Don’t Try to Swim against the Current

Even the best swimmers will wear themselves out quickly if they try to swim against the current.

Knowing how you work best is the key to doing your best work. Yes, that sounds like circular reasoning, but hang in with me here for a moment.

I’ve been gobbling up productivity blogs and articles and books for decades now, and they all seem to have an angle that you must follow if you want to get anything at all done, and if you don’t do that, you. will. fail.

The worst offenders seem to be the wake-up-at-5-am-or-you’re-worthless crew, who are then shown up by the proponents of waking up at 4:30, who are then utterly dismissed by the 4 am evangelists.

That’s a load of crap, quite honestly.

We all get the same 24 hours in a day.

Productivity and mastery of your day are not gained by shoehorning your unique self into a system that was developed by someone else. The same goes for working out, eating, or anything else we do in our daily lives. We each have challenges and limitations and situations and physical and mental rhythms that mesh and create a personal environment in which we have to operate.

So ignore that early-rising, paleo-power-breakfasting CrossFit bro who tells you that if you’re not doing exactly the same things he is, you might as well just crawl under a rock. He’s doing what works for him, but you are not him, and what works for him might not work for you.

Now, that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with trying new things and giving them a shot for a few weeks to see if they resonate with you. All of the systems that keep my work and life and general in line are the result of trial and error and adaptation over time.

But don’t feel like a failure if you’re not getting up at 4 am and getting 2,000 words written before going for a 10-mile run and being done in time for your networking breakfast at 6. Those dudes get the press in the productivity universe, but that is not a realistic schedule or goal for most of us.

What is your personal rhythm?

For the next two weeks, pay attention to the rhythm of your days. Check in with yourself hourly and keep a log so you can scan it for patterns later.

  • When do you get up? When do you go to bed?
  • Are there certain times of the day when you feel more energetic or alert?
  • Do you feel less ready to take on challenges at certain times of the day?
  • Are there times of the day when you feel more or less ready to talk to people?
  • Do you tend to feel creative at certain times of the day? 

Use this information to guide you when you structure your days.

Some of the work you do requires a lot of concentration — schedule that during the times when you have the more energy and focus. Use the times when you’re feeling less energetic to do things like paperwork, emails, and social media. Use your creative time to write social media posts or marketing materials. Save your phone calls for times when you feel like peopling or crave social interaction.

Things I know about myself:

  • I am not a morning person. At all.
  • I do not like to deal with people first thing in the morning.
  • I do my best writing in the morning, before I dive into my day.
  • If I don’t get my exercise done in the morning, it is unlikely to happen later.
  • I work best on deadline, rather than way ahead.
  • I find phone calls draining, so those need to be scheduled during a time when I feel like peopling.
  • I do my best focused work between 11 am and 4 pm. 

Using these things I know about myself, I’ve come up with a rough schedule that works for me. I try to get a little writing done first thing after breakfast, then I go for my walk or to yoga. After my shower, I take care of any pressing manini tasks or phone calls, then settle down and start to power through whatever is on my plate. I break for a short lunch and social media scroll. Later in the afternoons, when I feel my energy and concentration waning, I grab a healthy snack and deal with non-urgent emails and paperwork, and I might do things like format references, check the alphabetization of an index, or do intake on a new project.

See how that works?