You won’t solve all your productivity problems by becoming a morning person

Getting proper sleep is more important than religiously waking up at the crack of dawn if you can’t make the most of it.

Waking up early has immense value for millions of people.

Adding those extra hours to the day when no one else is up allows you to get a head-start and work on your most important tasks.

Early risers get a lot of good press.

They are supposedly more productive and effective and efficient.

There are countless articles about the morning habits of the world’s most successful leaders.

Apple CEO Tim Cook apparently wakes up at 3.45 am.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne at 3:30 am.

Vogue editor Anna Wintour gets out of bed to play tennis at 5.45 am.

Richard Branson has says he rises at the same time.

And Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz reportedly gets up at 4.30 am.

“Numerous studies have found that morning people are more persistent, self-directed and agreeable. They set higher goals for themselves, plan for the future more and have a better sense of well-being,” writes Amanda Ruggeri of BBC Capital.

Many successful people have been promoting getting up early and working at the crack of dawn, while it is actually more important to recognize what works for you and optimize workflow accordingly.

Myth: early riser = more productive

More hours is not equals to more/better work.

Waking up at an unnatural time for you can cause sleep deprivation if your body can’t handle it.

When you are tired, you lose productivity.

You become more irritable and are less functional.

For those that are biologically predetermined early risers, waking up at 5 AM may be natural and helpful.

However, for those on a different body cycle, trying to change it, though not impossible, can make you unproductive.

In the long-term, it could negatively disrupt your biological sleep cycle and decrease happiness — without making you more efficient or giving anything truly valuable in return.

Rising early can be great when it works for you.

Some early risers might get more done, but it turns out there are times when getting up earlier can make you less productive.

But here is the thing: Everyone has different peak hours. And our biological clocks are different.

Your body clock, or circadian rhythm, governs how your body is in sync with all of life.

Your rhythm is different from mine.

And what works for Tim Cook may not necessarily work for you.

“If people are left to their naturally preferred times, they feel much better. They say that they are much more productive. The mental capacity they have is much broader,” says Oxford University biologist Katharina Wulff, who studies chronobiology and sleep.

The best productivity hack is just listening to your own body and working with it, not against it.

Brian Tracy calls this your prime time. “Your internal prime time is the time of day, according to your body clock, when you are the most alert and productive.”

The single most important productivity advice you need to follow is this: Match your highest priority work to your most productive hours.

The basic idea here is to track your energy, motivation and focus to get a sense of when, where, and how you’re the most productive.

Yulia Yaganova recommends at least a three-week experiment where you rate your energy, focus and motivation at the end of every hour, using a scale from one to 10 to find out your peak times.

The growing body of research on ultradian rhythms suggests that our day is driven by cycles that affect how alert and productive we are.

The results of this research clearly show that the human body goes through cycles of between 90 and 120 minutes.

Through each of these cycles we are taken from an unproductive trough to a productive peak, and then back again.

This pattern was first noticed by sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman, which caused a mountain of research to be conducted in this area.

Another study published in Thinking & Reasoning found out that we tend to think more creativity when we’re tired.

A study by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks suggested that innovation and creativity are often the greatest in moments of fatigue, based on our circadian rhythms.

Fatigue and tiredness have been shown to free up thinking along non-linear paths, leading us to find new solutions to existing problems. So your body’s internal body clock is the best clue to how productive you can be.

Star and stick to a routine that brings out the best in you!

Tap your energy cycle

Our body clock is a small group of cells made up of unique ‘body clock’ genes.

These cells turn on and off and tell other parts of the body what time it is and what to do.

A growing body of research suggests that paying attention to the body clock, and its effects on energy and alertness, can help pinpoint the different times of day when most of us perform our best at specific tasks.

At the beginning of the cycle, we experience heightened energy and focus, and at the end, we may feel scatterbrained and fatigued.
For many people working in the AM feels effortless, but PM’s are always a struggle.

If you take note of how your body reacts to work at any time of day, you will be able to figure out when you should focus on getting stuff done, when to brainstorm, and most importantly when you should avoid meetings.

When the body’s master clock can synchronize functioning of all its metabolic, cardiovascular and behavioural rhythms in response to light and other natural stimuli, it “gives us an edge in daily life,” says Steve Kay, a professor of molecular and computational biology at the University of Southern California.

But, what is the best day for you (or your team) to be productive?

Peak productivity, it seems, happens at the same time during your workday, no matter where you are in the world.

