Is This a "Morning" Task?
Scheduling Important Activities for the Right Time of Day
Like many of us, Alys' job has a mix of regular, routine duties that are usually urgent – as well as longer-term, more important tasks that are usually less urgent.
She spends her mornings on the urgent tasks that she must get done. These routine tasks are a bit boring, so her motivation is to get them finished and off of her To-Do List as soon as possible. This leaves her afternoons free from these details, so that she can work on longer-term, more creative tasks – like researching, planning, and writing presentations.
The problem is that she's a morning person. By the time she finishes her routine tasks, she's at her low point of energy in the afternoon. And, to make matters worse, she works in the U.K. – so in the afternoon, she gets tons of distracting emails and phone calls from her colleagues in the U.S. As a result, her creative tasks are often pushed to the side, and she's forced to work on them at the very end of the day, when she's feeling at her worst. Alys clearly needs to change the way she organizes her day!
In this article, we'll examine how to find your best time of day (or week), and how to schedule tasks around that.
OK, some things do have to be done right away. Use this approach for the things that don't.
Step 1: Find Your Peak Times
Each one of us has a different "peak time" or highest-energy time during the day. Some of us are morning people. Others have more energy around mid-afternoon. And some people feel their best at night.
Most people know instinctively when their "up" times are and when their "down" times are. And you probably don't have just one. Some people feel up in the morning, down in the afternoon, and up again in the early evening.
If you're not sure when your peak times are, spend a few days rating your energy level.
For each day, draw a graph with the hours you're awake on the horizontal axis, and your assessment of your energy levels – for example, on a scale running from 0 percent to 100 percent – on the vertical axis. (Click here to download a printable template for this.)
As the day progresses, plot your energy levels on this chart. You'll end up with something that looks like figure 1, below.
Figure 1: Alys's Energy Chart for March 23
It's also important to look at your energy and activity throughout the week. When scheduling your tasks, think about the days of the week in addition to the time of each day.
For many people, Mondays are often busy. A lot of meetings are scheduled for this day, and people are getting back to work after the weekend.
Many find that Tuesdays are their most productive day of the week. They have a good understanding of what they must accomplish for the week, and they're more focused. As the weekend nears, productivity generally falls. Friday is usually the least productive day, because everyone is tired from the week's work, and looking forward to the next two days off.
Step 2: Analyze Your Tasks
You probably have several work tasks that are routine – like making phone calls, checking email, data entry, or payroll. And you likely have some that need plenty of creativity – like brainstorming or writing. You might have weekly tasks that require a lot of energy – such as giving presentations or making sales calls. And some tasks probably require a great deal of concentration – like editing or writing code.
Make a list of your regular tasks, and then sort these into appropriate categories. You could use categories like these, although some tasks might belong to more than one category:
- High concentration.
- High energy.
If you know what types of tasks you do regularly, this will help with the next step.
Step 3: Identify External Factors
Are there factors outside your control that influence when you do things? For example:
- Availability of key colleagues: do certain activities require you to meet with people who only work in the mornings, or are based in a different time-zone?
- Noise levels in the office: if you need to do high-concentration work in an open-plan environment, is this easier first-thing, or perhaps at the end of the day, when things are quieter?
- Resource availability: do you need to work on systems or equipment when they are least-used?
- Customer availability: you may prefer making high-energy sales calls in the afternoon, but if the type of customers you're targeting are often busy at that time, then you need to adjust your schedule.
Step 4: Allocate Tasks to Times
It's important to align your tasks with the ups and downs of your natural energy levels. Schedule creative or high-concentration tasks for your peak times, and plan ordinary or routine tasks for your down times.
For example, Marie is an HR manager. She has several responsibilities during the week – including interviewing, coaching, managing benefits, leading team meetings, and conducting performance reviews.
When Marie first arrives at work in the mornings, her energy is fairly low. During this time, she focuses on ordinary tasks such as checking email, returning phone calls, and other routine work.
Marie knows that she's at her best between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. During this time, she schedules interviews, team meetings, and coaching sessions.
After she returns from a late lunch, her energy is at its lowest, and then it slowly picks up again in the late afternoon. This is when she schedules easier tasks, such as benefit management and performance reviews.
By scheduling her day around her energy cycles, Marie ensures that she's giving her best self to her most demanding tasks.
You can also schedule tasks around the ups and downs of your office's energy cycle. For instance, if you're a morning person, you could arrive at the office early to work on highly creative tasks. The empty building would give you uninterrupted time to focus. And you can avoid scheduling brainstorming meetings for after lunch – this is often not a creative time!
To learn more about scheduling, our article Effective Scheduling can help you make the best use of your time.
The Effects of Food and Drink
Your diet can greatly affect your productivity:
- A strong cup of tea or coffee can help raise your energy level and your spirits when you're at a low point. However, caffeine's effects are often short-lived and can carry their own health risks.
- Many people get hungry for snacks during their "low" time of day. Snacks can be a great way to re-energize, but avoid sugary junk food. Much like coffee, these foods only give you a temporary lift, and then leave you with a sugar crash. Instead, try a healthy snack like fresh fruit, yogurt, or nuts. These foods will keep you going longer.
- If you find yourself at low energy after lunch, you might be eating too much. The bigger the meal, the more you can expect to slow down as your body digests the food. To keep your energy up, eat a lighter meal, like a salad, and have more snacks during the mornings and afternoons.
- Many people don't drink enough water during the day. Dehydration can make you feel tired and slow. Make sure that you drink plenty of water to keep your energy up.
A breath of fresh air can be vital to a productive day in the office. Walking meetings can help to quite literally shake up your thinking! See our article on meetings on the move to learn how to make the most of your time outside.
All of us have natural ups and downs during our day. We can improve the quality of our work – and our productivity – by strategically scheduling tasks that fit with these ups and downs.
Analyze when your energy is high and low, and also when your environment is conducive to working on high-energy tasks, and when it isn't. Schedule high-energy or creative tasks when you have the energy and the right environment to work on them. During your down time, focus on easier or routine tasks.