Productivity is such a hard thing to get your head around, isn’t it?
If you feel regularly lost throughout the day in terms of what you should – and shouldn’t – be doing, and if you feel as though your to-do list is nothing more than a never-ending list of things you’ll never get around to doing, then you’re unknowingly suffering from low levels of productivity.
This doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Far from it, in fact most of us experience this throughout the working week.
The most successful people spot these instances and work their way out of them. And they do so in a way which means the instances of lower levels of productivity become less and less as time draws on.
The key to this lies in finding your most productive time of the day and optimising it.
This is our guide to finding that time and finally getting to the bottom of your to-do list each and every day.
Is the most productive time of the day the same for everyone?
No. We’re all different in this respect.
For instance, your friend might find that getting up at 6am every day and cracking on with work after a quick coffee enables her to achieve every goal.
But your brother may reveal that he’s far better working later in the day and even into the evening.
We’re all different when it comes to productivity. This is due to the varying ways in which our minds and bodies react with each other, our life experiences, health and living circumstances.
So, how do you join the increasing number of people who have worked out where their most productive hours lay?
Start tracking your time
This might sound like yet another thing to do each day (how’s that possible when you’re already failing with your to-do list?), but it’s actually a brilliant way to work out where you’re being most productive.
There are plenty of dedicated apps out there for time tracking, so go and find one which works for you. Then, with your chosen tool in hand, make sure you start to log your time throughout the day.
Categorise it too. So if you work for multiple clients, you can have a timer tag for each one. Or, if like most people, you undertake lots of different tasks each day, categorise them under headings like ‘admin’, ‘email’ and ‘report writing’.
Then, after a week or so, start diving into the analytics. You’ll notice patterns where your work rate increases during certain times of the day. If you don’t work a regular 9-5 (few people do these days), a timer app and its range of reports will reveal which hours are your most productive.
Get to know your circadian rhythm
The circadian rhythm is basically how your mind and body performs throughout the day. You’ll recognise yours as the times during which you feel ultra inspired to get on and work, and the times when you really can’t be bothered to do anything more than lounge about on the sofa.
Most circadian rhythms have an energy drop at around 2am and then picks up again at 4am. Later in the day, the rhythm will typically take a dip again between 1pm and 3pm.
There’s all sorts of research that has gone into this, but understanding your own circadian rhythm is key to unleashing your productivity.
It’ll take time to understand how your body and mind works in this way, and you may not be like others; your productive time could be between 1pm and 3pm, for instance.
Try and identify the periods during the day when you typically have lower energy levels and those when you’re ‘on it’. Base your working day around them, and listen to your body when it says “I need a break!”.
Balance your day properly
A balanced day consists of regular sleep/wake times, consistent meals, exercise and meaningful activity.
There’s no point forcing yourself to do things when your body and mind are telling you not to. Instead, a balanced day will ensure your body gets into the right rhythm and schedule.
Depending on the industry you work in, there shouldn’t be anything that dictates when you get work done bar yourself. If you let schedules take over, you’ll end up exercising less, eating poorly and working far longer than you need to.
Work in short, focused bursts of productivity
The Pomodoro technique is a brilliant way to maximise your most productive times of the day.
It works on the principle of working for stretches of, say, 25-minutes, followed by five minute breaks. You can adjust those times as you need to, but the key thing is to remain in a consistent loop of short, focused bursts of productivity and short periods of rest.
You’ll be amazed how this focused approach to work helps you get more done than you ever thought possible.
Always question your to-do list
A great way to get ahead of yourself and reveal where you’re most productive during the day is to look back at the history of your to-do list.
You’ll have experienced certain days where you couldn’t help but get to the bottom of it. You were on fire; no matter what life threw in your path, you simply got on with the task in hand and ticked off every item.
That happened for a reason, and the reason is most likely because you undertook those tasks at the right time of the day and with the right mindset.
The same goes for unproductive periods. Look back at days where you barely skimmed the surface of your to-do list. What went wrong? Were you starting work too late or too early? Constantly ask questions about your to-do list.
Productivity is something you can tame with the right frame of mind. As we’ve discovered today, it’s all about finding the times when you’re most productive and harnessing them.
Just remember that this isn’t a fire-and-forget routine; you need to work at your ability to get things done constantly. The good news is that once you find your circadian rhythm and identify the times of the day during which you’re most productive, you’ll never be saddled with an unfinished to-do list ever again.