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One Productivity Myth You Can Ignore

Normally, when every smart and successful person I know tells me to do something, I tend to listen! There’s a pretty good chance they’re onto something.

That’s why, for a really long time, I worked hard to get myself up by 6:00 am. Everyone I knew was telling me that a major key to being successful and doing more important work was to be an early riser – get up early and do all your best work before everyone’s awake and the distractions of the day take over.

I was always a bit skeptical, but who was I to argue with proven success? Well, now it’s time for me to speak up. That advice we all think of as a fundamental rule is really just a myth.

Becoming an early riser is in no way, shape, or form a requirement to do great work.

So why are all these really smart people saying that it is? Because it worked for them.

“Good, General Advice”

Don’t take this the wrong way. Generally speaking, becoming an early riser is good advice. It applies to a lot of people. Hell, it even works for me. I’m usually up by 6:00 every morning and hard at work on something even though there’s no one to tell me what time to wake up anymore.

But the truth is that good, general advice doesn’t apply to everyone and there are far too many people trying to force themselves into this mold when a number of alternatives would work much better for them.

There are 24 hours in every day and it doesn’t matter which ones you choose to use so long as you use them effectively. I think Charlie Gilkey got it right when he said that everyone has their own set of hours when they’re most creative and the key to doing great work is recognizing when they are and leveraging them like crazy.

That’s the model I use now and it’s been a night and day difference for me. I wake up and start working at 6:00, but I’ve found that my most productive and creative work doesn’t come naturally until after 9:00 and usually lasts until just before lunch. I can work on my most important stuff at any time, but that window is when the best stuff comes.

I have two roommates that churn out amazing art and music between about midnight and 4:00 am every day. They create awesome stuff, and a lot of it. I’d like to see someone tell them they’d do better waking up at 6:00. That’s when they go to bed!

Where Do I Fit?

Maybe you fall somewhere in between those extremes and you’re not quite sure where you fit. There are a few questions you can ask yourself to get closer to finding your most productive time:

What time do you naturally wake up and go to bed?

If you can, spend a few days without an alarm clock and see what time you naturally wake up at. When do you get tired again and go to sleep? If you let it, your body will clearly tell you what your natural rhythm should look like. You might feel tempted or pressured to wake up earlier, but don’t. There’s no reason to mess with your natural schedule.

What time of day do you feel most alive?

This is your productive time and it’s the greatest opportunity you have to crank out your best work. If you don’t feel like you’re very productive, it’s probably because you’ve been out of sync with your natural energy levels.

Pay attention to when you really come alive each day and use that window to do your most important work, not check email or surf the web. I can do those things half comatose, so I reserve them for my least energetic times just after waking up, right after lunch, and just before bed.

The problem a lot of people run into is that there are too many distractions during their productive time. Maybe you have to be at work (you know, the one that pays the bills…for now) or have some other commitment you’ve made.

If that’s your case and you’re trying to juggle other commitments with your most important work, then I’d actually recommend trying out the early riser routine. Hey, I said it’s popular because it works – it’s just not the best option for a lot of people.

What I’d recommend even more is that you really work on making your most important work the primary commitment during productive hours.

I know that can seem like a lot to ask, but the truth is, you eventually have to make the shift anyway if you want your best work to become your life’s work. You can only hold those conflicting ideals for so long before you either take a big leap or resign from your best work.

This is Riskology.co, so I think you know which option I think is best.

Productive Productivity

Assuming you’re ready to let go of the early riser myth and start doing your most important work when it’s right for you, here are a few things I do to make sure I get the most productivity out of my own time:

  • Stick to a schedule. Figure out when you’re most productive and set it aside for your most important work.
  • Pick one task. Don’t get bogged down trying to do 10 “important” things at once. Pick one and do the hell out of it. Writing is the most important thing I can do, so that’s what gets my attention every single day.
  • Eliminate distractions. If I want to do my best work, I need to focus. That means I turn off the computer, the phone, even the stereo. 100% of my attention goes to writing.
  • Find backup work locations. I have a primary work space and a routine, but occasionally that can cause things to get a little stale. If I feel stifled, I have four or five other places I can go to get things flowing again. A change of scenery can make a huge difference for me.

Start getting used to doing your best work during your most productive time and you might notice less and less of a need to get up at 5:00 to keep up.

What are your most productive hours? Are you getting the most out of them?

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In other news, my friend Matt at A World of Inspiration recently interviewed me for his site. You can check it out here.

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Image by: Leo Rynolds