You answer a barrage of one-sentence emails between often pointless ‘catch-ups’ and then have to spend the evening inhaling coffee to stay awake and finish your real work. (Sound familiar?) It’s a vicious cycle that is doing more harm than good.
The biggest problem is that, according to the work of Michael Smolensky and Lynne Lambert published in their book The Body Clock Guide to Better Health, you’re working against your body’s natural rhythm.
Research proves that our peak alertness is actually at 10am and our best coordination is at around 2.30pm. Hence, tasks that require attention and focus are best done in the morning, and repetitive tasks are best done in the afternoon when your body is naturally looking for a rest while it digests your lunch. So the simple fix is to not only pay attention to what you do in your day, but more importantly, when you do it.
Prioritise your valuable tasks
If we are at our best in the morning, then this is when we also make the most impact. By identifying the tasks that require the most energy or intensity from you, and those things that also get you a great return on your investment, you can schedule those most valuable tasks first.
So we’re talking things like attending to important client matters, making weighty decisions, or going to court hearings (when you can schedule them for this time). The first two hours is when we have the greatest levels of alertness and mental capacity, so we need to make the most of it on the most difficult jobs or the things that require great attention.
Scheduling high-intensity and high-impact work for the first two hours of your day is the first step to truly managing your time and increasing your productivity.
Leave other ‘stuff’ ‘til lunch
After this, and after lunch, you will often experience a drop in attention, memory, logical reasoning and mood. It’s not a good time to do anything where critical decision making or problem solving is required, but it is a good time to do things like reading and reviewing materials, or responding to emails.
Yes, it does seem ridiculously late for email, but according to an article by DMR, a company that looks at social media statistics and trends, the average user gets around 112 emails per day, with only 10 per cent requiring a considered response. (And, given that 80 per cent of your emails are probably a waste of your time anyway, there’s not much at stake here.)
When you delay your email then you start to form a new and improved habit and you protect your time in the morning for your real work (so you don’t have to catch up on it later).
Now is a great time to do the things you’ve been putting off for ages. Our attention is low, but our ability to repeat tasks is high, so think: filing, organising or anything that you’d consider ‘boring’. Just because things are routine or mundane doesn’t make them unimportant. It is also time to take a break, go for a walk and reset – it might be hard, but you deserve it and it will help set you up for the remaining day.
By being aware of our bad habits, and beginning to mitigate them using the above, you give yourself the best opportunity to maximise not just the first two hours of the day, but all hours, throughout your whole day.
Donna McGeorge is a speaker, author and mentor who helps people make their work work. Her book, The First 2 Hours: Make better Use of Your Most Valuable Time is published by John Wiley.