From Dragging to Flowing: How to Find Your Most Productive Hours

January 17, 2023

You may find yourself zipping through task after task at certain times of the day. And reaching for the caffeine crutch during others. Have you ever wondered about the reason behind this disparity? Better put the mug down because we have a zinger for you. 

You aren't equally productive at all hours of the day! But there's an even bigger reveal heading your way—it's okay if you aren't because the most productive hours vary from person to person. Additionally, the time slot when you're at your best usually remains consistent. It means you can boost outputs and overall success if you can pinpoint it.

Before we hatch that egg, let's look at some numbers about the working hours we keep and productive hours meaning:

A Bird's Eye View of Productivity

We share the findings of an analysis of almost 2 million projects and 30 million tasks gathered from Priceonomics:

  • Most people's motors don't start running until 7 am
  • For most of us, work begins tapering in quantity—if not quality--after 5 pm
  • Your productivity goes to lunch at 11 am, but never really comes back
  • You may as well say farewell to being productive between the hours of 11 am and 4 pm
  • Highest task completion takes place on Monday, dogged closely by Tuesday
  • The number of tasks you complete goes downhill as the crow work week flies
  • You get more done in the latter part of the year, i.e., September-November

Negating the Ostrich Effect—Why Is Knowing Your Productivity Range Important?

Going through Life Being Extra Ultra Peaky

Humans run in cycles like the debate on whether vampires should be hideous or the very essence of suavity.

Figure 1. The Honorable Sir Dean Pies-A-Lot

The circadian day is the biggest example of a human-related cyclical process. But did you know there's also a cycle within that cycle? Called the ultradian rhythms, these 90-120-minute-long intervals within 24 hours are the reason you keep dozing off in the middle of your boss's extra boring story. 

They drive our alertness and productivity, resulting in phases of heightened energy and focus or feeling fatigued and scatterbrained.

Figure 2. Ever feel like a browser with a million tabs open? That's when you're in the energy valley between the two extreme ends of the cycle.

Climbing out of the Energy Valley

‍Once you've slithered down into the energy trough, stop trying to kickstart your groggy brain. You won't be able to focus properly or retain mental energy long enough to focus on projects that involve:

  • Problem solving
  • Critical decision making
  • Complex thought

So, it's best to shelve those tasks because they will take longer and be more painful. Instead, take up those projects once you've recharged and entered your peak time again. That's when you'll also feel excited and alert to be working on them.

Additionally, bring out the routine, less complicated, and unimportant stuff when you're less focused and engaged. All the boring weekly catch-up meetings we must sit through? This is the time to schedule them, not during the most productive hours of the day! After all, most of us are a snore away during those sessions. Right?

Individual Productivity

What's more, productivity drops are common and expected once you have clocked in over 50 hours a week. In other words, you won't win awards for your output by being a workaholic. So instead, work your best hours since it could trump working longer ones.

And you can put that time to good use by predicting your next energy surge. In other words, knowing your productivity range makes you more likely to achieve your goals for the day. So, what should your next steps be?

  1. Manage to arrange your work schedule to when you're at your most productive
  2. Take over Save the world!

Employee Management & Productivity

As evident, the percentage of self-employed professionals continues to grow. If your employees or team members work from home, your company's likely letting them choose their hours. However, that's the type of can you open only to find other, new worms wriggling inside!

For instance, managers must ask themselves:

  • Why shouldn't my team pick time slots when they would feel more alert, inspired, and productive?
  • Is sticking to the 9-5 work schedule smart?
  • Will it work for everybody?
  • Can I help them figure out their least productive hours in a workday?
  • Could they use the energy trough to get family responsibilities and other chores out of the way?
  • Will a productive hours calculation increase overall team productivity and engagement?
  • Could I map out individual productivity power hours and use the data to optimize my team's full potential?

The answer to that last bit's yes, if you were wondering. Having productivity data allows you to develop and extract a unique level of business intelligence.

