An Hour-by-Hour Roadmap to Your Most Productive Day Ever

published Jun 5, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

There’s no such thing as a perfect, one-size-fits-all routine. Everyone’s peak productivity hours vary based on their individual circadian rhythm and personality — for example, if you’re a night owl, it may not be a good idea to wake up at 4 a.m. daily just because your favorite entrepreneur swears by it.

Still, (according to science) some time-frames are better than others for your everyday activities.

Ed. note: This schedule illustrates the optimal time to accomplish each of these activities. It’s not meant to reflect the average person’s day. You should use this schedule as inspiration to pick and choose one or two ways to optimize your routine.

If your daily routine could use a little optimizing, here’s a science-backed template:

6:30 a.m.: Wake up

While some productivity hackers equate an ultra-early wake-up call to getting more done, the best time to wake depends more on what time you go to bed. Rather than sleeping a specific number of hours, the goal is to complete at least four or five 90-minute REM cycles per night. So if you need to get up at 6:30, it’s best to go to bed at either 9 or 11 p.m..

7:00 a.m.: Meditation or mindfulness exercise

Cultivating gratefulness and reminding yourself to be present can set the tone for your day; plus, there’s evidence that it’s easier to stick to habits that take place in the morning. No matter what you do to ground yourself first thing in the a.m., taking time for you is a win-win!

7:30 a.m.: Exercise

You’ve probably heard morning workouts trump afternoon or evening ones, and it turns out there’s science to breaking an early morning sweat. Because of the way hormones fluctuate throughout the day, you might get the most out of a morning workout. Some experts believe exercising on an empty stomach can be beneficial for fat-burning, but there’s not much scientific evidence to back up that claim — so no worries if you grab a banana before heading to the gym.

8:30 a.m.: Breakfast

Dietitians recommend eating within two hours of waking up. If you’re not planning to exercise, you can eat sooner, but no matter what, don’t skip your morning meal — it might make you less focused and alert later on.

Credit: Mugs illustrated by Bijou Karman; Photographed by Joe Lingeman; Styled by Stephanie Yeh

9:30 a.m.: Drink coffee

The health benefits of coffee are many, but who knew there was an ideal time to enjoy your daily brew? To fully enjoy the benefits of coffee — from the obvious caffeine jolt to reducing inflammation and regulating insulin — drink it when your natural cortisol levels aren’t already heightened. Since, for the average person, the stress hormone tends to rise between 8 and 9 a.m., neuroscientist Steven L. Miller recommends drinking coffee between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. to maximize its effectiveness.

10 a.m.: Tackle your to-do list

Once you’ve had breakfast and are amply caffeinated, it’s time to dig in to your daily duties, whether you’re at work or at home. Try to fit your most important work between 8 and 2, since cognitive performance declines rapidly after these hours.

12 p.m.: Lunch

If you had a hearty breakfast (and assuming you don’t have any health issues), you can typically wait four to five hours before eating another meal — but always listen to your body! If you have a lot to get done in the afternoon, avoid a post-lunch sugar crash by balancing your lunch with protein, carbs, and healthy fat.

1 p.m.: Designated screen time

Blue light from screens can negatively impact sleep, and multitasking (read: scrolling mindlessly) can reduce productivity by up to 40 percent when you’re trying to get work done during the day. So instead of conking out on the couch with your phone after work, set a designated time to check social media, catch up on the news, or respond to emails.

4:30 p.m.: Happy Hour

Because alcohol before bed can interfere with sleep, and studies show we may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol in the evening, Happy Hour is the perfect time for sipping a glass of wine or grabbing a cocktail. So you can feel good about zipping out of work for a sip with friends occasionally, since you’re not drinking alcohol closer to bedtime.

6 p.m.: Dinner

Some experts say intermittent fasting between dinner and breakfast can help regulate blood sugar and reduce brain fog. If your aim is to fast for 12 hours, then try to squeeze in your last meal by 6 or 6:30 p.m. for a 6:30 wake-up. If you’re eating something heavy or spicy, you may want to eat dinner even earlier, since these foods can negatively affect sleep.

7:30 p.m.: Do something creative

It may seem counter-intuitive, but we’re actually at our most creative when we’re slightly tired. So the best time to solve a problem, brainstorm, or whip out your Bullet Journal may be at home, after dinner. And feel free to multi-task—it turns out distractions can help you think in out-of-the-box ways.

8:00 p.m.: Shower

Opinions vary on the best time to shower, but the perks of washing up in the evening are manifold. Not only might you get a better night’s rest — a hot shower can trigger the body to cool down before bed, which regulates the sleep/wake cycle — you’ll also go to to bed feeling squeaky clean.

9 p.m.: Bed

Before you hit the hay, try to avoid mentally or physically stimulating activities like a heated text with a friend, sending work emails, or exercising, all of which can get in the way of your much-deserved shut-eye. Sweet dreams!