When are you most productive during the day? Or the week?
Every person is different. And your personal productivity trend can vary from day to day.
In this article, I’ll teach you how to find out when you’re most productive, and how to apply that knowledge.
Table of Contents
- Defining “Productivity” for Yourself
- What Science Says About Time and Productivity
- 6 Factors That Influence Productivity
- 4 Ways to Calculate Your Productivity Throughout the Day
- What Should I do with this Information?
Defining “Productivity” for Yourself
One quick note before we get any further: different people define productivity in different ways. If you want to get value out of your productivity assessments, you’ll need to concretely define it for yourself and figure out what you’re hoping to improve, exactly.
You’ll need to think about:
- Actual work done. How much work are you actually doing? Are you writing a certain number of words? Are you closing a certain number of tickets? Are you completing a certain number of tasks or making a certain number of phone calls? Tracking hours isn’t ideal here, since sitting in a chair for 8 hours doesn’t exactly qualify as “productive work.”
- Quality and focus. The subjective quality of your work and the focus you’re able to give to it may also be important. For example, you may be attending a meeting – but can you absorb everything that’s said during that meeting? And can you remember it? You may have completed three tasks, but did you accomplish them to your fullest potential? Or was this a half-hearted effort?
- Personal motivation and energy. Don’t forget about your own personal motivation and feelings of energy. Even if you’re getting through your tasks somewhat efficiently, it may not feel like a productive day if you’re feeling sluggish, tired, or burnt out in your current line of responsibilities.
Productivity, for most people, involves a mix of these concepts.
What Science Says About Time and Productivity
Now let’s get back to the main question.
When are people most productive?
Science has an answer.
Okay, just kidding – science has some information. But as you might imagine, the information is complicated.
According to one study, the most productive time of day is around lunchtime. The study looked at 500,000 exams taken by university students in the U.K., and found that scores tended to improve around the 1:30 pm mark.
Another, much older study from 1975 found that adults benefitted from greater focus and logical reasoning between 8 am and 2 pm. It also found that “the larger the short‐term memory component of a task the earlier in the day performance peaks.”
And a more comprehensive review from 2007 reinforced this idea, looking at multiple studies to conclude that “some cognitive processes are particularly vulnerable to variations in the circadian arousal level, whereas others are less or even apparently not affected.”
What about days of the week? Tuesday is consistently the most productive day, according to large-scale HR surveys spanning decades, with Monday in second place and Wednesday in third. It shouldn’t surprise you to find out that most people get less productive as the week continues.
There are several problems with extrapolating these data, of course. The test subjects were small in number and not especially diverse, and the tasks tested were limited in range.
We also need to temper our expectations about finding the objectively best time of day for productivity, because we all differ on a fundamental and individual level. Multiple scientific studies have found that whether you’re an “early bird” or a “night owl” is heavily influenced by genetic factors.
In other words, your genes play a major role in when you’re most productive.
6 Factors That Influence Productivity
We also know that personal productivity can vary throughout the day, mostly based on variables related to time (but not dictated by it).
That’s a fancy way of saying these variables are complicated, but they typically impact your productivity in one way or another.
The scientific consensus is that sunlight is great for both your health and your productivity.
You’ve probably felt these effects, even if you haven’t realized their root cause. Spending time outside in the sun leaves you feeling great – while being secluded from the sun can leave you feeling tired, empty, or depressed. There are many reasons for this, including sunlight’s role in influencing our circadian rhythms and our absorption of vitamin D from sunlight.
But suffice it to say, most of us are more productive when natural light surrounds us – and that can only happen during the day.
We ‘re also significantly less productive when we’re tired or sleep deprived. If you went to bed late and didn’t get a great night’s sleep, you’ll probably be extra tired and groggy in the morning following that experience.
Many people who are more productive in the afternoon are this way because they fail to get high-quality sleep on a consistent basis; they’re still trying to get going in the morning, but coffee, food, and momentum can get them through the rest of the day.
Speaking of coffee, we have to talk about caffeine. Caffeine affects your adenosine receptors, masking feelings of tiredness that would otherwise influence your work.
