For most people, there is a magical time of day when, under the right circumstances, they just get stuff done. Some call it a state of flow when they get absorbed by a challenging task, achieve real focus, and things just “click”. Others call it being in the zone when they are able to do really deep work and knock out sticky and mentally taxing stuff.
I like to call this time MPT, your Most Productive Time. For me, this time is in the early morning, the quiet first hour after getting ready and before meetings start and messages begin pouring in. That’s when my brain is the freshest and able to focus. This is the time when I’m best able to do deep work such as writing, coding, or diving into data analysis. When I use this precious mental clarity, I can leverage it to boost my productivity and get challenging things done in a way that cannot be replicated during the remainder of the day.
(For those interested in learning more about how rhythms and timing influence all of us and our lives, check out Daniel H. Pink’s insightful book “When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing”.)
Don’t let it go to Waste
If you’re now wondering if you have an MPT because you haven’t experienced it lately, you’re not alone. It’s easy to miss out on the opportunity of MPT and not even realize it exists for you. Here are things you might inadvertently do that result in squandering this great time:
- You’re not ready: You’re in the wrong place at the right time and not ready and available to do work.
- You let others steal this time from you through meetings, interruptions, etc.
- You do the wrong work: Instead of using your MPT to its fullest potential, you end up doing stuff like reading and replying to mundane emails or browsing the web.
Find YOUR MPT
So how can you find and utilize your MPT? Try this:
- Take a guess – I’m sure that you have a pretty good idea when your MPT might be. Maybe first thing in the morning? Before lunch? In the evening, when the kids are in bed?
- Make a plan – Figure out what type of work requires you to focus deeply and plan to do this work during the time you figured may be your MPT.
- Experiment – See if your plan works out and give a try. How did you feel? Were you able to really dive in and get it done? Great! If not, adjust the time and/or setting and try again.
Get in the Zone
Finding the right time is only one part of the equation. Creating the right environment, so you can get the most out of that time, is the other part. Try this:
- Be in the right place: Find a place conducive to MPT where you have what you need to do your best work. That includes the right tools and resources, but also the right mindset and inspiration. Maybe your office? Or the coffee shop? Or even the park or beach?
- Remove distractions: Turn off your phone, notifications, your email or messaging client, and maybe even your web browser and WiFi (unless, of course, you need those to do your work). Close your office door or put up a “do not disturb” sign (or leave the office altogether if you have to), so people don’t come in and interrupt you. (Personally, I also like to don my favorite pair of headphones and listen to movie scores, classical, or instrumental music.)
- Block your calendar: Once your MPT habits and times are pretty predictable, block your calendar for uninterrupted MPT work ahead of time.
- Set a goal: Before you start, set a goal for your time. What do you want to accomplish? Pick something that requires deep concentration, is meaningful, moves the ball forward, and is challenging and worthy of being done during your MPT.
- Dive in: Go get it done. Pursue your set goal and don’t let distractions get the best of you. Hopefully, you reach the magical state of flow to such an extent that you get absorbed by the work and almost lose track of time.
- Reap the rewards: It’ll feel great to re-emerge from the zone of MPT having accomplished something difficult and meaningful. And sometimes a little treat or reward may be in order to keep you motivated, even if it’s just a good cup of coffee.
Make it a Habit
Once you’re on a roll and know what really works for you, stick with it and make it a habit! If you can, use your MPT at least a few times a week or even every day to do your most important and meaningful work, the stuff that moves you closer to your personal or professional goals. Doing this can really make a difference in your life. (For more tips on creating habits, check out my Cheat Sheet.)
There are some interesting variations you can apply to MPT. For example, Gretchen Rubin recommends what she calls Power Hour, i.e., setting aside a specific time to tackle nagging chores and knock them out.
You might also have heard of the “eat a frog in the morning” technique, which recommends using the morning hours and still unblemished resolve to complete an otherwise unpleasant task.
Your Secret Superpower
MPT has a lot of potential. Find yours, fine-tune it, and turn it into your own personal superpower that can boost your productivity and make a tangible impact on your life.