How to Structure the Ideal Work Day: An Evidence-Based Guide

Go ahead and daydream on your commute. Get the important stuff done before noon. Have that second coffee at 2:00 PM. Work out whenever.
Reuters

Optimizing your work day to maximize your productivity and happiness admittedly isn’t a hard science. Differences in body chemistry, sleep routine, personality, profession, and office culture mean that one person’s ideal day is another’s productivity nightmare. But there are some evidence-based guidelines you can follow to get yourself on the right track. Here’s our take on a top-notch schedule:

When you first wake up

Unfortunately, it’s hard to say exactly when one should wake to start the day right. Adults need seven to nine hours sleep, but your exact wakeup time just needs to be consistent. Do you like waking up before the rest of your household, and spending a few hours on your own? Great, but try to do so every day. The same goes for those who are hitting the snooze button until it’s time to rush out the door. If you’re used to waking up late every morning, the day you decide to rise at dawn will be an unpleasant one.

If at all possible, resist the urge to inhale a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Instead, wake yourself up with a shower and a light breakfast. Your body’s production of cortisol, a hormone that promotes alertness, peaks on average between 8am and 9am anyway (or about 30-45 minutes after you wake). Of course, early risers might feel the need to sneak in an extra cup before 8am anyway. No one will know but you.

Before leaving for work

Send out emails that don’t require a response straight away—particularly ones that might require some thought before the recipient can respond. Our reasoning: Most people check emails first thing in the morning. According to a 2014 survey by Pew Research, 44% of American cellphone owners sleep with their phone next to their bed. And online marketing software company HubSpot reported in 2012 that emails sent at 6am tend to have higher open rates. But you don’t want to force your colleagues to get bogged down writing responses on their way out the door: 6am is a time for reading emails, not a time for answering them at any length.

Get creative on your commute

If at all possible, zone out and have a good think (perhaps about the emails you’ve got to answer) while you’re still on the groggy side: Research suggests that innovation and creativity peak whenever your alertness dips. To get a more precise read on your best time for deep thoughts, take this quiz to estimate your body’s natural rhythm.

Settle down and drink

Caffeine addicts rejoice: Peak coffee time is between 9:30 and 11:30am. Your cortisol levels start to dip after 9am and don’t pick up until noon, so a caffeine boost is most effective during your first couple of hours at the office. If you want to keep track of your caffeine levels throughout the day, try Jawbone’s UP Coffee app. When you enter your caffeinated beverage (or medication, like Excedrin) of choice, the app estimates how long your body takes to metabolize it. Remember: A healthy adult can have as much as 400 mg of caffeine a day without worrying about jitteriness or other side effects. That’s around two to three 8-oz cups depending on the strength of the brew. Choose wisely.

Presented by

Rachel Feltman

Rachel Feltman writes about science, technology, and business for Quartz.

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