Every individual has a unique timeline for work, energy, and creativity. Some work best at the crack of dawn, while others prefer to write into all hours of the night.
But if you want to do your best writing, you have to find your best time to do it.
Because science says so.
To learn why this is true, and how you can figure out an ideal writing time for yourself, keep reading. After reading this article, you should come away with a powerful method for finding the best time of day to write so you can leverage that time and energy to unleash your most creative, insightful, and powerful content.
Ultradian rhythms are any biological cycles that recur or repeat throughout a 24-hour circadian day. By definition, ultradian rhythms are longer than an hour, but shorter than a day.
The body has all kinds of biological rhythms. The primary biological rhythms are clumped under ultradian, circadian, and infradian. The body’s ultradian rhythms regulate energy, mood, and cognitive function. A whole medley of hormones, metabolic processes, and cardiovascular functions carry out our ultradian rhythms, but the basic takeaway is this: Our bodies operate according to rhythmic biological dictates.
You might be wondering what in the world does this have to do with writing?
Everything. Here’s why ...
Most people do their best writing when they have the most mental energy. More energy means more action. When your body is naturally energized, you will experience your mind firing on all cylinders. You process information quickly, you are more creative, and you possess an ability to synthesize your thoughts into writing.
You can determine your peak energy phase by being attuned to your ultradian rhythms. As I mentioned, ultradian rhythms typically operate in 90-minute cycles. Thus, your productivity will peak and trough according to 90-minute intervals.
This is what Fast Company calls the Waveform of Life. It’s also why they suggest taking a break every 90 minutes.
At first, scientists thought that sleep was the only ultradian rhythm.
"In the 1950s, the researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, moving from light to deep sleep and back out again. They named this pattern the Basic-Rest Activity Cycle or BRAC," explains productivity expert Tony Shwartz in an article for The New York Times.
Then, when they studied it again, they found out that ultradian rhythm is exhibited in waking hours, too.
"Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity,” explains Shwartz in the same article.
The reason for this, as we see, is due to the body’s natural ultradian rhythms. Instead of forcing yourself to write at a non-optimal time, you are working with the body to maximize your most energetic mental time of the day.
This insight will change the way you work. Check out this breakdown:
For 90 minutes, you are in a state of alertness, creativity, mental stamina, and emotional resilience.
Then, for a period of 20 minutes, your body needs to cycle down, reenergize, and warm up again.
The cycle repeats itself, though your energy will likely wane in every subsequent 90-minute cycle.
It is unwise to push yourself to write when your ultradian rhythm is at a trough point. Why? Because it’s simply not productive time. It’s similar to pushing against a rebar-reinforced concrete wall. Your muscles will not be able to topple the wall, because they aren’t strong enough.
In much the same way your energy, mind, and creative powers are not in a position to overcome the natural slump in your mental energy levels.
Remember this: You will be most effective if you work in 90-minute cycles, in keeping with the body’s natural rhythms and timeline.
How to Use Ultradian Rhythms to Determine When You Should Write
So, you should write when your energy is at its peak, and you shouldn’t push yourself past the average 90-minute ultradian cycle. But when? What time of day?
That’s where it gets a bit tricky.
Everyone’s rhythm operates on a different timeline. Just like my hair, my complexion, my facial features, my eye color, and my head shape are unique from anyone else’s, so too are my peak and rest periods.
Thankfully, we have decades of scientific research and general patterns that can help us narrow down the options of when we should write.
As I said, ultradian rhythms operate in about 90-minute cycles, but they don’t each provide the same degree of energy. One ultradian peak might provide us with energy to hike a mountain or to hit the dance floor. Another ultradian peak, however, might give us the cognitive ability to have a long conversation or sit at our desks working on a project.
All energy is not equal. That’s why you must identify the specific point in your day when you have mental energy from your ultradian rhythm. Here’s how your ultradian cycles work on average:
According to the chart above, we have the greatest amount of energy early in the morning, soon after we awake. You'll notice that these cycles refer to mental energy-- in the chart, it is described as wakefulness. While you may have physical energy at those times as well, it’s the mental energy that I’m focusing on.
Again, this is not uniform throughout the population. Some people wake up at 4:30 a.m. and their productivity and creativity peak at 6:00 a.m. Some people wake up later, and their productivity peaks at a different time.
Lack of sleep and caffeine can also affect the rhythms, but not necessarily in negative ways. Caffeine, for example, might boost the peak of a rhythm or cause it to spark sooner. And lack of sleep can inhibit normal judgment barriers, making us more creative.
When it comes to writing, most people write better first thing in the morning -- I know that this is true for me. I carve out substantial time each morning to produce content. The content that I write is better, fresher, more creative, and more insightful than the stuff I try to write at night or in the afternoon.
How to Narrow Down Your Best Time for Writing
Now, let’s get super practical.
You need to figure out the perfect time for creating the best content. To help, check out these two tips from TeamGantt’s article, “Best Time of the Day to Work”:
Identify what time of the day you possess the greatest amount of energy. Ask yourself this question at five intervals throughout the day: 6 a.m. (or when you wake), 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 6 p.m., and 9 p.m.
Discover what time of day you have the least amount of distractions. Interruptions can destroy creative flow, so make sure you establish a time and place that is totally distraction-free.
Ideally, the two times you have identified should match. If they don't, then you can either find a time when you’re at your next-best level of energy, or, better yet, change your schedule to eliminate the distractions during your peak energy period.
Now, during this time, schedule a 90-minute appointment to write. This is your magic hour-and-a-half. You’re going to create content that is creative, powerful, smart, intelligent, and unbeatable.
What if you picked the wrong time? Try again.
I would encourage you to pick a time and stick with it for a few weeks.
Because a second biological phenomenon kicks in -- neuroplasticity. The more we repeat an action or behavior, the better we become at it. By writing at the same time each day, you train your brain that it’s time to kick into action. Eventually, your brain will get the idea -- to turn on, fire up, and get busy helping you to create great content.
Be Aware That Results May Vary
Don’t let anyone else tell you what time of day you should write. Only you can figure this out.
Keep in mind that there is some truth to the morning person/evening person dichotomy. Some people are truly more creative in the morning, while other people have their burst of creative power at night.
Instead of falling into some preconceived mold, seek to know yourself -- your rhythms, your energy, and your times of productivity. Whatever time you choose to write, make it a daily habit.
Your mind will fall into a regular pattern, allowing its ultradian rhythm and neural circuitry to enhance your energy and insight during this time.
Ready to Find Your Ideal Writing Time?
Productivity experts tell us to manage our energy, not our time. This is slightly misleading, as we should manage our energy and our time, because our energy works with time.
If you want to improve your writing productivity, I recommend using the highest peak period in your ultradian rhythm for writing while also maximizing the energy that you have. When you identify the periods of peak power in your biological timeline, then you will unlock the secret to better writing.
What is your best time of day for writing? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
Originally published Dec 8, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017