested in discovering more? Sign up for our Skills Pills workshop Boosting your productivity