As a general rule, if there’s something vital you need to get done, it helps to shift it forward to the morning.

Everyone’s circadian rhythm is different and our rhythms change over the course of our lives (on average nudging us from night owls into early birds as we age), but the benefits of front-loading tasks are derived more from the ease of establishing habits and rhythms soon after waking up than the morning always being the most energetically opportune time to accomplish things.

By getting important things out of the way first, we needn’t worry about them throughout the rest of the day. They don’t hang over everything else we try to do, which allows us to better focus on those other things (no continuous partial attention).

Closing a loop early also grants us a minor sense of victory that can be motivating and energizing, allowing us to more breezily shift into other tasks—though it can also make it easier to relax and enjoy time off, because we did the thing and now we can more convincingly justify doing nothing.

Not all tasks and responsibilities offer a satisfying endpoint: many will be portions of larger undertakings, and checking a portion of a project off our to-do list doesn’t generally feel as holistically satisfying as handling the whole of a project.

This is a perceptual distinction—finishing a meaningful chunk of something is valuable, too—but it can still influence how we feel, post-accomplishment.

I find that I can sometimes tweak this tendency by reorganizing portions of projects into their own, mini-projects, but that won’t always be possible. In such cases, it can sometimes be useful to start the day with something smaller—something with a well-defined endpoint—before rolling into an endpoint-less undertaking (even something as simple as washing the dishes, tidying up my work area, or doing prep-work for a meal can serve this purpose, I find).

There are several other “morning” opportunities throughout the day, too, in the sense that there are milestones we can use to make habits easier to establish, similar to how we might tether rituals to the process of getting up out of bed and ready for the day, or in the sense that they relate to some kind of energetic ebb or flow.

On that latter point: our personal energetic cartographies vary substantially, but the general idea is to identify when you usually feel most upbeat and productive and creative in a given day, and to then distribute the things you need and want to do appropriately.

For me, mornings are great for both creative work and the making of things (even tedious things), and I can generally work straight on through from waking till lunchtime (I don’t generally eat breakfast) with the same level of focus and effectiveness.

My afternoons, I find, are better for absorbing new knowledge and curation-related work: soaking up information and rearranging/sharing that information in various ways.

I have a few hours in the late-afternoon and early-evening when I can jump back aboard the creativity train (though it’s a less-ideal moment for the sort of extended, tedious tasks I can knock out effortlessly in the morning), and in the evening I mostly read longer works and fiddle around with things that aren’t directly creation-related.

This is a rough outline of how I segment my day based on past experience and my attempts to understand how I tend to feel and optimally operate.

It varies a lot based on who I’m with, what I’m working on, the other things going on in my life, what I’ve eaten (and when), and how I slept the night before. It also changes over time (and will almost certainly continue to do so).

Again, this’ll also vary a lot from person to person: your map will look somewhat or substantially different from my map.

Also worth noting is that developing the willpower to work on things even when you’re not feeling primed to do so is a valuable investment. There’ll be moments when you can’t carve up your schedule the way you’d prefer, or when you’re simply not feeling up for anything—but you still need or want to get something out the door.

Identifying which elements of your day are firm foundations for habits, though, which portions are latently suitable for which sorts of work (or non-work activity), and how you might consequently better distribute the things you’d like to get done can reduce the frustration you might otherwise feel when attempting to tackle something you know you can do, but which seems (for whatever reason) untackleable in the moment.

It can also make it more likely that you’ll function more efficiently and effectively on an average day.

If you found value in this essay, consider buying me a coffee :)

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