“We all have times when we think more effectively, and times when we should not be thinking at all.” Daniel Cohen
To be effective as leaders, we must do our good work in its proper time.
- We need to be aware of when (and where) to do our deep work – writing, preparing a presentation, reviewing a contract, making a sales call, leading a difficult, contentious meeting.
- We need to be aware of when (and where) to do our shallower work – catching up on E-Mail, paperwork, managing by walking around, etc.
“Be aware of those ‘golden hours’ in your workday when you are most successful at contacting and meeting with prospects. Don’t waste this valuable time doing less productive tasks, such as paperwork.” Roy Chitwood
In leadership as in sales, ‘golden hours’ are the times when we (and the people with whom we may be meeting) are most alert and engaged. This ensures that the meeting is as productive as possible. As we all know, tired and hangry people do not make for an effective meeting or sales call.
For most people, mornings are generally their golden hours as the psychologist Martin Seligman explains from his research:
“The basic rest and activity cycle (BRAC) is characteristic of human beings. On average, we are at our most alert in late morning and midevening. We are at the bottom of our cycle – tired, grumpy, inattentive, and pessimistic – at midafternoon and in the wee hours of the morning.”
These golden hours also apply to our own individual deep work. Our golden hours are the times when we should have that interview, review the 40-page contract, or write the detailed message to the team, the boss or the board. Mid-afternoons or the times at the bottom of our cycle are the times to catch up on E-Mail, fill out expense reports, and do other shallow or rote work.
Schedule Our Deep and Shallow Time
During the times when we are most active and alert, we need to avoid all distractions and get the most important work done. This requires the discipline to avoid phone calls, E-Mails, and other distractions and get to work. For salespeople, this means being in front of a customer and not driving.
However, shallower tasks still need to get done. We can schedule to catch up on these tasks for those times in the day or occasions when we are naturally less productive: right after lunch, while at an airport waiting for a flight, or even while driving.
I once had a top performing salesperson who had a long drive between customers. To make the best use of his time, we would conduct our weekly update meetings while he was driving between customers. I would control the agenda, so that he did not need to read anything while driving, and we would update each other during a time when he would normally be unproductive.
We need to create slack in our schedules for difficult work. Most importantly, that means that we do not procrastinate and wait until the last minute.
We might choose the perfect time to review that vital contract (or other deep work) – mid-morning right in the midst of our golden hour just as the caffeine is taking effect. Perhaps today at that time, it just does not work for us. We cannot concentrate; we cannot be productive. If this is the case, we need to re-schedule for a time when we can give the contract the full attention it needs.
Doing deep thinking and deep work when we are not fully engaged leads to wasted time, poorer quality work, and unneeded stress.
Know Our Limits
As leaders, we also need to know our limits and know when it is time to go home and rest. Two quotes from psychological research show well that work – life balance is good for both the individual and the business.
“Unlike manual laborers, knowledge workers have about six good hours of hard mental labor a day. Work late for too long and ‘people get dull and stupid…They make mistakes that they’d never make if they were rested; and fixing those mistakes takes longer because they’re fried.'” Sara Robinson
“Productivity declines so steeply after fifty-five hours that ‘someone who puts in seventy hours produces nothing more with those extra fifteen hours.'” Stanford University Research Study
By making the best use of both our most productive and least productive times of the day, we can get more effective work done to move our companies forward. After all, as the author Sidney Madwed says…
“It is not the hours we put in on the job, it is what we put into the hours that counts.”