The Best Times of Day to Be Productive—and Expert-Approved Ways to Optimize and Stick to Your Schedule

This guide will help you tackle everything from your workday to daily homekeeping tasks.

woman working at desk at home
Photo: Getty / Westend61

In this busy day and age, our lives often revolve around the clock. It's necessary to create timelines and schedules for personal and professional tasks alike, from tackling our daily homekeeping checklist to finalizing that end-of-quarter presentation. Despite your best efforts, it's easy to feel pressed for time—and if that's the case, you might want to assess how you manage and optimize your productivity.

When you handle everything from a full-time job and family dinners to after-school sports and your own physical wellness, life can start to feel like an overwhelming list of obligations and chores, says Regina Bonds, a business and lifestyle expert also known as "The Confidence Coach." "So many people live with the belief that there just aren't enough hours in the day," says Bonds. "What if there was a strategy for optimizing your productivity, helping you gain control of your time, and finally letting go of procrastination? Would you be all ears?"

If you're nodding your head, you're in the right place. To help you figure out the best times of day to be your most productive self, we tapped several productivity experts to share their insights—and help you stick to your schedule.

The Best Hours for Productivity

When it comes to productivity, everyone is unique: Our internal clocks are based on our circadian rhythms, which define your daily energy levels, according to research in the Harvard Business Review. "Research shows that [determining] the best times of day to optimize productivity begins with identifying your peak productivity hours," says Bonds. If you're an early bird, for example, you'll see peak performance between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m., she says; try to schedule high-priority tasks during those times. Night owls thrive between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., which is when they feel the "most awake and focused."

These are broad ranges, so it's still best to figure out what works for you instead of defaulting to a one-size-fits-all approach. "After considering your own internal clock, set aside a defined block of time each day to create an agenda for the day and list out your tasks from high priority (i.e. working on a business proposal) to low priority (i.e. checking and responding to emails)," says Bonds. "Time blocks will help you become more effective and help cut out the extra minutes that turn into hours of trying to get everything done with no plan."

How to Optimize Your Schedule

When mapping out your day, break things down into two-hour intervals, says Donna McGeorge, a productivity coach and best-selling author. "Tasks that require attention and focus are best done in the morning and repetitive tasks that require coordination are best done in the afternoon," she says.

The First 2 Hours

As you begin your workday, set your intentions on completing high-intensity projects, which would include tasks that require the most attention, energy, and focus, says McGeorge. "This is your most important work," she says. "If you ever find yourself saying, 'I need to book a meeting room or work from home so I can concentrate on this,' this would be an example of a task that falls into this category."

The Second 2 Hours

Work on tasks that are high in intensity, but low in impact for the next two hours. These tasks require you to be on your A game, but often involve being of service to others. "Ever had someone ask if they could pick your brain on something? Or bounce an idea off you?" says McGeorge. "That is high intensity and low impact." Other examples? Those weekly check-ins with your direct reports or a group brainstorm for your kids' school's next charity event.

The Third 2 Hours

The third two-hour interval is what McGeorge describes as "the afternoon slump." This period is best dedicated to low intensity and low impact work; these tasks are easier and lower stakes. "Time often flies when we are here because we are on autopilot doing things that are repetitive and routine in nature," she says. Now is the time to delete those meaningless emails or blast through that Excel sheet—copy, paste, repeat.

The Fourth 2 Hours

Lastly, low intensity, but high impact work should take place at the end of the day. These are tasks that don't require a lot of heavy thinking, but fall into those important planning, maintenance, and preparation categories. "Basically, anything that will set you up for a successful next day," says McGeorge. "Many people also experience a second wind at this time of day and can do an 'hour of power' to wrap."

Wellness Comes First

Both experts note that the only way to truly optimize your productivity is by taking care of yourself first. "Just like building a house without solid foundations, to-do lists won't work if you lack the energy to complete even the simplest of tasks," says McGeorge. "You can try all the time management techniques in the world, but they won't get you far if you are simply not looking after yourself."

Make your plan to maximize your time more effective by practicing patience, flexibility, and commitment. The payoff is huge: "If you learn how to master your productivity, you can increase physical wellness, mental health, and creativity—and find more inspiration," Bonds says.

Productivity Obstacles to Avoid

Make it a priority to keep time on your side. By embracing this mindset, you'll better understand how to use it effectively, says Bonds. "Whether you are just looking to make some small changes or completely transform your life through the power of productivity, use your time—don't let time use you," she says. "It is your choice to use time as a tool to bring your life more meaning and ultimately live a life of purpose and pleasure."

To prevent any road blocks, learn to identify common productivity obstacles, says Bonds:

  • Lack of boundaries
  • Procrastination
  • Multitasking
  • Poor planning
  • Distractions
  • Poor diet

To combat these obstacles, consider Bonds' best tips:

  • Eat a whole-food healthy diet
  • Watch your caffeine intake
  • Take proper vitamin supplements
  • Take deep breaths regularly
  • Get eight hours of sleep and take power naps
  • Exercise regularly
  • Write in a journal
  • Create a pleasure plan: practice a favorite hobby, get a massage, take a walk on the water, or do things that bring you joy and peace
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