A Simple Productivity Trick: Think In The Morning, Talk In The Afternoon

I don’t update the "productivity" topic you see to the right as often as I thought I would. As I wrote three months ago, in my most recent "productivity" post (about "batch processing"):

[L]ike Merlin Mann, after an extensive time following the productivity genre/industry in details, I have generally soured on the relentless gadgetry, listmaking, fickleness and obsessiveness of most productivity websites and communities …

That’s not to say studying productivity is a waste of time. Far from it; Benjamin Franklin did it, and look how productive he was.

Maira Kalman, who authors a whimsical biography blog at the New York Times, had a recent piece on Ben, including this fascinating scan from his Almanac:

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But how does one arrange that "work" to enhance productivity?

I’m fond of establishing for each day at least one "Most Important Task," a task (or tasks) you absolutely must get done today. Like Zen Habits says, you should probably do your MIT first thing in the morning.

But not all MITs are the same. Some MITs involve mindless, repetitive tasks. Some involve casual conversations or status updates. Some involve reviewing materials to get a sense of them.

Some MITs, however, require real clarity, precision and concentration, like drafting briefs or preparing for depositions. For those, an important observation:

Professional writers spend most days of their adult lives writing. For those among them who specialize on long form non-fiction, their writing is not that different from the types of research papers that plague college students. Assuming that these writers do not want to spend most of the days of their adult lives hating what they are doing, it stands to reason that, over time, they have figured the least painful possible way to schedule a large amount of writing.

With this in mind, I dug up interviews with [ten] masters of long form non-fiction …

I went through each interview extracting any discussions about the writer’s habits.

Nine out of ten writers discussed when during the day they write. All nine worked in the morning. Four also worked during the afternoon. Three worked during night. Only one worked in all three times. Several writers described the afternoon as a mental dead time useful only for exercising and, maybe, editing. …

Five out of the ten writers provided a specific start time. The latest was 8:30 am. Four other writers who didn’t give a specific time said, in so many words, “in the morning.” No writer described starting their work in the afternoon or evening.

And it’s as simple as that: divide up your work by doing the tasks that require the most thought in the morning. Save the calls, meetings and document review for the afternoon.

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  • Ron Clark

    Max – I’m doing quite a bit of writing now and you are right on about the start of the day being the most productive. Thx for this. Enjoy following your work. RC

  • Great idea but really, really hard to stick to day to day. I continue to try and fail.