We’ve all been there: You wake up psyched to take on the workday, and by the time you go to sleep you feel like you’ve been totally unproductive.
Maybe it’s not a question of what you did, but of when you did it.
As in, you drank coffee before you needed it and ended up crashing later, or you spent the whole morning answering emails so you had no energy left to work on the really important stuff in the afternoon.
To help make sure that never happens again, we checked out the scientific research on the best time of day to do pretty much everything. Read and start crafting the perfect schedule.
- Flickr/Jeff Drongowski
Exercise: before breakfast
Looking to shed some pounds?
Sleep in your exercise gear, make a date with a workout buddy, register for a pricey gym membership – do whatever it takes to get yourself up and moving in the morning.
That’s because research suggests exercising in the a.m. – specifically, before breakfast – is most helpful for losing weight. As Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin reports, the reason early morning workouts seem to accelerate weight loss and boost energy levels may be that they set up the body for an all-day fat burn.
- REUTERS/Anthony P. Bolante
Drink coffee: after 9:30 a.m.
If your M.O. is downing a cup o’ Joe as soon as you wake up, or as soon as you get into the office, you might consider tweaking your routine.
Business Insider UK’s Dina Spector highlights an interview with a neuroscience Ph.D. candidate, who says the best time to drink coffee is after 9:30 a.m.
That’s because the stress hormone cortisol, which regulates energy, generally peaks between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., so you don’t need the boost right then.
- Flickr/VFS Digital Design
Do focused work: during your ‘biological prime time’
Your “biological prime time,” a term coined by Sam Carpenter, author of “Work The System,” refers to the hours of the day when you have the most energy. Everyone’s BPT is different.
To find your BPT, take a tip from Chris Bailey, author of “The Productivity Project.” Bailey started by cutting out all caffeine and alcohol from his diet, eating as little sugar as possible, and waking up without an alarm. Each day for three weeks, he kept a log in which he recorded his hourly energy levels.
The experiment taught him that his BPTs were between 10 a.m. and noon, and between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Once you find yours, you can reconfigure your day (as much as you can, within the constraints of your job) so that you work on your highest-impact and most meaningful tasks during those hours.
- Flickr/AIGA RALEIGH
Interview for a job: Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
If the hiring manager asks you when you’re available for an interview, consider suggesting Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. That’s likely the most convenient time for the interviewer.
Business Insider’s Jacquelyn Smith highlights a Glassdoor report with a few key tips on scheduling an interview. Specifically, it’s wise to avoid coming in at the very beginning or end of the workday, and right before or after lunch.
- Flickr/Sebastiaan ter Burg
Take a break: midmorning
That’s because your mental resources are generally at their highest soon after you wake up, and they gradually diminish throughout the day. So it’s easier to restore those resources when you take a break closer to the start of the workday.
The research also found that you don’t have to spend your break doing non-work activities – as long as it’s something you like and have chosen to do.
Participants in the study who took breaks earlier in the day, and used them to do activities they preferred, reported less physical distress and feeling more satisfied with their jobs.
- Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Take a nap: between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
According to the Mayo Clinic, midafternoon is the best time to take a nap for two reasons.
One, we typically experience some sleepiness or decrease in alertness after lunch. And two, a nap at this time is less likely to interfere with nighttime rest than naps later on.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends limiting your nap to between 10 and 30 minutes. Otherwise, you could wake up feeling groggy.
Hold a meeting: Tuesday at 3 p.m.
By contrast, the worst time to suggest a meeting is at the beginning of the workday.
As Keith Harris, the When Is Good research coordinator who led the study, told Inc., it’s important to leave people time to prepare – and if you have a meeting at 9 a.m., they’ll either scramble to prep the day before or show up unprepared.
Do creative work: when you’re tired
You might assume you should save creative tasks for when you’re alert and energized, but research suggests otherwise.
The study authors say that’s because the attention task exhausted the participants’ inhibition, or their brains’ capacity to filter out unnecessary information from consciousness.
Consider tackling creative tasks right after you get home from work, or whenever you (mistakenly) feel like you’ve got no brainpower left to spare.