What Time of the Day Does Productivity Peak? We Asked an Expert

Man being productive at desk

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Sleep, as we’ve continuously harped on, is as vital to your health as diet and exercise. And when we abruptly have our cycles thrown off, it impacts us in a number of ways — physically, mentally, and in terms of productivity.

And it’s those cycles that are key. When and how well we sleep sets a precedent for the rest of our day. It determines when we’re the most alert and productive, when our bodies are most prepared for a workout, and how efficiently we use and store energy — very important stuff, if you plan on staying in shape. But, most of us have no idea when we’re at our best, until we actually get “in the zone.” Is there a way to know? Can we plan our most important tasks for the times that we know we’ll be the most productive?

The answer, according to sleep expert Pete Bils, is a resounding “yes.”

We’ve previously discussed sleep with Bils, who is the vice president of sleep science and research at Sleep Number. He’s a researcher, marathoner, and all-around authority on sleep — so if anybody can tell you when you’re going to be at peak performance, it’s him.

So, what does Bils have to say about peak productivity? It’s all about circadian rhythm.

“The human body is most efficient when there is a rhythm to life. And circadian rhythm … within a 24-hour cycle of a day, there are bio-rhythms that govern how efficient we are, how healthy we are, our mood and emotional state, how alert we are — and even things like the best time for us to digest food,” Bils told The Cheat Sheet. “That’s what a circadian rhythm is — it’s the sleep-awake cycle. All of our biochemistry is set up to make us alert for about 16 hours during the day.”

With a built-in eight or so hours of sleep per 24-hour cycle, our bodies use that 16-hour window that we are awake to shift into and out of certain “modes.” For example, there’s an ideal time for you to hit the gym; when your body switches into a certain mode in which it’s ready for physical activity. The same goes for our mental state. There’s a certain period during our awake hours at which mental processes are cranked to eleven.

The problem? It’s not the same for everyone — but if you were to average everything out, Bils says that you should probably aim for the late morning. That is the time that most of us are going to be the most productive. And if you want to get really specific? Wednesday morning.

“For me, personally, I know I’m sharper in the middle of the week. Most of us are sleep deprived, and by the time Friday rolls around — it’s going to the worst day for your creativity,” Bils said. “Depending on your chronotype … again, for me it’s mid-mornings, in the middle of the week. That’s when I like to get my big projects done. Problem-solving, etc.”

For those of you who spend all morning on Facebook, or putting everything off until later in the day? You’re only hurting yourself, because your body’s cycles are going to make it more difficult.

“If you wait until later in the day — you actually see people start yawning,” Bils said. “You’re actually seeing the changes in the biological rhythms.”

Bils was adamant that this is all conditional on keeping pace with our internal, established rhythms, however. That has to do with light exposure, bed times, and other factors, but when we throw off our body’s internal timers, we get out of wack. Staying out late on the weekends will do it, and daylight savings will do it. So, your social life and even society-wide time-changes over the weekend are actually impacting your productivity levels.

You can take measures to fight off the disruption of your rhythms — like going to bed at the same time every night — but if you want to maintain a social life, it’s difficult. The best thing you can do is learn your own rhythms, and try not to disrupt them too much. And take notice of what times of day your body is performing at its highest level, and plan your tasks accordingly.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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