One of the biggest attractions to working for yourself is the opportunity to implement a flexible work schedule that suits the rest of your lifestyle. Plenty of business owners happily identify as a ‘night owl’, but bestselling author and founder of Time Stylers, Kate Christie asks, are you really working at the time of day that suits you best?
Night owl? Maybe not.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give you to help you maximise your productivity is to understand and work to your energy.
I don’t mean that you need to surround yourself with the right crystals (although there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, if that is your thing). I also don’t mean that you need to beat drums and pray to the god of time (but again, if that works for you, knock yourself out).
What I mean is that you need to understand what times of the day you are at your best and what times of the day you are not.
Are you sure you’re a night owl?
I am not overly whoo whoo – as you have probably already guessed. In fact, I would say that I am very practical and quite possibly a little blunt – as may also be apparent. But I am also highly in touch with my energy and I use it to my advantage – every single day.
Why? Because I hate wasting time. I generally see the path that I need to take as one that goes in a fairly straight line from point A to point B, and I like to get there with as little distraction as possible.
I would rather get my business tasks done and dusted in world record time each day, so that I am free for the rest of my day to do all the other things I really, really enjoy doing – like exercise, swimming, hanging out with my family and friends, reading and hiking.
So, what time are you at your best?
It’s important not to guess when you ‘think’ you are at your best or to go on your gut feel, because ultimately your gut is just working off muscle memory (e.g. I have always worked on my hard stuff in the afternoon, so that must mean I am a night owl. Right?).
Not necessarily – your gut can get it wrong.
You want to get the actual data on when you are at your best – and the simplest way to do this is:
Over the next two weeks, deliberately mix up your work habits: spend a few days focusing on your hardest work in the morning, then flip it around and spend a few days focusing on your hardest work in the afternoon or evening. Then carefully observe what works for you.
- Time how long the same type of task takes in the morning, versus the afternoon, versus the evening.
- Make a short file note on how energetic and focused you felt.
- Observe how you managed distractions and interruptions.
I recently had a client conduct this simple experiment. To be honest, I literally had to force her to do it. Not because it is onerous, but more so because she was absolutely adamant that as a woman in her early 60s she was, in her words, “Well aware that I am a night owl and not a morning lark”.
“Give it a try,” I said – probably about 340 times.
Eventually she did. She mixed things up across a month and then delivered this bombshell: “On average, I completed the same type of task an hour faster when doing it in the morning than in the afternoon or evening. I can’t believe it – this will change everything for me.”
So, why was it that she thought she was a night owl? When we broke it down, her reasons for her almost unshakeable (but now clearly shaken) confidence were these:
- For as long as she could remember she had always worked at night – in other words, it was a habit (and as it turns out, a poor habit that was not doing her any favours).
- She has always told herself that she was a night owl (and so it was just rhetoric that she had bought into).
- When she had her children – 25 years ago – she would often work at night when they were asleep – which she had continued to do even though her children are now adults, which reinforced her poor habit and also reinforced her internal dialogue.
- She worked in an open plan office and for years she had done her best work in the afternoons and evenings, but, on reflection, this was only because this was when there was no one (and no noise) around to interrupt her focus.
Get the data. Are you a morning lark or a night owl?
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