Research Shows the Peak Times to Get Things Done (infographic)

The digital workspace has made your work more accessible than ever before. Modern work practices mean that for many people, your office is literally at your fingertips, or at least within arms reach, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Having a flexible schedule does sound attractive, but the human mind and body don’t function like a computer. For most people, you can’t just switch into a specific work mode any time you like. You’ll quickly get burnt out if you don’t pay attention to your natural performance patterns, so it’s important to think carefully about how you manage your time.

This makes sense in terms of business culture, too. The people you work with, whether they are colleagues, clients, or customers, all have schedules and work rhythms. Making sure that your business practice compliments the way other people work best, will also count in your favor.

Whether you are a freelancer working alone or with clients, or a business owner or manager with a team of colleagues to coordinate, you want to make sure that you’re working efficiently, and making the time that you do work, work for you.

All this is backed by reams of scientific research. From circadian rhythms and neuroscience, to big data on digital practices and corporate efficiencies, there’s plenty of evidence to support the argument that business works best when the natural patterns of the people behind the work is taken into consideration.

Small business finance experts at Headway Capital have looked into the research to gather the advice on when is the best time to work on certain tasks, and when to schedule things to a more appropriate time.

The peak time for digital communication:

Just because you can send an email at 3am, doesn’t mean you should. People generally don’t like being disturbed outside of standard office hours, and getting a notification from a work email late at night can be frustrating and stress-inducing. If you have a flash of brilliance, either draft your email to send in the morning, or use the scheduled-send function to make sure it arrives first thing.

The research shows that emails are most likely to be opened between 6 and 7 am, and those emails get more replies, too. The same early-morning advice goes for social media and PR posts, as well. They get the most hits around 9 am, so wait for breakfast time if you want to reach your audience.

The optimum time for new ideas:

If you want to tap into your creative juices, it’s worth remembering that the brain’s prefrontal cortex is most active in early morning. This is that liminal time when people are drifting out of sleep into a more wakeful state, and creativity flows more easily.

Try keeping a notebook next to your bed to jot down any flashes of inspiration that spring to mind when you first wake up. You might also think about brainstorming for fresh ideas while your more critical self (the one that filters for ‘quality’) is still waking up.

The best time to schedule meetings:

Since people are still in wake-up mode first thing, it’s hardly surprising that people tend not to be available for meetings before 10 am. But when it gets to mid-morning, that’s the perfect time to get your team together for strategizing and problem-solving sessions. Experts in neuroscience and circadian rhythms argue that people collaborate well and are in peak decision-making mode around this time.

Afternoon meetings can also be useful, but they will serve a different purpose. People tend to make decisions more quickly later in the working day, but they are less precise in their thinking. Leave less important decisions to this time of day, when the brain is ready to work more mechanically. Meetings and presentations are also worth leaving until later because people will feel more comfortable when they have more planning time and availability.

A good time for professional development:

The research shows that people learn best once they have fully woken up and still have energy to understand and retain new information. Peak ‘acquisition mode’ occurs between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm, although it’s worth remembering that people also need to take a break for lunch around this time. It’s not healthy to always work through lunch, as this is the time for your mind and body to relax and recharge.

Scheduling training sessions or professional development time for late morning is far more effective than pulling all-nighters and burning the midnight oil. Not only do you miss out on much needed restive sleep time, but the work you do late at night isn’t effective or efficient. Less time working during peak performance hours is always better than wasting your efforts at other times of day.

When you should set your schedule:

If you are doing a major overhaul of your business practice, including work schedules and establishing new patterns of work between many people, then the ‘problem-solving time’ earlier in the day is best. However, if it’s more a matter of looking at your short-term time management strategy (that is, what to do tomorrow), then the end of your working day is a logical time to do that.

This is when you want to start winding down and tying up loose ends. Discuss how the day went with colleagues and employees, and make plans for how to pick up again tomorrow. Think about upcoming targets and deadlines, and work out an effective to-do list so you can hit the ground running when you start work in the morning.

The Peak Time of Day to Do Everything in Your Business (Backed by Science)

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