Friday, October 22, 2010

When Is Your Prime Time?

For me, mornings are a very special time. At the crack of dawn, before my family wakes up, and a little later, right after everyone leaves the house are the two best times for me to write. Mornings are special because they only happen once a day, and they are the times I can be most productive. It took me a while to figure this out for myself, but now that I am certain of when my prime time is, I do whatever I can to ensure that I write each morning.

If I miss out on writing early in the morning, it is very likely that I will not get any writing done that day. In addition, since I know how productive I can be in just 30 to 60 minutes early in the morning, I feel as if it is a waste to use that time any other way. Why spend my most precious moments of the day running errands, responding to emails, shopping online, or filling out university-mandated forms when I can spend them writing? For me, the morning is prime time, and that is when I write.

Once I have done my writing for the day, even if it is a busy day and I can only get in 30 minutes, I can face the remainder of the day knowing that I have started off using my time wisely. I have already made progress on that which is most important to my long-term success: I have written.

Everyone has their prime time, and it likely occurs at roughly the same time every day. Do you know when your prime time is? If you don’t, ask yourself the following questions: When you are most alert? When is your mind the clearest? When do you find it easiest to focus on one task? If you still don’t know, the best way to find out is to try. Spend every day next week, Monday to Friday, trying to write as soon as you get up. If it doesn’t work, try a different time.

Those who have families may find it difficult to write first thing in the morning. Some people are able to wake up very early and write for 30 to 60 minutes before the rest of the family wakes up. Others spend their mornings getting everyone else out of the house and then get their writing done once everyone leaves. Others have to drop kids off at daycare and school, and seek refuge in a coffee shop after dropping everyone off. Still others make sure that writing is the first thing they do when they arrive in their office.

Some people are not at their best in the mornings, but feel particularly energized after an afternoon workout. Physical activity is a great way to cleanse the mind. I knew of one woman who had to teach early in the morning, making it difficult to write first thing in the morning. So, she wrote in the afternoons. After teaching her two classes, she went straight to the university pool, where she swam for 45 minutes. After swimming, her mind was clear and fresh, and she was able to sit down and write for two hours. One great thing about this strategy is that she knew she would write after swimming, so her time in the water was also time she could prepare mentally for her writing session.

There are some people who truly are night owls and can write late in the evening after everyone in their family has gone to bed. Honestly, I know many people who tell me this is the best time for them to write, but who find it difficult to make it happen every day. However, I think it can work for some folks. The trick is to find ways to make it happen. If your prime time is late at night, an evening walk, workout, cup of hot tea, or yoga session might be a useful pre-writing routine. It is also probably a good idea to have a light dinner and to figure out a way to make lunch your main meal of the day as a large meal may make you sleepy and less productive. If you plan to write at night, it is best to avoid the after-work happy hour, although I do know a woman who writes at night with a glass of red wine on her desk. If you do write in the evenings, allow yourself time after writing to relax and clear your mind before going to sleep.

One of the keys to writing every day is to figure out when your prime time is. Once you know when the best time for you to write is, and you make it a habit to write every day at that time, you will begin to see that time as non-negotiable. If you only have a prime time of 60 minutes each day, why spend it on anything other than the most important task of your day?


  1. Dear Tanya,

    thank you very much for your advice. I have been thinking about this. I am indeed most alert in the morning, and 3 times a week, when I am not teaching early, I could actually do some writing first thing after I wake up. But I have the following problems: I cannot imagine that writing for 30 minutes is fruitful - it takes me that long to 'get into it', and then I would feel as though I have to tear myself away from it again. Also, when I get up, my head is full of worries for things I have to do in the day; prepare for this class, write that lecture, meet those students, call him or her, mark an essay, etc. So even if I sit down at my desk at home before a day of teaching, I'm not sure I can get my head to concentrate.

    What do you think?

    1. I think that you will find that if you write daily, 30 minutes is enough. You don't need to get back into it when you do it every day!

    2. Dear Anonymous,
      Wrt to your worries: I make sure that my plan for the day is set out the day before in the evening. It has a very calming effect on me as I feel in control over my time. Once my to-do's are written on paper, these tasks normally stop worrying me. If that is not the case I remind myself that I may stop thinking about it as it's already written down.