I Discovered When I’m Most Productive During the Day — and You Can Too

published Dec 15, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Popular productivity advice tells you to wake up early, do the hardest things first, and get things done whether or not you feel like it. It’s sold as “discipline” that you must cultivate if you want to be successful. 

I spent years reading dozens of productivity books, trying a wide range of “tips” and “hacks,” and feeling there was something wrong with me because none of it worked. No Pomodoro timers or cute planners gave me the motivation or the energy to efficiently tick things off my to-do list. At the end of the day, I felt exhausted trying to force my brain to get things done. 

One day, I was too frustrated and burnt out to work, so I stopped. I was at war with myself, doing subpar work, and realized there was no point pushing through the brain fog. Instead, I let my mind and body rest for a while. As the evening rolled around, I started feeling better. I was motivated to finish the same pending tasks I had been dreading just a few hours ago. I sat down to work and was more efficient than I’d been for years. 

But the problem returned the next morning. I woke up and struggled way too much to get even the simplest of tasks done. I just couldn’t. As a freelancer, I can choose my own work hours, so again, I took the afternoon off to decompress. The pattern kept repeating.

It made me think: What if there’s nothing wrong with me for not being at my productive best early in the day? What if I’m a night owl and my circadian rhythm primes my body to peak in the evenings? So over the next few days, instead of being hard on myself to perform when I simply wasn’t at my best, I began working when I had a burst of energy and the clarity of thought to put my best work forward. 

I started noticing my energy levels throughout the day and used a simple spreadsheet to mark my energy and focus levels on a scale from 1-5 so I could understand when I’m naturally productive. 

As expected, I had a small productivity peak in the morning but the biggest energy boost happened later in the day. My workday began when other people were winding down. Once I allowed myself to follow this natural rhythm, my productivity shot up drastically. I didn’t need any timers or discipline quotes to get things done. In fact, I got a lot more done in the last few hours of the day than what I was previously doing for the whole week. 

Credit: Getty Images/ Luis Alvarez

I started applying the same principle to my workouts, eating habits, sleep schedule, and everything I did during the day. When I used to exercise with my mom, she preferred the mornings but I underperformed every single day. As I switched to evening workouts, I was able to push myself out of the comfort zone more easily. 

Similarly, I stopped waking up early unnecessarily. I work from home and I don’t have any early meetings or social events, so there was really no reason for me to be up at 6 a.m. if I can’t focus properly until 6 p.m. Instead, I followed my body’s natural cycle and started going to bed later in the day, waking up by midday, and shifting my entire work schedule to the evenings. 

Not only has this made me more productive, but it also improved my relationship with myself. It can be tempting to label yourself as “undisciplined” or “lazy” if you’re not getting things done as efficiently as you expect yourself to. But taking the time to understand your body’s natural rhythms will help you design a day that’s more aligned with your energy cycles. 

This way, you work when you’re focused and rest when you’re low without having to “force” yourself through anything you don’t feel ready to do. The best part? It all starts with a simple spreadsheet or even a pen and piece of paper!