The Early Bird Doesn't Always Catch the Worm—How to Know Where Your Productivity Lies

Daniel Pink's, When: The Scientific Science of Perfect Timing can help you unfurl those wings. His three-bird classification of the workforce goes something like this: 

  1. Consider yourself a lark if you're up at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am or before. These morning people are stabler, happier, and more agreeable. They are also most likely introverts.
  2. Those who work better after 5:30 pm are owls or night people. They're more creative but equally impulsive. Owls can sometimes be depressive too.
  3. Finally, we have the in-betweeners, aka, the normal ones. They take to the typical 9-5 work like a duck to water. And since Pink didn't suggest a bird type for them, we went with Becky the Gull from Finding Dory!

Close to 80% of the world is either #2 or #3, and about 60% of those are Beckys! The remaining few are the night owls. Their productivity takes a nosedive when adjusting to the work schedules more suited to the other 80%.

A Bird in Hand—How can You Find Your Most Productive Hours?

Now that it seems logical to track productivity, here are some paths you can take to get there:

Start Eating Frogs

Mark Twain said, "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." Simply put, find the biggest frog, the hardest task you've to do in a day and eat it the first thing you do.

That said, don't stop nom-nomming after gulping down just one. Instead of letting the number of tasks you have to do daily overwhelm you, find smaller frogs—or tadpoles—to chomp on. So, set your daily goal to check off 15 or 50 small tasks but get the one that requires the most focus and energy out of the way first. Then, move on to the less-important-even-if-more-urgent stuff.

This method's perfect for you, if you:

  • Like eating frogs
  • Push back against procrastination all day long
  • Keep putting off the more important tasks
  • Don't take to most productivity systems
  • Can't decide which task to work on at a time
  • Are buried under a hefty, endless to-do list

Not to be missed: 4 Time Tracking Methods to Boost Productivity

Do It with timegram

Productive time management doesn't happen without these three things:

  • Data
  • Awareness
  • Experimentation

So, how well does timegram fare in these categories?

Starting with data, stop relying on self-reporting or press-play-press-stop time tracking tools to obtain it. Instead, opt for the transformative tool, timegram, for automated and not-in-your-face data collection. 

When it comes to awareness, timegram will present an accurate picture of time spent on tasks in a day. Employees can filter out the non-productive activities when they need to show their best work to managers. The latter can select the relevant logged activities and view only those via the Highlights app.

Finally, you're free to run hassle-free experiments until you find your most productive hours. timegram will gather data automatically and remain in the background without interrupting your work. It'll also neatly arrange your activity into app blocks for easy breezy navigation.

Individual Time & Task Management

Now, let's do a run-through and find the hours you're best at your work:

1. Your daily app and website usage and task completion rate during work hours become raw data fuel for the app. So, dig through the timesheets across days, weeks, and months. Soon, you may begin to see a pattern.

2. Next, move to the productivity reports for a much clearer look. Match the hours when your performance lags across time. Use the information to determine the best time to eat frogs and which bird clan of the workforce you belong to! Also, single out the times you're most productive for each task. Doing so allows you to work this info into your daily schedule.

3. Schedule focused heads-down work during peak productivity hours. Opt to complete communication—meeting, calls, or emails—when the energy trough begins encroaching. Then, take breaks once you're inside the dreaded trough. 

Team Time & Task Management

Managers, you won't have to hunt for a productive time formula when determining employee productivity vs. hours worked. Instead, you can view the Estimated vs. Actual Time for each employee or go through the productivity reports. They're instantly available and let you improve your estimates for more realistic future timelines.

Not to be missed: How Does An Automated Time Tracking Tool Work?

Like a Duck to Water—Making the Most of Your Peak Productive Hours

Be the Bird You were Born to be

Okay, if you are a morning lark, like 20% of the world, begin your day a few hours earlier. You'll find you work best in the wee hours of the morning.

However, the #2s, aka Beckys, enjoy dedicating two different periods to different types of tasks in a day. First, they can handle analytical tasks in the morning peak time. Then, come evening—at about 4 pm—they break out the brainstorming gear. That's when they indulge in out-of-box thinking.

