When are you at your best?

Posted on February 17, 2017 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature woman writing

Are you a lark or an owl? The idea that we all have times of day when we operate at our best has been around for a while, but have you truly established when your thinking or doing powers are at their peak each day?

Now, I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m a lark, because I really don’t like getting up early for anything. I will even avoid booking a flight that might require me to venture out in the middle of the night, even if it is cheaper. I can’t write before 9am and to be honest, even before 10am is pushing it. I have to read before I can write: mostly the newspapers and my emails. I used to play several hands of solitaire online before getting any words down, but I’ve weaned myself off that tool of procrastination. I’ve figured out that my core productive time is from 11am until 5pm. I will often find inspiration for my creative writing, later in the evening, between 10pm and midnight, but I always use pen and paper for that. Eventually, it finds its way into a Word document, but that will only be during the daytime. So, that’s my pattern and it works for me.

Find your chronotype

According to the research, I think this makes my chronotype a hybrid of ‘lark’ and ‘owl’, because I do at least get up around 8.30am, but I can’t really say that I’m at my best in the evenings.

Your chronotype is not a random choice; it is determined by your genetic make-up, in fact by the length of your PER3 gene, says Louis Ptacek, professor of neurology at the University of California. The professor admits that certain environmental and lifestyle factors may lead us to mask the behaviour our genetics push us toward; working hours, shift work and raising children are just a few of the things that can make owls live like larks and vice versa.

I took a short ‘quiz’ to find out more about my chronotype and apparently I’m a Bear. Bears, according to the Sleep Doctor Michael J. Breus, are “fun-loving, outgoing people who prefer a solar-based schedule and have a high sleep drive.” There is more to the Bear than that; some fits me and some doesn’t quite.

If you’d like to take his test and find out if you are a Bear, Dolphin, Lion or Wolf, you can take the Power of When quiz here.

Once you’ve decided where you are at your best during a 24-hour period, you then need to consider what type of task you want to complete. For example, if you need to perform something that requires concentration and analytical thought, then choose the peak time for your chronotype, because it will be easier for you to stay focused and block out distractions. By contrast, if the task requires creativity and thinking outside the box, do it when you’re not at your peak performance, because you’ll be less alert and more likely to allow diversions to prompt new ideas to form. That sounds a lot like my tendency to do creative writing in the late evening when I often find that something on television prompts me to explore a new storyline.

Best time for creativity

Research into the best times for larks and owls to do their creative work showed that “participants were most likely to answer analytic problems correctly during peak times, whereas they solved the insight problems more successfully during their off-peak times.”

It may be more difficult for people who work in an office to organise the working day accordingly, but even in this situation, you can still often schedule specific tasks for the times when you know you’ll complete them most efficiently. Larks probably get reports written in the morning, whilst owls may choose to take that kind of work home. One of the benefits of working at home is that you can align your work schedule more closely with your chronotype and right now I’m within minutes of coming to the end of my peak performance time for the day.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.