Reaching peak productivity: How to do more while working less

You may have noticed that your productivity varies a lot. Sometimes dealing with all the tasks and issues at hand takes only a couple of hours, while other times you barely make any progress at all. Some of this can be explained by circumstances such as your mood and the way you are feeling at the time. But in most cases, high productivity has to do with periods of peak brain power. We are most productive when we manage to work during our peak hours, while we cannot be as focused and productive during our energy troughs. Knowing that, how can you determine your most active hours and take full advantage of them?

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Tracking your biorhythms: The golden key to high efficiency

Scientists have discovered that our body (including the brain) runs on cycles. Each cycle lasts from one-and-a-half to two hours, depending on the person. You can think about those cycles as a sine wave. During the active period, our focus increases until we reach maximum concentration, at which point it starts to decrease little by little. After the active phase, we hit a trough where our body requires some downtime and a switch to energy-saving mode.
If you calculate your individual pattern of those naturally occurring cycles, you can make smart decisions about which time intervals to save for the most important tasks and which ones to use for rest or routine work.

How can you determine your peak hours?

How you go about identifying your peak hours will depend on your time resources and determination. If you wish, you can simply guess based on when you feel that you are most alert.

The result, however, will not be precise.

If you have some time on your hands, it’s better to identify your premiere productivity time empirically. An easy way to do this is to keep a diary for a couple of weeks, recording your performance when handling different tasks. Make sure to switch the tasks around so that you are doing the same types of tasks at different times on different days. That way you will be able to identify the periods during which you are capable of handling the most complex and intensive tasks.

There is another way that takes even more effort but is highly accurate. (It’s a great option for perfectionists .) Try keeping a table of your concentration, energy, and motivation levels on a 1–10 scale over an extended period, such as a month or a year. It’s important to keep recording your results at the same times throughout the entire period of gathering the data. That way you will be able to identify patterns and figure out your peak productivity time during the day as well as peak productivity days during the week.

How should you use the data you’ve gathered?

Once you’ve determined the length of your productivity cycle and your most productive time, all that remains is to use that information effectively. It makes the most sense to dedicate your peak hours to the most complex and challenging projects – those that require brain-intensive work.

The troughs can be used for less demanding routine work, as well as – no matter how strange it might seem – for generating new ideas. Scientists have shown that during periods of fatigue, our brain tends to demonstrate more creative, out-of-the-box thinking.

Try to take full advantage of your peak hours and increased brain power by preventing any intrusions from colleagues or family members while you are at your most productive. At the same time, make sure to use your energy troughs for short, restful breaks. Ideally, your research will also help you determine the optimum length of time to work before taking a break to restore your strength.

Experiment!

Even once you’ve figured out your peak productivity hours, keep going. Try experimenting by changing your schedule. For instance, you could adjust your go-to-sleep and wake-up times. As a result, you might discover the wee hours to be harboring a wealth of potential for boosting your productivity even further.

Unfortunately, not all of us can freely plan our own working hours. For example, it’s quite difficult to make that happen when working in an office and running errands for the boss. But even in those cases, you always have some wiggle room to switch tasks around so you can work at your most efficient without overstraining yourself.