How to Plan a Productive Day Using Your Circadian Rhythms


We’ve all experienced the rise and fall of energy levels during the average workday. 

Some hours, your mind is hyper-focused on the tasks at hand. You cruise through your to-do list, finding creative solutions to problems and doing quality work. You’re at your most productive

But there are some hours when time feels like it slows to a halt. You can’t focus, your mind wanders, and you’re waiting for the clock’s little hand to strike five. You might find yourself reaching for another cup of coffee.

This experience might leave you wondering how you can maintain high productivity levels without burning out.

Whether an early bird or a night owl, the trick is optimizing your most productive hours. 

Let’s look at the science and strategies to help you stay productive. 

When are you the most productive?

Not all hours of the day are created equal—some hours it’s easier to hyper-focus, while others you’re easily distractible. The question is: how do you maximize your time for peak productivity?

The short answer is to pay attention to when you’re the most focused and scheduling your day around this time period.

Our bodies run on a clock that we call a circadian rhythm. This internal clock triggers mental and physical changes throughout the day, influencing when we feel tired and focused. 

If you’re a morning person, you might feel the most focused and do your best work during the earlier parts of the day. Your circadian rhythm happens on a slightly earlier schedule.

The exact opposite is true if you find your most productive time of the day to be in the evening. If this is the case, you’re most likely a night person. Night owls find evenings to be the best time of the day to work.

Traditional work hours don’t always work for every person. By planning a day that aligns with your working schedule, you can boost your productivity and keep it sustainable. 

What are circadian rhythms?

Most of us learned about circadian rhythms during our early school years. It’s a 24-hour cycle that triggers changes in the body and mind. It’s a response to natural light and dark cycles. Most living things abide by some form of a circadian rhythm. 

Our biological clock helps regulate our circadian rhythms. It’s an internal timing system that tells our body when to do certain things. If you’ve ever wondered why you start to feel hungry or tired around the same time every day, thank your biological clock. It also informs your most productive time of day.

The circadian rhythm is responsible for when you feel the most awake and focused. Yet, this can vary person-to-person. For example, individuals with ADHD often experience a delay in their internal circadian rhythm. Because of this, they’re usually night people. It’s important to create a routine that aligns with your circadian rhythm. 

4 tips for finding your most productive time of day

  1. Watch your daily work practices

The first step toward finding your most productive time of day is paying attention to your current routine. Keep a detailed notebook of how you feel throughout the day. Write down when you feel the most focused and when that feeling starts to wane. Make note of when it seems your prime time for productive work occurs.

Keep the following questions in mind as your watch your daily work practices:

  • What time during the day do you feel your mind start to wander? 
  • When do you feel the most alert and attentive?
  • When do you feel most adept at problem-solving?
  • When do you feel the most creative?

Check in with yourself during the early morning and early afternoon during each day of the week. How are your energy levels? How have they changed? Mid-afternoon is when most people experience a productivity lull, but this isn’t always true. 

You can even ask colleagues if they’ve observed your working patterns change throughout the day. Use their feedback coupled with your observations to build context for outlining your circadian rhythms. 

  1. Choose a time frame

Choose a time period within which you’ll track your energy levels. A time-tracking tool could come in handy here, but you can also just make note of your energy levels in a notebook with a timestamp. Usually, one week is a reasonable amount of time to get a good sense of when you work the best. 

While you’re tracking energy levels, keep an eye out for external factors that could impact your productivity. Things like how well you sleep or what you eat impact how well you’re able to focus. Attention to these contextual factors paints a full picture of your circadian rhythm. 

  1. Find all time-management obstacles

Once you’ve collected all the data to determine your peak working hours, assess any time management challenges in your way. You can plan a perfect day around your best working hours, but if you still deal with distractions or procrastinate, there may be another culprit. 

Look at your physical and digital workspace to see if distractions surround you. It will be impossible to achieve a deep workflow state of mind when you’re constantly getting interrupted by Slack notifications or questions from colleagues.

Pinpoint things that distract you from work and write out solutions. You can mute a noisy office with noise-canceling headphones. Eliminate frequent smartphone pings by pausing notifications on your phone and removing it from your workspace. 

Look at how you prioritize your day. Are you scheduling work for when you know you’ll be the most productive? At the end or beginning of each workday, look at your task list and schedule a day that optimizes your peak focus hours. 

Finally, find the tools and techniques necessary to stop procrastinating and multitasking. Both are the enemies of productivity. Productivity apps can help mitigate the impact they have on your work. 

In summary, pay attention to the following things that could be taking a toll on your productivity:

  • Do you procrastinate?
  • Do you attempt multitasking too often?
  • Are you regularly interrupted or distracted while trying to focus?
  • Do you often find yourself aimlessly scrolling on social media?
  • Do you create a prioritized daily schedule?
  • Are you sleeping and eating well?
  • Are you working during your peak productive hours?

Taking a critical look at your other work habits goes hand-in-hand with planning a productive routine based on your circadian rhythm. It’s difficult to focus during your peak working hours when you still get distracted. Cover all your bases to create a schedule and workspace that supports healthy productivity. 

Try for free
  1. Try working during your most productive hours 

Now that you’ve done all the data collection and identified potential barriers, it’s time to plan your day. Block off your calendar during the hours when you suspect you’re the most productive. Schedule your most important tasks for this period of time.

If your work allows, you can adjust your entire day to align with your internal clock. An increasing number of people work from home, giving them greater freedom to work during their peak performance hours. For example, if you’re an evening person, you might push back your daily schedule by one or two hours, so you’re working later into the evening. 

Planning a workday that aligns with your schedule can have a revolutionary impact on your productivity levels. Instead of aimlessly scrolling through your task list and wondering what to work on next, you have an optimized day already scheduled so that you can easily move through your to-dos. 

Don’t be afraid to make adjustments to your schedule to find a system that works best for you. A day planned according to your energy levels is one built for sustained and effective productivity. 

Sunsama: plan a productive routine that works for you

Working more doesn’t mean you’ll be more productive. Instead, it can have the opposite effect and negatively impact your wellness. By understanding your circadian rhythm, you can plan a day that aligns with your most productive time. 

Here at Sunsama, we focus on helping people create lasting healthy work habits for sustained productivity. We’ve implemented features like Focus Mode to mute notifications to help you focus and guided daily planning to help you plan a realistic workday that aligns with your work style. Use Sunsama’s integration with your calendar to drag and drop tasks directly into your schedule for seamless timeboxing. We make it easy for you to box out time dedicated to deep work in your day.

If you’re ready to start prioritizing tasks to create a productive routine that works for you, head to Sunsama

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