How to Optimize Timing in a Day

When it comes to my core list of values, it would be safe to say that my number one value is Time. Other things I value include Freedom/Autonomy, Community, Health, Beauty, and Meaningful Work. Still, time takes the cake. Sometimes, I love time too much. Giving quality time is the lowest of my love language scores. I can be pretty selfish with time but I definitely don’t want to be. This is why I am passionate learning how to optimize timing. One day, I will master slowing down the hands of time. But until I become a time guru, I optimize timing in my every day life through tried-and-true tactics that effortlessly speed up productivity in order to free up more time for the things I actually want to be doing with my day.

We all have a chronotype.

We all have a chronotype. A chronotype is a penchant for a particular time of day. You can be an early bird, a night owl, or somewhere in between. Studies show that 15% of people are what they call larks, or early birds. 20% of the population are owls. The rest of the people (about two-thirds of the population) are somewhere in the middle, with most of them leaning towards the lark spectrum. You probably know what your chronotype is, so now let’s talk about focus and energy levels.

The Ebb and Flow of Our Days

With the exception of night owls, 80% of the population follow a typical peak, trough and recovery timeline every day in terms of focus and energy levels. The peak happens in the morning for most people. This means that the morning contains the most energy and potential. The trough happens around the afternoon, typically between the hours of 1 and 4 pm. But don’t worry. There is a recovery period in the early evening hours, when the energy levels start to rise again.

Technically, the same applies to night owls, with the peak skewed into the evening time. This makes planning the day for night owls a bit more complicated. Unfortunately, the social systems in place are not catered towards night owls. School, work, and social gatherings follow the majority’s preference, and the night owls are left to struggle with providing the expected output during their most difficult times. However, knowing this, there are still ways for night owls to optimize timing. They just have to skew their important work towards their peak times.

How to Optimize Timing

With the knowledge that certain times of the day offer more focus and energy than other times, we can certainly set up our schedules in order to optimize timing!

During peak hours, there is vigilant focus. Tasks that should be associated with these times of day could include crunching numbers, writing essays, or whatever it is that would require max attention. For me, this task is writing my blog posts. I need a lot of focus to sit down and get words on a page. Distractions are a writer’s worst enemy. Because of this, I make it a point to rise early in the mornings before my husband does, make myself a pour-over coffee and perch on our dining table to write. I like to write under lamp-light, and heaven forbid I ever open email before the writing is done.

During the troughs, we undergo a low level of energy and focus. This is the time to answer emails, do administrative work, attend meetings we are not leading, or do some networking. Interestingly enough, while attention span is low during the trough, moods are high – perfect for socializing! This is also a great time for self-insight or problem solving. Remember that troughs occurs in the afternoon.

Some people think I am crazy when I say that we should wait to open emails until after lunch. In reality, though, I try to open emails only once a week… Tuesdays after lunch are my ideal email days. I also make all my calls at this time. If I have to do some planning, I do a much better job in the afternoons. In the late afternoons when my dip is the lowest, I reserve time to take-in information through podcasts, books, or online courses.

Now your company or work situation may not allow for this, and I am not saying you must do this or quit. But studies have shown over and over again that this is ideal. And as you know, I am always working towards what is ideal.

I don’t think the responsibility should fall only on the individual for setting up these schedules. Companies should also embrace these facts and try to structure work in ways that would optimize productivity. Instead of scheduling meetings around who is available, it would be better to schedule based on what the meeting is about. If it’s a matter of accounting, then early morning would be fine. If it is for brainstorming ideas around an upcoming project, then late afternoon is better.

Lastly, there is a slight increase in focus and energy in the evenings. I recommend that this time is spent doing creative work. I like to do my reading, art, and relaxing in the evenings.

My Typical Day

Since I am able to structure my WFH days best, I wanted to share with you an example of how I incorporate what I learned into my calendar. I wake up early and do my writing as soon as possible. I try to get a workout in in the mornings as well. Then I do more tedious tasks in the AM for my blog. After lunch is reserved for Rye Goods emails, blog emails, any calls I have, and taking in information through books, podcasts, or online courses.

Below is a typical Monday for me:

  • Blog work entails Pinterest Pins, writing posts, or working on SEO.
  • Admin can include Rye Goods order placement, emails for both Rye Goods and the blog, any meetings or calls with coffee shop owners, or sending out affiliate emails for the blog.
  • Taking in Info can either be listening to a podcast while cooking dinner, an online CE course for dentistry, or doing a course that will improve my blogging skills. Sometimes, when I am really tired, I will just read a book and call it a day.
  • Relax time is where we get creative. Mike likes to dabble in guitars in the evening, whereas I prefer to read or so any art work. Sometimes, I just like to organize things, or plan out the next day.

Of course, not every day is perfect. Below is a sample Tuesday.

  • My sister who lives in Spain can only do our weekly call during her evenings, which means I have to take her call in the morning. I make it a point to connect with her once a week, so even though it’s a socializing event and a call, I still have it scheduled in my mornings.
  • My workout class is in the evenings, which works out since my sister takes up my mornings. I usually like to get my workouts out of the way early in the day, but this is a good way to unwind too. My energy tends to slightly pick up around early evening, so it isn’t too bad.
  • I try to do Thinker Tuesdays, which is a brainstorming and re-assessment event. It is a time for insight, so afternoons are best for it.
  • In general, most things stayed the same. Now we can look at what changes on a day of dentistry.

This is what a Thursday looks like:

  • Writing and workouts are still in the early mornings when focus and energy levels are highest.
  • I like to do my big cases in the morning before lunch. I have the most focus and attention during that time of day. After lunch, I have a lot of kid appointments and exams, as most people like to come to the dental office after school or work. Most of my socializing happens in the afternoons. Exams are also problem-solving tasks that require insight, which is why I prefer to do them after lunch. Like my WFH days, the afternoons are best for taking in information, so data collection through x-rays and medical history are also better reserved for the afternoons. If I owned my own dental practice, I would definitely stick to a strict schedule of big cases in the mornings, exams and planning in the afternoons.
  • There is still a relax time section in the evenings for me to get creative!

A Note on Taking A Break

I take breaks frequently. They say for every 52 minutes of work, you should take a 17 minute break. Of course that’s just an average. I find that I can focus longer in the mornings, sometimes working for 1.5 hours before needing a break. However, in the afternoons, my attention span decreases significantly. I have to take a break every 30-40 minutes. Whatever it is, take breaks! They are crucial to productivity.

The best breaks involve:

  • Movement! Do yoga, stretches, HIIT excercises, or take a walk.
  • Nature! Get outside. Sit outdoors and drink a cup of tea. Take a walk around the parking lot or in the neighborhood. Or simply perch by a windowsill. Even a view of nature helps.
  • Other People! Studies have shown that taking a break in a social group is more restorative than taking breaks alone. We may feel like we need space from our co-workers, but gathering around the water station or the break room is actually the best way to recoup some of that energy.

If you liked this post on how to optimize timing, you may also like a few other things I have written about getting stuff done!

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Photo by Marissa Grootes on Unsplash