The time of day you’re at your most productive is not what you’d think, scientists say

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If I asked you what time people are most productive, it’s a safe bet to say you would answer that the morning is when people are most productive.

However, a recent study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics evaluated 503,358 student-exam observations. The study came to the shocking conclusion that the most productive time for students is not in the early morning.

Our usual routines may not be optimal

Many office employees start their day with a cup of coffee, first thing in the morning, and sit down to begin knocking out their daily tasks during the initial few hours during lunch. I am no different in routine and usually find my coffee begins to kick in around 8:00 a.m., and I can start getting things done around 9:00 a.m.

A few hours into work and lunchtime rolls around. After finishing lunch, I again get back into my routine of checking emails and finishing up any leftover unfinished tasks from my morning session. 

However, the study revealed the optimal time when we are most productive is not necessarily the time I force myself to stay focused. 

The time of day we’re most productive, according to scientists

For the IZA study, they chose three time slots to observe students and their subsequent exams.

The times were 9:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. At the conclusion of the study, a clear time was the winner when students were most focused and productive. 

The time? 1:30 p.m.

The after lunch hour is notoriously thought to be the least productive time of the day. When our food is starting to digest, and many of us would rather take a nap. However, we have intentionally forced ourselves to believe the morning is the most productive time, and the afternoon is the least productive time.

To further answer why the early afternoon may be the optimal time to focus and achieve the best results, Kristen Knutson, a professor of neurology at Northwestern University, sheds light on the situation.  She explains how our circadian rhythm, also known as our internal clock, governs our most productive times. 

The most productive times are early afternoon for young adults because they generally stay up later and get up later in the morning. However, working adults begin to shift this time back because they usually go to bed earlier and get up earlier than young adults. 

The study results suggest that their most productive time may be slightly earlier than lunchtime for working adults but generally not as early as we would have thought.

Optimizing your day for your most productive time

If you struggle to get moving early in the morning, it may mean your internal clock is most efficient in the early afternoon or an hour or so before lunch.

Listen to your body and figure out how to do some of the less important tasks early in the morning and use your productive times to complete those essential and important work tasks.

With all of us focusing on becoming more productive during the day, a shift in focus to a more optimal time may be the perfect solution! If you are a remote worker, you can take advantage of your optimal time by shifting your lunch hour earlier or later in the day depending on your internal clock.