Just Don’t Work From 12 PM to 3 PM

These are your least productive hours, according to Daniel H. Pink’s book, When

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Illustration by the author. Background: source. Owl: source.

When is a fascinating book. Most of us ask all the important why, what, and how questions, but we rarely think about the when question. That’s a mistake, friend.

Since the arrival of my son into this world five months ago, I have not been able to work from 12 PM to 3 PM. I’d try to get things done but I’d be too tired and felt incredibly unproductive.

Yet, in reality, I’ve known for a long time that I was unproductive in the early afternoon. Back when I was working at a 9–5 job, I was fighting my drowsiness with coffee, walks, and good-old slaps-in-the-face.

It somewhat worked, but I knew that deep down, there needed a better way. And since no one spoke about this dreadful period at the office, I thought I was alone in that. It turns out, 79% of the people are like me.

The study of chronotypes is a deeply interesting one. Scientists break it down into three distinct types, even if people are only familiar with two: owls, and others.

Owls, the most well-known chronotype, accounts for 21% of the population. Larks, or Early Birds, account for 14% of the population. In the middle sits the Third Birds, at 65%.

Pink summarizes the best time to do different types of tasks this way:

Lark:

  • Analytical tasks: Early morning
  • Insight tasks: Late afternoon/early evening
  • Making an impression: Morning
  • Making a decision: Early morning

Third Bird:

  • Analytical tasks: Early to midmorning
  • Insight tasks: Late afternoon/early evening
  • Making an impression: Morning
  • Making a decision: Early to midmorning

Owl:

  • Analytical tasks: Late afternoon and evening
  • Insight tasks: Morning
  • Making an impression: Morning
  • Making a decision: Late afternoon and evening

Do you notice anything peculiar about the above? Let me help you: there’s no representation of the early afternoon for any tasks for any chronotype. Essentially, early afternoon is never a good time to do anything productive!

No matter the chronotype, there’s a massive dip in alertness and productivity in the early afternoon, from 12 PM to 3 PM. Like in the investing world, it’s called a peak-trough-recovery period.

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Source

The “trough” stage, for most people, is between 12 PM and 3 PM. And since this is a biological pattern in our body, there isn’t much we can do to hack it. The easiest thing to do is to acknowledge it and plan around it.

What to do between 12 PM and 3 PM

If you are in charge of your schedule, good, don’t schedule anything (important) during that period. If you’re not, because you’re in school or must follow your company’s 9–5 schedule, it gets trickier. If you’re in school, well, your only option is to get through it.

For the self-employed

Since that period is not helping you perform at your best for any type of task, use this time for three things: resting, recess/playtime, and simple tasks.

The best way to rest is not to sleep. If you sleep for more than 20 minutes, you risk having sleep inertia. You can rest by doing a power nap (15–20 minutes), you can take walks, you can take a bath, you can read. Really, you can do anything that gives your mind a little break.

You can use that time to disconnect and entertain yourself. Do some reading, play some games, and watch a TV show or two. You can also use this time to do some simple administrative tasks you’ve been pushing off, either for work or in your life. For example, make appointments, go grocery shopping, answer messages from friends, and more.

For the past 5 months, that period for me has been used for the following activities: eat, perform light admin tasks, power nap, spend time with my wife and kid, and making new online connections.

For others

For those not in charge of their schedules, things are trickier. Your job is to raise awareness about the pitfalls of working from 12 PM to 3 PM. You should do that with your colleagues and your boss. Here are some good resources:

Books:

Book summaries:

Questionnaire:

I know full-well how hard that is to do, but if you succeed, you’ll have more energy than ever before and perform much better at work, which benefits everyone. It takes some getting used to for everyone, but it pays off quickly.

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter if you’re a lark, an owl, or a third bird, your early afternoon isn’t productive time. Use it for other lighter activities, like resting, reading, taking a walk, and even entertaining yourself. You’ll have more energy and make fewer mistakes.

If you can, shuffle your schedule around to work with your chronotype and reap the benefits. You can do this!

— Danny
For more articles about productivity and more, check out my website!

dannyforest.com <- my new home. I don’t write on Medium anymore.

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