A two-year global study conducted by project management software company Redbooth found that productivity among office workers worldwide is at its highest point at 11 a.m., and plummets completely after 4 p.m.

John Trougakos, an associate professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto in Canada, says the reason we’re most productive in the morning is down to circadian rhythms, or our internal body clock, which tells our bodies when to get up, eat, and sleep throughout 24-hour cycles.

According to Trougakos, about 75% of people tend to be most mentally alert between 9 a.m and 11 a.m.

And a survey that looked into the habits of 2,000 UK workers seems to agree with Trougakos’ research, showing Tuesday morning as the most productive time for Brits.

The findings “are consistent with considerable research on the ebbs and flows of mental acuity,” says Don Drummond, economist and adjunct professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that we get the least amount work done on a Friday, with Redbooth’s survey showing a 20% drop in productivity across the globe.

Sleepiness also tends to peak around 2 p.m., making that a good time for a nap, says Martin Moore-Ede, chairman and chief executive of Circadian, a Stoneham, Mass., training and consulting firm.

To get a little more precise and make sure you’re really matching your best work to your peak times, try experimenting.

Tackle complex projects early in the day, make time for brainstorming, meetings and collaboration in the afternoon.

Most people are more easily distracted from noon to 4 p.m., according to recent research led by Robert Matchock, an associate professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University.

But guess, what surprisingly, fatigue boost creative powers.

Problems that require open-ended thinking are often best tackled in the evening when you are tired, according to a study in the journal Thinking & Reasoning.

People who work with instead of against their ultradian rhythm perform better. It’s critical that you acknowledge your body’s natural rhythms and align your periods of work and relaxation with them to work in a sustainable productive way.

It requires a lot of research on yourself and a big time commitment up front, but the personal productivity insights you’ll get out of it can pay off in the long-run.

This simple method can help you organize your days around your energy, not your time.

The experiment for better cycle insights

1. Pick a day and start tracking how you spend it.

2. Eliminate any factors that could mess with your energy — changes in caffeine intake is a big one, staying up late is another.

3. Start recording what you’re accomplishing once an hour. Rate your energy level, motivation, focus in the process of work, every day.

4. Chris Bailey, author of “The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy”, took a year off to experiment with productivity.

He suggests recording scores for focus, energy, and motivation for three weeks, at the same time each day, to find your sweet spot. The longer you track your productivity, the more reliable your insights will be.

You will see trends even after one week of tracking, but the more data you gather, the more reliable your trends will be.

5. Take a few minutes each day to reflect on your previous day/week. Do you notice any patterns? When are you most focused? When do you notice a surge or dip in energy?

What times do you reach for coffee in the day? These patterns can reveal when you’re at your best and when you should take a break to refresh.

6. Write down how you spend your minutes and keep notes on how you felt. Be honest. Sometimes you can identify that you feel “on a roll,” which is a good sign that you’re figuring out something about your productivity.

7. The exact details that you record may vary, but to get the most accurate results you’ll need to be as consistent as possible.

Patterns will show themselves if you start tracking it. Time and activity tracking software like Rescue Time and Toggl can be a big help here.

8. You’re bound to discover some very interesting things about what drives your productivity. If you can diligently track all three weeks, you’ll come out the other side a productivity superhero.

9. Try a combination of things during this process, including waking up an hour earlier, meditating, exercise, and taking longer breaks to find out if they affect your peak times. Do more of what works. The variables you choose to alter are countless. Have fun with it!

10. Once you figure out your most productive time of day, rearrange your tasks and put your important, high-concentration tasks in periods where you’re highly productive and place less important, low-concentration tasks in periods where you’re not very productive.

I did this experiment for three months. I started this practice because I discovered my energy and capacity for intense deep work diminish as the day wears on.

From waking up between 7 am and 8 am, my energy levels quickly spiked, gradually dipping between 12 pm and 2 pm.

Key takeaway

Don’t limit yourself to single productivity rule.

Experiment and find out what works for you, and give you the greatest return for your time, energy, and attention.

Productivity tools and techniques need to be custom fit not only to YOU but also to your SITUATION.

It’s okay to skip conventional productivity wisdom if something else works better for you.

Getting proper sleep is more important than religiously waking up at the crack of dawn if you can’t make the most of it.

Giving yourself an extra hour in the day isn’t enough, it’s what you do with it that matters.

You can get things done if you start your day on purpose and plan well in advance, but being an early bird is not for everyone.

And, if you are more productive at a late hour, that should be your priority.

This article first appeared on Medium.