Juggling Act: When to Write, and When to Do Other Tasks

Photo of a man, in silhouette, jugging three balls in the air.
Learn how to juggle writing with other tasks. (Photo: moise_theodor)

In our previous post, we pondered the question of whether finding the optimal time to write might make you a better writer.

Research suggests that syncing your body’s natural (circadian) rhythms to your tasks throughout the day can help you boost results.

For example, cognitive work gets its best cooperation from your body late in the morning. Your body temperature begins to rise just as you wake up, and it continues to do so through midday—which means your working memory, alertness, and concentration gradually improve during this time span.

Creativity may actually benefit from body fatigue, which is why you can have those “Aha!” writing ideas late in the evening or just as you’re drifting off to sleep.

Here are a few time-frame building blocks to consider as you strive to juggle writing with daily tasks:

Write or Tweet?

Reading Twitter at 8 or 9 a.m. can start your day on a chirpy note. That’s when users are most likely to tweet positive, enthusiastic messages—or so says a study that analyzed 509 million tweets sent over two years by 2.4 million Twitter users, published last year in Science.

Why all the happy morning tweets?

“Sleep is refreshing,” rendering us alert and eager, says Michael Walton Macy, a sociology professor at Cornell University and co-author of the study. He adds that this “rooster effect” peaks an hour or so later on weekends, thanks to the luxury of sleeping in.

Photo of three women in a huddle, arms linked.
Consider scheduling exercise in the late afternoon. (Photo: Wavebreak Media Ltd)

Write or Work Out?

When’s the best time of day to exercise? Your body clock will tell you, and you’ll see better results if you listen.

Physical performance is usually best—and the risk of injury least—from 3 to 6 p.m., according to Michael Smolensky of the University of Texas, Austin, and lead author with Lynne Lamberg of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health.

This is because muscle strength tends to peak between 2 and 6 p.m. at levels as much as 6 percent above the day’s lows.

The lungs provide another boost for physical strength; they function nearly 18 percent more efficiently at 5 p.m. than at lunchtime, according to a study of 4,756 patients conducted by Boris Medarov, an assistant professor of medicine at Albany Medical College in New York.

If your workout includes competitive sports, late afternoon gives you an edge. Joints and muscles are as much as 20 percent more flexible at that time, lowering the risk of injury, Dr. Smolensky says.

Write or Eat?

If you want to prevent unwanted pounds, experts say you should limit food consumption to your hours of peak activity.

A 2011 study linked disruptions of the circadian rhythm to weight gain. Researchers put two groups of mice on the same high-calorie diet. One group was allowed to decide when to eat, while the other group was restricted to eating only during an eight-hour period when they were normally awake and active. At the end of the study, the group of mice eating only while active was 40 percent leaner and had lower cholesterol and blood sugar.

Photo of a man asleep with his head on his desk while holding his hand around a cup of coffee. There are papers and sticky notes scattered across the desk.
Go ahead—take a quick nap around 2 in the afternoon. But please do consider moving to a couch or bed. (Photo: Wavebreak Media Ltd)

What the Science of Our Body Clock Tells Us

  • 8 a.m. – Be Upbeat: Twitter users tend to be in an energetic mood shortly after awakening, sending more cheerful tweets and fewer angry critical ones, a Cornell University study shows.
  • 9 a.m. – Do the Hard Stuff: Difficult conversations are usually best undertaken at times of high energy and clarity—for must people, this is the morning.
  • 10 a.m. – Do Cognitive Work: As your body temperature rises through the morning, cognitive skills improve. Concentration tends to peak in mid- to late morning.
  • 2 p.m. – Take a Short Nap: Sleepiness hits its daytime peak just as post-mealtime drowsiness sets in, paving the way for an afternoon snooze.
  • 4 p.m. – Do Physical Work: Eye-hand coordination increases in late afternoon.
  • 5 p.m. – Work Out: Muscle strength and flexibility are at their best late in the day, potentially improving performance and results from workouts or competition.
  • 9 p.m. – Think Creatively: Research suggests that people’s freshest, most original thinking may occur at non-peak times of day, which for most adults is in the evening. Fatigue may lower inhibitions and open the mind to offbeat ideas and solutions. Is this when you should be writing?

Primary source: “The Peak Time for Everything,” Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2012

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I'm Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.

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