3 Key Steps to Bring Your Best Self to Work

Nearly everyone I work with knows 2 things about me:
1. If you want to get on Michael’s bad side, schedule a lunch meeting without providing lunch.
2. After 3PM, Michael is not the most creative person on earth.

This is the 5th in a series of 10 steps on how to become more organized.

That’s right. My internal systems work as such: I wake up between 5-6AM. I need a good 30 minutes for personal development and reflection. I am most happy starting work around 7AM. I am highly creative between 7-10AM. (People who hate morning people hate me.) This is when I write or design.

Between 10-12PM is a good time for me to talk to people. That includes conducting instructional courses webinars.

I need lunch. So, I take lunch.

From 1-3PM I get a spurt of energy that I usually use for research or more meetings. What I learn here gets rechanneled into my morning creative time.

At 3-5PM I am brain-dead. Great time to check emails, do relationship building with colleagues, or fall asleep during didactic meetings. I enjoy taking a stimulating walk to refresh my oxygen reserves.

Strangely enough, I get another creative spurt after dinner. If I start writing I can go until well past midnight, though I try to sleep by 10PM each night.

What is the point of this chronicle of my daily schedule? I know how my internal clocks works. I also know when I am at my best. Do you?

Being productive requires energy. Time and energy are close partners. To make the most out of your day, it is important that you figure out the best time for you to be working on particular projects or engaging in certain activities.

Energy is a limited resource. Use it wisely. Here are some tips so that you can be your best.

1.Get Enough Sleep

Everybody is different. I have a friend who consistently sleeps about 4-5 hours a night. They are highly productive. I am so jealous. I wish I could keep awake 20 hours of the day. Some people need up to 10 hours of sleep a night.

There are two things to remember about sleep: 1. You should sleep the same length of time each day. 2. You should go to sleep and wake up at routine times.

Why is this important?Defragmentation

It is very similar to the defragmentation process in a computer. What is defragmentation?

According to Margaret Rouse of TechTarget, “defragmentation is the process of locating the noncontiguous fragments of data into which a computer file may be divided as it is stored on a hard disk, and rearranging the fragments and restoring them into fewer fragments or into the whole file. Defragmentation reduces data access time and allows storage to be used more efficiently.”

In a similar way, neuroscience has proven that when you engage in a regular sleep cycle your brain processes the information (data) from you day. It discards the useless data, drops important information into long-term memory, and can even problem-solve while we sleep.

If our sleep is irregular, we cannot defrag, meaning our brain cannot operate at its best. Our wonderfully designed brain was meant to have regular down time to help us optimize our day. Why fight against our design? Get your sleep.

2. Determine When You Are At Your Best

It is time for self-analysis. Ask yourself these questions:internal clock

  1. At what time of the day do I feel the most energized, excited and enthusiastic?
  2. When do I have the least amount of interruptions?
  3. Do I work better in certain environments? (e.g. coffee shops, home, office with door closed, public park, etc.)
  4. What is the best time for me to schedule mundane tasks that do not require a lot of brainpower?

Do not feel guilty if your best time to be working is not perfectly synchronized with your team. Also, inasmuch possible, try to control your environment to get the most out of your time and energy.

I can be highly productive starting my design projects two hours before anyone else shows up to my office. People are not present to interrupt me.

Though I like working from home, I mostly prefer the office. It has all the supplies I need, 3 large computer monitors, a standing desk, and a steady stream of coffee and high-protein snacks.

More mundane tasks—like checking emails, organizing my office, signing invoices—can be performed in the late afternoon. I am more than happy to be interrupted during this time.

Speaking of interruptions…

3. Manage Interruptions.

You must learn to limit interruptions when you are at a peak time. For instance, I will block out large chunks of time in the morning for me to work on developing training and instructional design because I know if I miss that 3 hour window, my best creative juices are gone until evening (when I really shouldn’t be working).

If you get interrupted too often, it could be you that is the problem. Other people treat us the way we train them to treat us. They use our responses and form an opinion about us based on patterns. This is why it would be to your advantage to setup a system so that others know when they can interrupt you.

For example, you can let everyone know that 8:00AM to 10:00AM is your time and you don’t want to be interrupted. In order to get back in control when someone interrupts you, use the following:

  • Ask the interrupter why it should be done now (come back later?)
  • Can the interrupter contribute?
  • Politely explain the impact of interruption on your work

If you are a team leader, be cool and ask your staff when they are at their best. Negotiate meeting times that require a lot of creative energy when the majority of team members are at their peak.

We all want to bring our best to work. Now, you are armed with 3 key steps to do so.

(This blog series begins with 5 Mental Techniques to Master Time Management. And for more on my personal heroes, productivity tips, and articles on leadership visit 15 Minutes Per Day.)

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