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Studies say that whether you are a morning person or a night owl is genetic. So don’t strive to wake up early or stay late. Instead, optimise systems so that you can tackle the phase where your productivity is low.
The best productivity systems aren’t about changing who you inherently are, it’s about doing things in a way that is sustainable for you. You won’t always get to set your own work timings, but you can still ease the pain in tackling your tasks.
How An Early Bird Can Stay Productive Late
Sometimes, you have to stay at the office well beyond usual work hours. You’re tired, your body is signalling it’s time to shut shop, but you have to keep going. How do you do that?
Take a Power Nap
For early birds, the first half of the day is usually easy and you’ll get through several tasks. Once your focus starts waning, don’t fight the urge. Instead, take a break and go to sleep.
Yeah, it sounds a little crazy, but research has shown that a 20-minute nap can greatly boost your concentration levels. It’s a much more viable solution for those who work from home, but it’s not easy to do this in a formal office environment. Schedule your nap into your day and find a quiet spot — hopefully your cabin or cubicle can suffice, but if not, look around for an alternative.
Meditate Your Way To Focus
If a nap isn’t going to be possible at all, the next best thing is to meditate. In fact, you should probably do this regardless of your nap time, since meditation can counter stress, hone your focus, and keep you mentally alert for long periods of time.
Our new favourite app for anyone looking to meditate is the free and cross-platform Stop, Breathe and Think (SBT). You can start practicing meditation through a web browser or fire up the app on iOS or Android. SBT will ask about your current state of mind and recommend guided meditation exercises accordingly. If you regularly practise meditation, you can select your exercise manually too.
Prioritize Tasks To Save Mechanical Work For Later
Your energy levels are going to taper as the day goes on. If you prioritise your to-do list correctly, you will be able to get more done without sacrificing quality.
In everyone’s work life, there are some projects that require your full mental faculties, while other tasks are more mechanical in nature. Successfully prioritising these items means can help you dig yourself out of task backlogs. For example, writing an article is where I need to be alert, but the process of uploading and formatting is mechanical and all about going through the motions. By prioritizing, I can tackle my articles when my concentration levels are high, and save the tedious work for later.
The Eisenhower matrix method is a popular task management prioritisation technique. You make a grid of four squares: Urgent and important; important but not urgent; urgent but not important; and neither urgent nor important. Start sorting your tasks with this method. You can even leverage free apps like Eisenhower.me for iOS or MyEffectiveness for Android. Once your task list is put in the right order, you will know which action items you need to put off for periods of low energy and what to start doing right now.
How A Night Owl Can Be Productive Early
Most of the world works in the morning, which is bad news for those who prefer to be up at night and really get into the zone after sun-down. Well, you can still be productive during the day if you know how to set it up.
Stop Work Midway So It’s Easy To Resume
Before wrapping up for the day, take a few minutes to prepare for the next day. That’s not just making a to-do list (although you should do that) but also ensuring you aren’t paralysed early in the morning. Whatever task you are doing next, start it and finish just enough.
Take it from a night owl — it’s far easier to resume an action in the morning than start a new one. Your mind has already started the task, it’s just a matter of finishing it; and just like that, you get into the momentum of productivity.
For example, if you are a writer, start up your word processor and compose the outline of what you need to write the next day. Don’t switch off the word processor; put your computer on Sleep mode, but make sure that when you sit at your desk and switch on your screen, the first thing you see is that word processor and the outline. Resume writing.
Set Up A Morning Routine After Timing Tasks
Morning routines are difficult for night owls, but you can slowly master them by noting what you are doing, timing it, and then refining it. Android users can use the cool new app Do Now, which times each task. This exercise needs to be repeated every day for at least a week to get workable data, but it’s worth it. Once you have an idea of how much time you need for morning actions, you can figure out how to optimise it.
If this level of automation seems a bit too robotic for you, there’s another cool productivity hack: music.
You can set up a playlist to mark the amount of time you have for your full routine. Once you do it for a while, the music serves as cues for starting or finishing tasks. You won’t even have to look at the clock after a while, just the music will let you know whether you are falling behind and need to speed up. While you’re at it, you might as well make it a productive playlist.
Technology can actually make it easy to set up a morning routine in several ways.
Eat Right And Drink Coffee At The Right Time
That old nugget about breakfast being the most important meal of the day isn’t far off base. The problem is if you end up eating the wrong things at breakfast, slowing down your productivity. Now, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to what you should have for breakfast, but make sure you are arranging it so that healthy options are the easiest options.
For example, by planning your meals, you can set up a series of healthy breakfasts and then keep them at the front of your cabinet. The first thing you see is probably going to be the first thing you eat.
There is also the contentious issue of coffee. While you might think you should grab your cup of joe as soon as you wake up, stop. That’s not the best time. Your body is primed to respond to caffeine’s effects differently at different times.
So what’s the best time to have coffee? Between 9:30 and 11:30 am in the morning, say scientists. You can follow it up with a second coffee between noon and 5:30 pm.
Have You Changed Your Routine Successfully?
While there is no need to change yourself if you’re an early bird or a night owl, there are enough people who do. So we want to know, have you changed your routine and become a morning person? How did you do it? Did any apps or techniques help?