At a time when many people are still working from home, the lines between work and life have become blurred. Of course, living in a pandemic can make for some pretty notable worries, which have proven to be distracting at the least and crippling at the worst–and, in both cases, a hindrance to productivity. Knowing this (and coming off Iceland’s latest discovery that four-day workweeks may very well be more productive), researchers set out to survey 2,000 American adults to determine when they’re most productive.
For starters, the research reveals that Monday morning, specifically between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., is when Americans are typically at their most productive, which makes sense considering that’s when most people are coming off their weekend rejuvenation. Additionally, the survey found that 11 percent of Americans will consume five or more cups of caffeine a day to help them stay focused. While not completely out of left field, this discovery lends to the idea that people all across the country need to find better, healthier ways to harness productivity. So, to help them (and us all) do just that, we chatted with two psychologists for their top tips on being productive, warding off procrastination, and being realistic in the process. Keep reading to see what they had to say.
What time is most productive for you?
While the survey found that 10:54 a.m. on Mondays is the most productive time of the week, it also found that our most productive times vary by industry. For example, while those working in energy and utilities were found to be most productive around 9:36 a.m. on Mondays, recruitment and HR workers were found to be most productive on Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m., and those working in sales were found to be most productive on Fridays at 11:33 a.m. The point is, when it comes to productivity, it’s all about finding what works best for you.
Part of the discovery process is developing a routine that works for your schedule and energy levels. “If you have a routine, you’re already expecting yourself to be doing X, Y, and Z at a certain time,” says licensed clinical psychologist and author Jenny C. Yip, PsyD. “It’s less of a hurdle for your body to accomplish your tasks if you already have a plan.”
Of course, if you don’t yet have a routine, this can seem challenging in itself. However, Dr. Yip says it’s as simple as testing the waters. “Plan an entire week of doing the most tedious work in the morning, and see how it works out,” she says. “The next week, try doing those tasks in the late afternoon.” Compare your findings and begin shaping your routine.
Another way to develop a routine is to focus specifically on your energy. “If you take a look at when you have the most energy, then those may be ideal times and days when you want to engage in productive activities,” says psychologist Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, PhD, a media advisor for Hope for Depression Research Foundation. “We want to prioritize what works for us and identifying if mornings, afternoons, or evenings are better for us can be helpful.”
Once you narrow down your timing, Dr. Lira de la Rosa says to create an environment fit for that block of your day. “If mornings are good for you, then making sure you get enough sleep the night before will be important,” he says. “You may also need to set aside time to get your morning started with things you enjoy doing before tackling your to-do lists.” On the other hand, if evenings work better for you, he says setting time aside during evening hours can be helpful.
How to boost productivity when you’re feeling sluggish
Even when you create your perfect routine, there will be days when you feel sluggish–it’s totally normal. The trick is to tap into why you’re feeling that way in the first place. “When we are feeling drained, tired, or exhausted we may not have the physical and mental energy to be productive,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa. “One of the ways that we can boost productivity when feeling sluggish is to identify how much energy we have. If we identify what we need, then we can address what we may need to do to help us recharge or increase our energy.”
If you’re feeling physically drained, you may find that laying down and taking a power nap could help. If you’re feeling emotionally exhausted, naps can also help, but so can meditation, listening to music, and adding other soothing elements to your workspace to boost an overall calm vibe for your day.
How to overcome procrastination
Feeling sluggish can lead to procrastination. “Many people tend to push themselves to be productive,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa. “This can be counterproductive to getting things done. If we are procrastinating, there are reasons for this and we want to check in with ourselves to identify these reasons. Perhaps, we are fearful that we won’t be able to accomplish our tasks, or perhaps we are worried that we won’t have enough time to do things well.” Whatever the case may be, checking in and acting accordingly can help make the day feel more approachable.
Sharing that sentiment, Yip says that you can assess where you’re at throughout your day and break down your remaining work hours into smaller, realistic goals. So, instead of looking at your calendar and seeing scheduled blocks from dawn to dusk, think about how you can fit self-care and productivity into the mix so as to keep procrastination from popping up.
And, if procrastination and feelings of sluggishness do occasionally arise, let them. “We can spend so much time and energy worrying about what we have to do and judging ourselves for not being productive,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa. “I would suggest being kind to yourself during these times. If we take time to be kind to ourselves, we give ourselves permission to address the things that can get in the way of our productivity. Whether it is worry or fear, we can engage in some positive self-talk with ourselves in those moments. Our thoughts impact the way we feel and if we are criticizing ourselves for being ‘lazy’ we may be inadvertently contributing to further procrastination.”
How to set realistic expectations for productivity
Above all else, it’s important to maintain realistic expectations surrounding productivity. Just because a survey claims that one hour is more productive than another doesn’t mean that it always will be for you.
“It is unrealistic to expect yourself to be productive 100 percent of the time,” says Dr. Yip. “You need a break, otherwise, you’ll burn out, and some people burn out quicker than others. Expecting yourself to be productive 24/7 is not realistic. Some people may prefer working four days a week, while others might prefer five days a week while taking more breaks in between. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and you can experiment and test out what works best for you.”
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