So, what's a day like for the night owls? The light of creativity dawns on them in the morning while their laser focus switches on in the evenings.

Don't Listen to Chris

Chris Bailey suggests eliminating the following factors from your life in his book, "The Productivity Project,":

  • Caffeine—as if!
  • Waking up without an alarm—am I The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon?
  • Staying up too late—then who will write this blog?

Keep an hourly log of your energy levels—more tedious work. Great!

Most of us may not survive without coffee infusions, no matter what Chris says. However, cutting down on the dosage should help. The same goes for his other suggestions to take care of our health, like:

  • Consuming nutrient-rich as opposed to calorie-rich food
  • Getting sufficient REM sleep
  • Relieving stress through physical (exercise) and mental workouts (meditation)
  • De-cluttering your peak hour to-do list by removing unnecessary tasks

These measures can help you extend your productive hours.

Ridding Yourself of the Albatross--How to Make Your Schedule Work

So, you know what to do, and you've also determined when's the best time to get things done. What's next? Persuading your boss to let you set your work schedule within your productivity range. If you are the boss, then leverage timegram to help your employees find their ideal personal work schedules.

Start the conversation and…

Aim for the Staggering Effect

Also called flextime, this option may be available within your organization. For instance, the morning larks can check if they can start working at 7 am so they'd be done by 3. That way, they can avoid slipping into the energy trough that begins at 4 pm. The night owls, too, can pick an alternative time slot instead of the usual 9-5. Therefore, discussing how taking ownership of your schedule would allow you to be more productive may be in order.

Break It Off

Whether your employer agrees to pick your shift hours or not, there's something else that could help you carve out more productive peaks in a day. Schedule breaks—and not just ones where you close your laptop but don't take your mind completely off work. Once it's break time, do anything but think about the tasks at hand.

Try these instead:

  • Stretching
  • Stepping outside
  • Taking a walk
  • Meditating
  • Doodling

If you're the employer, encourage your workforce to find schedules that suit them best. And when they arrive at one right for them, provide the structural support to make it possible. Finally, ensure they'll be rewarded and recognized for their improved performance. Your actions could result in boosting productivity.

Not to be missed:  When the Candle Burns at Both Ends, Nobody Wins: Don't Let Your Employees Fall Victim to Burnout

Happy as a Lark—Work the Right Hours

Call it an energy trough or a productivity valley, that time slot is your body demanding a much-needed break. That's another reason why it's necessary for you to learn to work the right hours. Therefore, even if you extract extra peaks from your work day, don't push to eliminate all energy dips. Instead, be kind to your body and mind and log in the longer right hours. 

Finally, use timegram for best results if you want to really cash in the most productive years of life, i.e., between 60-80 years of age! Ever think why most Nobel-takers are old-timers?


How can I figure out my most productive hours?

You may be a night owl or someone more productive in the morning. Find out when you're most focused during the day because those are your best work schedule hours. Alternatively, you can take the best productivity method, aka, the 2-min rule of productivity, for a spin. If you can complete a task in 2 minutes or less, do it immediately. That way, you'll prevent yourself from procrastinating over stuff!

What are considered productive hours?

The 9-6 normal working hours may not suit you. In other words, question if it's okay to work 5 days a week, okay for you to work 16 hours a day, or how many hours of work is too much. Instead, you should find out what your best working hours are for peak productivity. Once you do that, stick to that time slot. Being on the job for more than 10 hours per day does much damage, such as increasing the risk of cardiovascular issues by 60%.

What time of day are we least productive?

If you want to know the time of day best for focus, log in your energy levels for a week or so. People have the most energy when at or near their peaks in alertness. For most of them, alertness is lower later at night, around 4 pm, and very early in the morning. Friday is the most unproductive day of the week. But things may be different in your case. So, log in and repeat.

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Midhat Hadi

About the author

Midhat Hadi successfully caught herself a PhD in Botany. When she's not gloating, she writes fiction and blogs.

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