At my first job out of college I was really lucky.
It was a direct mail catalog company so we weren’t in constant contact with the customers.
You were still expected to put in a full work week, but the company was flexible.
I don’t know that it was intentional, but they allowed people to work during their most productive periods of the day. I would kind of pay attention to when people would come in and when they would leave. It helped me become self aware of when I was most productive and got me thinking about how people are different in this area.
The woman in the office next to mine was on a similar schedule to me. She would arrive no later than 7:00 AM and would head out for home at about 4:00 PM.
There was a guy in the office next to hear that would come in close to 8:00 AM most days and leave about 5:00 PM. But on a fairly regular basis he would come in at 9:00 AM and leave at about 6:00 PM.
And there were others in the building that might come in even earlier and those that might leave even later. Not by too much, but you could tell this had been going on for years and that it was working.
From what I could tell then and now it was a very productive environment.
Only A Few Productive Hours
A lot of the day at the office could be spent working on the typical daily tasks, but also on meetings and on calls and on email and that kind of thing.
But everybody seemed to have about 2-3 hours each day when they were really productive. They weren’t being bothered. They could just sit down and focus on one thing and really get some good work in.
For the woman next to me that was early in the morning at 7:00 AM. For the guy next to her it was after everybody else had left and he had the office to himself starting at about 4:00 PM.
I know others would even work at home late at night because that was the only downtime they would have. They’d work from about 10:00 PM to 12:00 AM before going to bed and then getting up and heading in for work at about 9:00 AM.
How To Find Your Most Productive Time
My coworkers at that company were in a flexible situation. They also seemed to adapt over time to their most productive hours of the day. Maybe without even realizing it we stumbled into those productive hours and discovered when we would get the most work done, but thinking back now I think there were some tricks that we used that anybody could use to find their productive time.
1. Think Back
I started thinking back to the best work I did at the company. My most creative ideas. The times when something was way behind schedule and somehow, someway I was able to get it done really fast. Those kinds of times.
We all should have them.
I started noticing that I worked really well from about 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM each morning. Then again from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM. Today I notice that I can do some really good work from about 5:00 AM to 7:00 AM.
Think back to when you really got something accomplished. You should notice patterns.
2. Test Your Limits
I’m a big fan of limits.
One interesting thing I noticed a few years ago was that when I limited myself to a 6 hour workday that I still got just about all the same work done. All the same tasks. Nothing really differed.
That woke me up a bit to the fact that whatever length of day we have we’ll tend to fill it with whatever we want to accomplish.
Shorten the amount of time you have for a task. Do that over and over. Sometimes you’ll fail to get something done, but other times you’ll succeed. Those times you succeed are indications of your most productive times.
3. Change Your Habits
I’m also a fan of auditing your habits.
I think we get into these habits and then feel weird to try to change something. We’re comfortable. The world isn’t ending and we think we should stick with the way things are to keep it that way.
But what I’ve found is that if you completely change things from time to time that you discover new things about yourself. New capabilities, but also when you’re productive.
It’s a little scary, but you can learn a lot by changing everything even for just a few days.
The big takeaway here is that the goal is to be productive. To be creative. To get some great work done. But the only way to do that is to find your limits. To learn more about yourself. You may think you know when you’re most productive and you’re probably right. You might be a morning or a night person, but even then there are smaller blocks of time when you’re at your best.
Find those blocks and block them off on your calendar for the most important tasks each day.