Often times our productivity on a given task is very much tied to the time of day. For example, I find that exercising in the afternoon seems to work best for me because it lets me unwind from the day. I’ve always found it odd that my most productive times for programming are after 10pm. There are obviously advantages to doing things late in the evening–fewer distractions, etc. However, even when I’m not going to be interrupted during the day, I still can’t seem to get into the “zone” as much as I can late at night.
I think I’ve finally solved the mystery. When I’m working on a task that where I don’t know how long it will take, I generally do better when I don’t have any hard and fast stopping point. For example, trying to do some programming on a tough problem early in the morning before work doesn’t allow me to focus in the same way as in the late evenings. Even if I allow several hours, I’m still unable to completely immerse myself in the problem at hand if I know I have a fixed time I need to stop and do something else.
In the late evenings there is not a fixed time when I have to stop, so I’m free to let my mind totally sink into the problem without any type of stress regarding my schedule. While this is a great thing to recognize, I’m wondering if I’ve just trained myself poorly. Perhaps I’m just not allowing myself to really get into deep problems during the day. I think I’m going to start setting a timer when I need to totally focus on a problem, but don’t have an open ended-amount of time. The timer will bring me around without requiring that I interrupt my thought process every few minutes to stay aware of the time.
Originally published on September 12, 2006.