Use Your Energy Patterns to Be More Productive

lightbulbsOne of the biggest light bulb moments I’ve had in terms of scholarly productivity is that when I work on writing when I’m energized, things go better. This probably sounds obvious, but for years–ahem, I mean more than a decade–I tried to do my writing in the afternoon, the time recognized as nap time, coffee time, and slump time by most everyone, including me. Despite my strong daily desire to take a nap in the afternoon, I thought it made sense to plan to write in the afternoon. My reasoning was that by then I would have gotten all of my tasks for the day done and I’d have this delicious open period before me.

But most days, by the time 2 or 3 pm came, I did not have all of my tasks done, so I was grouchy, slumpy, nappy, and stressed out about being behind. I would then spend my “writing time” trying to catch up. Why did I not catch on to this insidious pattern after it had repeated itself thousands of times? Sigh. I don’t know for sure.

But one magical day, after my usual morning workout, which leaves me full of optimism and energy, instead of going straight to the shower, I sat down at my computer, and something amazing happened: I wrote for an hour straight with no trouble. I fell into the “zone” in which you lose track of time and just revel in your current activity. After this happened a few times in a row, I came up with a theory–if you write when you are energized, things will go well, and if you write when you are not energized, things will go not so well–and I decided to test it by keeping a log of my writing times and productivity for a few weeks, sometimes writing in the morning and sometimes writing (or attempting writing) in the afternoon. You can guess what my log revealed: yes, it was no fluke–when I wrote in the morning, when I was energized, I wrote more and it felt less like a chore; when I wrote in the afternoon, when I was not energized, I wrote very little and it felt like a huge burden.

Now I try to write as early in the morning as is possible, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Writing for 20 minutes at 6 a.m. results in more words for me than writing for 45 minutes at 4 p.m.

Now you may not be a morning person and perhaps your high energy time hits at 8 p.m. My advice is to then reconfigure your schedule so that you can write at 8 p.m. as often as possible. Whatever your high energy time is, that’s when you should write, and if your schedule doesn’t allow that, then figure out when your lowest energy time is and write as far away from that time as possible. (If you’re not sure when you have the most or least energy, try this.)