Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The best (and worst) times to do things at work, Part 1

Not a morning person? Don’t sweat it. You might actually be more productive than your early-riser counterparts. Washington Post columnist, Jenna McGregor recently explored the latest research on the best (and worst) times of day to get things done at work and compiled a master day planner based on what the time management experts said. McGregor’s article has been making media rounds to mostly positive acclaim, but I’ve got to admit we’re scratching our heads a little here.

According to McGregor, here’s the ideal schedule the experts came up with collectively:

·         6 - 8 am. Send email. 

·         8 am. Make decisions about ethical dilemmas.

·         9 am. Avoid scheduling meetings.

·         1 - 2 pm. Don't make cold calls (especially on Friday).

·         2:30 or 3 pm. Schedule meetings (especially if it's Tuesday!).

·         4 pm. Do tasks that don't involve sending e-mail. 

·         4 - 6 p.m. Avoid sitting for an interview

·         6 pm to late evening. Do your creative work, if you're a morning person (yes, when you’re most likely to be tired)

Instead of doing certain tasks (or types of thinking) at pre-set times of the day, we suggest doing critical tasks when you know you’re most adept at doing them. The key is to know thyself—do what you’re good at when you’re best at doing it…..leave the rest for others. Let’s deconstruct the list a little:
6-8am: Best time to send email?  Time management experts say not to get mired in our inboxes first thing, or we won't get the critical things done. On the other hand, marketing software firm Hubspot find click-through rates are higher for emails sent around 6 a.m.

Our take: Since most of you (and your clients) are time-pressed professionals, weekends tend to be best. Whether or not they admit it, weekends are when C-Suiters have time to regroup and catch their breath and review the week that just whizzed by. That’s when they handle e-mails that require serious consideration—not an instant response.

Do the most important thing first. Never check email in the morning, experts say. Make a to-do list the night before. Don't schedule meetings right after lunch when everyone will be half-asleep.

Our take: While much has been made about getting the toughest things done first thing in the day (and giving yourself a reward)….that only works if you get that tough task done exceptionally well first thing…..if you’re just getting it done to check it off the last, chances are it won’t be done really well…and you’ll end up re-doing it or spending the rest of the day cleaning up the mess. Better to “time box yourself” –give yourself an hour to make a good “first cut” and then move on to  the next task with a commitment to making a good “second cut” at a pre-set time a day or two later.

Don’t schedule meetings before 10am. Experts say the hardest part about scheduling meetings isn't finding the time when everyone will be bright-eyed and engaged. It's finding a time when everyone can attend.

Our take: Set a time when your meeting is most likely to be first on everyone’s calendar within reason. If you’re in a major city in which key staffers tend to have long commutes, then shoot for 8:30 to 9:30-ish and have those who can’t make it call in from the road. If you’re in a smaller town, or heavy telecommuter organization, then 8am to 8:30 is not unreasonably early this day in age. As will talk about in a minute, most on your team can only fire on all cylinders for a few continuous hours at a time. You’ve got to get them on the peak energy upswing.


We all have stuff we love to do and hate to do every day. If you’re engaged in your work, you can find the energy to get it done almost any time of day, whether at home, at the office or on the road. If you’re not engaged, or not feeding off your colleague’s energy, then you’ll just keep finding excuses for NOT getting it done. As many of us are endurance athletes here at HB, we’re also big on the “interval” approach to work—a few hours of intense concentration, followed by a break.  More intense concentration, followed by another break, etc.  We have a number of Steve Jobs clones here who take short walks multiple times per day and 60 to 90 minute lunch breaks are the norm, not the exception, most often for exercise. How can we possibly allow that much time out of the office? How can we not? If you come back from a long lunch break fully energized and operating three times more efficiently and more sanely than when you left, you’ll get significantly more done the rest of the day than if you gritted your teeth and at lunch at your desk.

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.

Tags: Best times to email, best time to set meetings, Jenna McGregor, Washington Post, when to get things done at work


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