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Ever notice how coffee can sometimes give you the jitters, while other times you can drink a whole pot and still stifle yawns? Or how you kill your to-do list with ease some days, and other days find it hard to get through even the easiest tasks?
You can thank (or blame!) your biological clock for those times you feel really “on” and the times when you’re feeling a little off, according to productivity research. There are teams of scientists, researchers, and doctors who are studying “chronobiology,” or how to get the optimal performance out of your body’s natural rhythm. Here’s how to capitalize on the best times of day to knock to-do items off your list.
Daybreak: Pay Bills (Or Clean The Bathroom)
Ideally, you should tackle any task that you really don’t like doing when you wake up, because we’re at our happiest and most optimistic, first thing in the morning, according to Cornell research. After tracking worldwide usage of the Twitter conversations of 2.4 million users, the study authors found that people are the most cheery and tweet their most upbeat statuses in the morning.
So, capitalize on your feel-good mood by doing the things that can make us grumpy (like paying bills). By the way, scientists, Scott A. Golder and Michael W. Macy, writing for Science Magazine, have also identified which days give us the most smiles (and it’s no surprise): “People are happier on weekends, but the morning peak, in positive affect, is delayed by two hours, which suggests that people awaken later on weekends.”
Early Morning: See Your Doctor
It may mean you’ll have to skip the gym or show up at work a little late, but if you have to see the doctor, aim to be the first appointment of the day. According to a study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, doctors are less likely to detect warning signs, like cancerous polyps, later in the day because of fatigue. You’re also likely to spend less time waiting with an early appointment.
Mid-Morning: Check Off Detail-Oriented Tasks
According to a Pennsylvania State University study on alertness, you’ll be able to execute more accurate work and focus better if you get to it early. The study authors also found that optimal accomplishment happened around 8am and declined between noon and 4 p.m., especially after eating a meal.
Late Morning Or Late Afternoon: Drink Coffee
Maybe that wakeup cup of joe isn’t the best idea. According to scientists who study chronopharmacology — the study of how time of day may affect drugs’ impact on your body — you may be wasting your caffeine on the mornings when you’re naturally the most alert. Instead, save it for after 9:30 a.m. and after 2 p.m., two times of day when you naturally begin to feel lethargic.
Late Afternoon To Evening: Do Creative Work
After knocking out your detailed-oriented tasks in the morning, how do you deal with fatigue in the afternoons? Is there nothing else you can work on? Turns out, this is the best time to explore more open-ended problem solving. Fatigue makes us come up with more creative solutions, found an Albion College research study, published in Thinking and Reasoning. When you have what their researchers called “reduced inhibitory control,” then your “results showed consistently greater insight problem solving performance during non-optimal times of day.”
Early Evening: Take Your Medicine & Work Out
Researchers found that if you or someone you know is taking medications to help reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke, it may be better to take those pills at night and not in the morning. The study, published in Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, found that those who took their blood pressure meds at night had better results and possibly fewer side effects. The reason? You’re optimizing the drug’s impact on your body’s natural biological rhythm.
Generally, blood pressure rises naturally before you get out of bed and peaks midday. It then gradually falls, reaching its lowest between midnight and 4 a.m. So when you take pills in the morning or at lunch you may not actually be managing the hours when your blood pressure is at its peak. Popping the pill at night, however, will keep the morning rise down.
Something else to do in the early evenings? Work out. Turns out that just showing up to the gym isn’t enough. Aim to work out in the late afternoon to early evening for peak performance and to prevent the feeling that you’re dragging your heels, according to research published by the American College of Sports Medicine. Since body temperature is higher during that time frame, it is believed that muscle mobility increases, allowing you to get more out of your workout. Plus, warm muscles are less susceptible to injury. Another reason to sleep in and get to the gym after work instead.
Every 90 minutes: Take A Break
Even when we’re getting enough shut-eye at night, we can’t work endlessly on projects without getting fatigued. Florida State University researchers found that thanks to the constant shifts of our biological clock — which adjust our levels of hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol — we need to take breaks throughout the day. Ideally, we should work in 90-minute intervals for best productivity, found the authors who studied high performance players in music, sports and chess.