Daily tasks can either drain or energize you.
Completing them can make you feel accomplished, while having to postpone them can leave you frustrated. Surprisingly, the order in which you approach tasks can have a notable impact on your effectiveness, energy, and enthusiasm.
Some tasks are better handled at a specific time of the day, and should be completely avoided at other times. To maintain balance, get your work done, and still have life at the end of the day, ensure that the sequence and the timing of your projects supports, rather than impedes, the likelihood that you’ll accomplish most of what you sought to do during your day.
Tackle the day’s toughest task first thing. Why, pray tell? Recall if this has ever happened to you: You approach the end of your workday and realize that you didn't get to the most difficult tasks. Whether they are time-consuming or mind-boggling, the hardest tasks are the ones most likely met with procrastination.
Researchers agree that you are most able to handle your hardest tasks if you do so in the morning. Dr. Norbert Myslinski, a neuroscience professor at the University of Maryland, found that cortisol – a stress hormone that affects your "flight-or-flight" ability – peaks around the time that you wake up. Cortisol increases your blood-sugar level, better enabling you to handle tasks energetically and with enough momentum to carry you through their completion.
Most vital, tackling tough tasks in the morning often enhances your confidence level. By striving for increased productivity at the start of your day, you are motivated to perform better and accomplish more throughout the rest of your afternoon and evening.
All told, you're inclined to accomplish more on your daily task list when you start with the hardest tasks. Moving to the easy tasks then seems like a downhill bike ride. By contrast, moving from easy to hard tasks can be an uphill battle.
When your workday begins to wind down, tie up any loose ends. What can you file so that it is out of the way? What can you make complete? Can you make that one key phone call?
Can you discard any unnecessary items, including junk mail? Can you assemble tomorrow’s project materials or notes to once again be able to tackle the toughest tasks? In this case, the early bird does indeed catch and complete the worm (work).
As I discuss more broadly in my book The 60 Second Self-Starter, when is an opportune time to tackle a task you’ve been putting off continuously? Answer: When something else comes along that's even more onerous. Suppose you seek to start on task A, and find yourself making little headway. Along comes task B, which bigger and more difficult, and something you have to do, you have no choice. Task B now becomes the nexus of your procrastination.
Suddenly, task A doesn't seem so big and so bad. In comparison to what else is on your plate, you find yourself starting on task A with greater ease than you recently experienced. How so? You have mentally traded off one task for another.
Eventually you'll have to tackle task B, but for now, work the trade-off to your advantage. Buzz through task A.
A caveat: Often, you don't have much control over when another huge task is forthcoming. When one such task arrives, that's when to launch into the earlier task.
Your body’s temperature goes up and down in the course of a day, a pattern dictated by your brain. According to John Poppy, a former senior editor for Look magazine and long established health columnist, your body’s performance ability for memory, alertness, and physical coordination is optimal when you have a sufficiently high body temperature.
Conversely, memory alertness and physical coordination performance ability decreases with a less than optimal body temperature.
For work related tasks, in accordance with your body temperature fluctuations throughout the day, in review, here are noted times for high productivity, and other times worth knowing: From 8 am to 10 am, your mental capabilities steadily rise. From 10 am to noon, you have the wonderful opportunity to take on a challenging project and succeed, or to hit your boss for that raise you’ve been wanting.
By noon your brain capacity begins to diminish. At 3 pm, the brain power dip you might have experienced in the early afternoon begins to diminish, as alertness, mental acuity, and higher productivity ensue. By 4 pm, ‘til at least 5 pm, your muscle tone reaches its peak and so, this is the favored time to exercise for many people.
So, the times for high productivity appear to be 10 am to noon and 3 pm to 4 pm, and the best times for a productive physical workout are between 4 pm and 5 pm.
Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com