Why You Need to Work At the Right Time of Day

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I’m extremely efficient with my writing. It’s true. I am. Friends laugh that I write books in a weekend. I’m not that good, but I’m close. I can knock out amazing amounts of content in short bursts. I don’t exactly know why this is, but I like it. (Don’t worry, I’m terribly slow at other things in life that you can probably do in 1/100th the time.)

That said, it’s critical that I know when I can write well, and when I can’t. Because if I write when I’m not working well, I’ve no hope of efficient writing, and every hope of post-writing frustration.

Case in point: The other day, I went to a coffee shop where I was going to spend a few hours writing. I know for sure that it’s easier for me to write outside of my home office, so that means I try to go to a coffee shop about twice a month to do the writing work I need to get done. Writing at a coffee shop generally works for me, and I can plow through and do a ton of work in a few hours.

But not that day.

That day, I arrived. I sat down on the couch I’m a fan of. I ordered a large soda water with lemon. And I pulled out the computer. And that’s where it went downhill. Somewhere between the checking of email, and then the checking of Twitter, and the checking of email again, and then the reading of a great article on Hemingway (I just read a so-so novel about his wives, hence the interest) I got all lost and tangled up. Pretty soon I was texting my husband: when are we going grocery shopping?

Because I would rather go grocery shopping than write. Obviously.

Productivity gurus say you need to know when you are most effective, and utilize those times to do your work. I agree. I would go further and say that you don’t just need to know when you’re effective, you need to know when you are particularly effective for the specific task at hand.

And so the fact that I wandered into the coffee shop on a holiday at three pm was not, for all the world to see, going to turn out well. I do my best writing in the morning, with a large decaf coffee with almond milk, and a bright sun rising overhead. Or around dinner time, with a cold Sauvignon Blanc. These are the times I can write.

The afternoon is not my writing time.

We all have times of the day, and days of the week, that work best for particular tasks, and it is essential that we work to figure out what those times are, and to make sure that we respect them to their holiest extent.

When my husband picked me up to grocery shopping, I felt icky and annoyed and had done very little work, and most of it was particularly terrible. The wrong time of day, you see. I’d bungled it all up from the start, and needed to remember my own rule.

Only work when I can work well. And only write when I can write well.

Are you a writer? What times of day work best for you?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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11 thoughts on “Why You Need to Work At the Right Time of Day

  1. Goodness this is so helpful. It’s what I know, but needed to reminded of to put into practice. I’ve been struggling so much lately with “not having time to write” between my day job and family. Your words have spurred me on to think clearly about when I CAN write and make it a priority. Thanks Claire.

  2. I appreciate this article. This kicks my butt too. There are only certain times for me when writing is at it’s peak. And that goes for any kind of writing really.
    Definitely evening, which is a problem. Afternoon not so much. Fighting this can sometimes be an exercise in futility. Public noisy spaces seem to often be the best..which is super weird.

  3. Hi Claire,

    Any suggestions on how to methodically work out best time of day/day of week for particular tasks, or in your experience is it really just trial and error?


  4. I like writing in the early evening primarily, but can do afternoon as well. I also write at a coffee shop (usually Starbucks, where some of the baristas know my name by now). I used to write late at night, and though sometimes I could get into a flow, it ruined my next day. I have found a groove after 4 p.m. where the words just flow.

    • That’s great. Some folks love coffee shops. Have you tried coffitivity.com? It gives you the ambient noise of a coffee shop – on your computer!

      • Wow, just checked that out. That’s pretty awesome. I’ll still stick with my Starbucks visits, but I think I may use this option when I happen to be home. What a cool idea. Thanks.

  5. I totally agree with you Claire. A coaching question I like to ask when a client is struggling with starting or completing a piece of work is this: WHEN do you do your best …..thinking, writing, whatever. Then I ask: WHERE will you do this work? We are twice as likely to do great work if we can visualize both when and where we’ll do it. I, too, am a writer and I have learned that I do my best writing between 7:00am-12:00pm. The ideas and words come easily, and I get into what psychologists call flow.