Find the best time for different kinds of work

I was recently listening to the Inquiring Minds podcast as they interviewed Daniel Pink about his work on the science of perfect timing. One point that really stood out to me is that you are good at different kinds of work at different times of day.

Previously, I’d thought of my work in two ways: busy/mindless work that I do when my brain isn’t functioning at its best and deep work that I do when my brain is firing on all cylinders. But Pink shared that deep work isn’t all alike — specifically, we are good at creative or insightful work and analytical work at different times of day. The exact time of day depends on your chronotype (I’m a night owl) but, regardless, the type of work aligns with whether you’re in what he calls a trough, peak, or recovery period.

Your trough is the time when you’re sluggish or not so quick — for me that’s first thing in the morning — and is best for busy work like checking email or filing expenses. Your peak is when you’re fully mentally engaged (high mental acuity), and that’s when you’re best at analytical work. But your peak isn’t when you’re best at deeply creative or insightful work — that’s best done during your recovery period, where your mood (but not your mental acuity) improves and you have a little more mental space for thinking laterally or having those “aha!” moments.

I’ve been thinking lately about how I’ve optimized my schedule for smaller chunks of analytical work that I push through at my peak times, but how I have more trouble getting into a flow state with more insightful work. Using Pink’s model, I can try to block out those times when I’m mostly likely to do that work well — for me that should be in the middle of my day, before or after lunch (after I get over my “uhhhh what’s happening?” time but before I hit my “I can do all the things!” burst of mental energy late in the afternoon). I’d really like to build sustainable habits that take into account the creative and insightful work that I find myself doing more of these days.

How about you? Does this model make sense for your work? Any tips or habits that work well for you when you have to switch between these types of work?

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