Coffee drinkers tend to consume more caffeine in the morning, while tapering off in the afternoon (though some people drink coffee all day). This, too, can impact the timing of your productivity.
Most types of food will give you an immediate burst of energy, and some types of food can give you lasting energy for hours to come. In any case, when you eat and what you eat can impact the flow of your productivity throughout the day.
Most of us start feeling sluggish late in the morning, before lunch, but after eating lunch, we feel a surge of new enthusiasm, pushing us through the last part of our day.
Some people feel their productivity decline steadily throughout the day, often in roles that are highly stressful or difficult.
Nobody has unlimited stamina, so long days can take the fire out of anybody.
Of course, the order of events can also significantly impact your productivity. If you have boring or tedious tasks early in the day, it could make it hard to generate momentum immediately after.
If you have something difficult late in the day, it could make you nervous or impact your work earlier in the day.
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4 Ways to Calculate Your Productivity Throughout the Day
Okay, so you know you’re naturally a night owl, but that you feel a surge of energy around lunchtime (because, really, who doesn’t?).
But how can you pinpoint exactly when your peak productivity is? And how your productivity ebbs and flows throughout the day?
I have four tools to recommend to you:
Try EmailAnalytics! It’s totally free. EmailAnalytics is data visualization and analytics tool for email. It enables you to see how many emails you send and receive per day and how that changes, hour by hour.
You can also tap into tons of other metrics, like email response time, and get an accurate picture of how you work throughout the day and throughout the week.
2. Your project management software of choice
If you use project management software, you can track the number of tasks you complete and the number of tickets you close.
It’s an easy and straightforward way to quantify your work.
3. Time tracking software
You can also use time tracking software to quantify and chart your work. While hours spent isn’t necessarily a good metric, you can time how long it takes you to complete a task at different times of day and different days of the week.
Are you faster in the morning? Are you slower on Fridays?
4. A journal
Also consider keeping a productivity journal throughout the day. How are you feeling and why are you feeling it? Do you feel energetic at the start of the day? Did you experience a crash halfway through? And if so, when?
The more you document your own patterns, the better you’ll understand your working self.
What Should I do with this Information?
So what can you do with this information?
Here are my suggestions:
1. Conduct a more thorough analysis
Your productivity drops on Wednesdays and around 3 pm most days. But why? With a more thorough analysis, you should be able to pinpoint the reasons why your productivity increases or decreases – and come to definitive conclusions about how you prefer to work.
2. Think about ways to mitigate your low productivity periods
When are you most sluggish and uninterested in work? Think of ways to compensate for these periods. Can you skip meetings, delegate tasks, eat a healthy snack, or talk a walk to boost your energy levels?
Can you rearrange your schedule or improve your lifestyle and personal habits?
3. Think about ways to maximize your high productivity periods
Similarly, it’s a good idea to brainstorm ways to make the most of your high productivity periods.
For example, let’s say you’re at peak productivity on Tuesday morning (like many people). Can you schedule difficult or challenging tasks for Tuesday morning so you can perform this work more efficiently?
Can you reach out to clients and prospects when you’re feeling at your best?
4. Redistribute your workload
Don’t be afraid to rearrange your schedule and responsibilities to better suit your productivity (as long as you’re not negatively impacting others).
This could include trading tasks, rescheduling events, or delegating to other people.
This could also mean practicing a different schedule in your personal life, such as going to bed earlier to make sure you get a full night’s sleep consistently.
5. Communicate with your team
When you learn more about your productivity and the factors that influence your work, be open and communicate with your team.
You can tell your boss about your working preferences and collaborate with them to reach your full potential – or you can form a mutually beneficial network with your coworkers to swap tasks and responsibilities on a regular basis.
Get creative here!
Well, what do you think? When are you most productive?
Are you an early bird who gets more done in the early hours of the morning? Or a night owl who’s groggy and sluggish until late afternoon?
Do you burst out of the gates on Monday with a fully charged spirit? Or is it usually Thursday before you hit peak momentum?
Your intuitions may be deceiving.
The only way to be sure is to measure your productivity using a tool like EmailAnalytics. It can tell you your busiest times and days of the week along with a host of other details, such as your response time and average email thread length. Sign up for a free trial today to see it in action!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.