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Finding Your Power Hours
Everyone has a span of time where they can get into a flow and just crank! Read this post to learn about power hours and how they can help you!
Disclaimer: I am not in the Amazon Affiliate program. Any links I provide to books are solely because I think they are good reads that I think you'll find more interesting.
Let's set the scene: You're in college and have a paper due in a day, which you had a few weeks to do, but haven't tackled yet. It's 10 PM. You get your coffee/tea/energy drink, put on some headphones, crank some good music, and start typing. 400 open tabs and 12 pages later, you have now finished your paper. And it's 4 AM.
I was like that in college, as were some of my peers. But I had some other friends who absolutely refused to do the night owl routine and instead opted for early (but more reasonable) morning hours to do their last-minute paper writing. I had other friends who preferred to do a bunch of writing in the afternoon. The point is that while the night owls and the early birds and the afternoon birds (yeah, I don't know what to call them) had the same assignment to do, they picked different times of the day to crank. They each had their own power hours, which is the subject of this post.
There's a certain span of time I like to call "power hours". This is when you can get a lot of s**t done. Power hours vary from person to person and may even vary for one individual while in a certain phase of life (college all-nighters, anyone 🤣?).
Whether you are woefully behind on stuff you've gotta get done, or if you just have a busy schedule and have already prioritized your tasks, there are generally certain hours of the day that suit you best to just crank. Your power hours can change as you grow older, or if the type of work you're doing is changing, but it's always a great idea to find them and use them to their full advantage.
Before I get into how to use your power hours, I'm gonna give some background to frame the discussion.
There's an awesome book by Daniel Pink called When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
(I am slightly biased because I read the book and thought it was amazing. I also got to meet Daniel Pink when I was an intern in LinkedIn since he was invited as part of LinkedIn's Speaker Series! I'm holding the book in the pic.)
In the first part of the book, Daniel Pink talks about chronotypes and how being cognizant of your own chronotype and its characteristics can help you achieve certain tasks better at different points in the day.
There are three main chronotypes that Daniel Pink found in his research:
Third birds (a category for which Daniel Pink mentions he could not come up with a more descriptive name 😁)
Larks and third birds have a daily energy cycle that looks something like this:
After wakeup, energy increases until about lunchtime
After lunch time, a slump begins that culminates in a trough in the afternoon
After dinner, energy starts going back up again before flattening by the time you get ready for bed
Owls, however, have the same cycle, but in reverse.
Between larks and third birds, all that's really different is that the start of the cycle gets shifted earlier if you're a lark (because you wake up earlier). Larks start their day early and go to sleep early. Most of us are "third birds" though, myself included. We wake up at "normal" times in the morning and go to sleep normally sometime before midnight.
This daily energy cycle is important to keep in mind because it implies that there are certain times of the day that are better suited for certain kinds of thinking. It just so happens that you are better at analytical tasks after you wake up and you are better at more free-form thinking in the afternoon after you've had lunch.
Now, owls are the strange ones because their cycle is in reverse, so they actually can perform better analytically in the night time. This is partly due to the fact that they wake up later in the day.
If you'd like to learn more about the three chronotypes, check out this helpful infographic from Daniel Pink's website.
Tying it all together
What Daniel Pink describes is a bit of "steady state" for how you should expect your days to look based on your chronotype. There are certain recommendations he makes in the book based on what part of the day you're in and I find that I tend to follow them (I'm a third bird):
Analytical thinking: I tend to answer emails, develop code, and review code and tech specs in the morning.
Free-form thinking: I keep design discussions and more exploratory tasks in the afternoon. If I have a large tech spec I need to write, I may do the outline and some initial work in the afternoon, but continue in the morning.
Analytical thinking (not as much as morning): I may look into some more code-related things, or answer chat messages, in the evening.
My morning tasks are predominantly more analytical in nature and my afternoon tasks are more free-form, when my analytical skills are not at their peak. In the evening, my analytical skills are increasing, but they're not at their morning levels, so I tend not to code as much in the night time unless I'm behind or really excited about something I'm working on.
"Ok, so how are power hours different from the most analytical hours in the day based on your chronotype?" you ask. Good question.
Power hours need not be for solely analytical tasks. They are just a set of hours where you can get a lot of work done. You can definitely do analytical tasks in your power hours and that would be good too, because your efficiency would be higher. But you could do more free-form stuff instead, or even a mix of analytical and free-form thinking in your power hours. The main point is that it's a span of time where you can get into a flow and just crank on stuff that needs to get done or for which you have placed a high priority.
A word of caution
I am by no means writing this post to urge you to find a way to squeeze even more productivity or efficiency out of an already busy schedule just so you can do more work. That can lead to burnout, which really sucks. You have to make sure you are still getting enough sleep and can function the next day.
Rather, I'm recommending that you learn both what your steady state is, as well as when you can find your best flow. You could find that your power hours are aligned with your most analytical hours, based on your chronotype. Or, you could find that they are at diametrically opposite ends of the day and in short sprints, you can use your power hours to be an absolute task ninja.
Either way, I recommend you do some experimentation and see what time range works best for you to just crank. If you are super tired and not thinking clearly in the late evening, those are probably not your power hours 😁. But if you've simply never done that before, try it out and you may just be surprised! Often, the first time people do the "late night warrior" routine is when they have procrastinated, but some find serendipitously that their power hours are actually late in the evening.