It’s a fairly large assumption to make that the 9-to-5 grind sits within the peak time of employees’ productivity, problem solving and creative abilities. So how did we get to this widely standard work day? Its advent sprung up in the late 18th century, thanks to the Industrial Revolution. After 10-16 hours of work began to prove unsustainable (can you imagine?!), social reformer Robert Owen introduced the campaign to reduce it to eight working hours, under the scaffolding of: eight hours labour, eight hour recreation, eight hours rest.
Fast forward to now, and many of us have simply become accustomed to these hours – made possible with a trusty alarm and copious amounts of caffeine. And while it may be tricky to convince your current workplace to introduce flexible work hours, or to send an email blast of the current stats revealing the damage being inflicted by your 40-hour work week, we looked at four steps you can take to track your biological prime time and capitalise on your peak ‘in the zone’ moments:
For starters, track your day. Yes, this seemingly monotonous task may feel like a time-suck from your already jam-packed day, but keeping track of how you spent that time and how you felt while doing so will give you a rough indication of ‘that moment’ you’re finally on a roll. Author of A Life of Productivity Chris Bailey took a year off to experiment with productivity. He suggests recording scores for focus, energy and motivation for three weeks, at the same time each day, to find your sweet spot. Not really into manual logging? Apps like Toggl digitise the process.
In the study, they found participants were able to solve problems involving creativity and insightfulness during moments when they were distracted, during fatigue and in off-peak times.
Pinpoint the patterns
Take a few minutes each day to reflect on your previous week. Do you notice any patterns? Whether it was the 3pm slump in which you spent an hour scrolling social media, or the morning sluggishness at your desk that demanded three coffees, or a long chat by the watercooler before glancing at your inbox, these patterns can reveal when you’re not at your best. On the other hand, by looking at when you were able to plough through deadlines, submit your work on time, all while tidying your desk in a speedy manner, you may have identified your natural rhythms.
Tune out to tune in
While it’s all well and good to have found your best functioning hour, the reality of an office means that meetings, last-minute tasks and interruptions can (read: will) get in the way. And because we know multi-tasking is well and truly a myth, send an email to your immediate team explaining how you’re about to plug-in and finish an important task. Alternatively, heading to a cosy café or even putting in your headphones to a newly crafted playlist is an effective way to ensure your quality time goes unhindered.
Use fatigue for creativity
A study by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks suggested that innovation and creativity are often the greatest in moments of fatigue, based on our circadian rhythms. These are the rhythms that can determine whether you are a morning or night person. In the study, they found that participants were able to solve problems involving creativity and insightfulness during moments when they were distracted, during fatigue and in off-peak times. The wide-scoped nature of these problems meant the participants could consider a broader range of information. So, if your last few hours of the day are basically a write-off, performing tasks that require creativity in those hours will often mean you get better results.