Friday, October 21, 2011

Find Your Prime Time and Use it to Write

For me, mornings are a very special time, because mornings are the best time of day for me to write. 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.

toronto sunrise

Mornings are special because they only happen once a day, and they are the times I can be most productive. I wake up every morning, make an almond milk latte, eat 12 almonds, open up my laptop, and start hitting the keys.

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.

My Prime Time for Writing is in the Morning, so That's When I Write

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 a Prime Time. When is Yours?

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.

What if Your Prime Time is Not in the Morning?

Some people are not at their best in the mornings, so it is not their prime time. If this is the case for you, perhaps the afternoon will work. One of the problems with trying to work in the afternoon is that, oftentimes, all that has transpired in the morning can be an emotional burden. One way to manage this is to have a lunchtime 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, especially once they have children. However, I know it can work for some folks.

The trick is to find ways to make writing 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. Thanks Tanya. Your blog is very helpful in reminding me about how to prioritize whats important.

  2. This is one of those pieces of advice I invented for myself in graduate school and used to great effect there and also working in R1 environments.

    But try though I might, I've frustrated myself no end trying to follow it, much though I believe in it, in SLAC and regional-school work environments where there are so many demands on time (it really is more, I've got experience and I know) that it can't be reliably followed. The problem is: set yourself up to demand a time, even if it's the time you deserve, and there will be reasons it gets shot.

    The answer, I finally figured out, was to go back to the college model, which is actually a version of the same thing: hope for your best time, but most importantly, figure out what your *worst* time is and give up totally on hoping to schedule writing then. Next, learn how to still write effectively in your second best time, your third best time, and so on; learn how to keep your project well enough in mind that you don't need to depend on a special time for it (and then of course still try to organize things such that you can have your best time, but *always have a fallback*.

  3. Profacero:
    That sounds incredibly frustrating. One of my favorite things about being an academic is having control over my time.

    I think your suggestion to find some time, any time, during the day to work on writing is great, because working consistently is the best way to always remain engaged.

  4. And: this is the real reason administrative support is essential. Without it, nobody can "manage time" reliably.

  5. How about reading? Do you or other people on this blog have a "reading" practice. Sometimes, I feel like I have so many books for so many different purposes so that I feel like I have to organize the time I spend reading as much as the time I spend writing.

    1. I go through phases with more or less reading. When I have a lot of reading to do, I try and write for at least 30 minutes and then prioritize reading. This week, for example, I need to get through about 20 articles. I will read them, take notes on them, and free write my thoughts about them. I will do this in the morning - during my prime time. Other weeks, however, I read in the afternoons - especially when I have books (as opposed to articles) to get through.

  6. While I know this post is a couple of years old, I just wanted to share how helpful these types of posts are. I used to think my prime time was in the evening or late afternoon as I am really not a "morning" person. However, after reading through almost all your blog posts, I decided to try writing in the late morning starting around 10-11am. My goodness what an incredible positive difference it made! I now feel like I have accomplished so much by the early afternoon that I then feel motivated to continue doing work.