Everyone has different times and modes of work that make them the most productive. Sometimes, it takes quite a bit of work to discover just how and when you can work to your full potential.
I want to share what I’ve discovered about myself in the hopes it might help you suss out your own productivity peaks.
Time of Day
For reasons beyond my comprehension, I’m the most productive in the early morning or late at night.
At one job, this led to me coming to the office at 5am so I could crunch out code and documentation. I’d manage to get in half my workday before any coworkers arrived, and often completed more in that short time than I ever did when I started work with the rest of the team at 9. The irony was that we each worked independently – it wasn’t a collaborative team, we just happened to share a workspace.
I’ve also discovered that, when it comes to writing code exclusively, I churn out the most (quality) lines later in the day. 1 There’s something about the quiet afforded by both time periods that appeals to the creative centers of my brain. Less distraction, perhaps, or just that my brain is a bit more attuned to what I’m doing right after I wake and right before I head to bed.
My coworkers often criticize this, but unless I need absolute focus on a supremely difficult problem, I need some sort of noise around me.
I work between 2-3 monitors during the day, so my mind is constantly switching tasks from one screen (code) to another (presentation) to another (debugger) to another (database monitor) to another (command console). Toggling between one display and another rapidly is an acquired skill, but it still requires a bit of patient control and honing.
When my brain is used to switching tasks every few seconds/minutes like this, I need to give it some sort of distraction otherwise I tend to lose focus on what I’m actually doing and start switching tabs/tools/screens out of habit rather than need. To combat this, I often have some sort of music or video playing in the background on my computer. The constant noise gives something for the easily-distracted part of my brain to focus on, while the rest of my brain is free to code.
What’s ironic about this is the accusation that I’m “watching TV rather than working.” I once had a coworker check over my shoulder every day for a week. 2 After several days he confronted me in the lunch room.
“I understand why you want to watch TV rather than work, but how can you watch the same episode of the same TV show every single day?!”
I used the video for background noise and distraction – I wasn’t actively watching it. As a result, I apparently watched the same 3 episodes from the West Wing every day for 3 weeks without realizing it.
I do frequently work from coffee shops as well. The constant buzz of the cafe fills in for the video streams and talk radio. It’s also seen as a more acceptable source of distraction by my peers, meaning fewer arguments about how I keep my mind on task and more discussion about what those tasks should be.
Finding Your Groove
The time and mode of work that make you the most productive are things you’ll have to find on your own. I can just offer illustrations from my own life to provide a little inspiration.
Perhaps you work best in the mornings. In the early afternoons. Late at night. You won’t know until you try each several times and compare both your output and how you felt at the end of your workday.
Perhaps you work best with some minor distraction – like a video, a radio show, the din of a cafe. Perhaps you work best in absolute silence. Again, you won’t know for sure until you try each alternative several times.
Perhaps there’s some other magical trigger for your productivity. When you find it, let me know. I might want to give it a try, too!