How I Stopped Wasting 1000 Hours Per Year – The Challenging Science of Time Management8 min read

Published by Zach on

A never-ending to-do list, being stuck in procrastination mode, and a lack of free time – does any of this sound familiar? Proper time management can help remedy all of these issues, allowing you to finish your tasks, stop procrastinating, and gain some well-deserved free time.

Let’s define the problem, tackle it scientifically, have some ice cream, go for a walk, start that business, shine at our job, or live a better life.

The Problem

We’ve been granted the mental capacities to make almost infinitely ambitious plans, yet practically no time at all to put them into action.

Oliver Burkeman, 4,000 Weeks

It can be frustrating for individuals trying to improve their time management abilities because even though there are many well-designed tools available, they often fail to deliver; these tools assume that a person already possesses the necessary skills and tactics for effective time management. However, without the skills to use the tool, the tool is useless, like a doctor with a hammer or a builder with a stethoscope. Think of these skills as the building blocks upon which the success of any tool or app relies.

Based on research, a few particular skills are essential to strengthen time management. So, let’s start with one frequently overlooked and, according to research, the one with which most people struggle. Awareness.

Time Awareness

What does it mean to be aware of time?

Time awareness involves recognizing that time is finite and actively considering how you allocate and utilize it. It entails a deep understanding of how you choose to spend your time. One essential tactic involves discovering your peak performance time. If you know your peak performance time, you will procrastinate less and be more effective during that specific time. Spending that peak time, say, watching TV, would be a colossal waste while watching TV during your trough time (the lowest point time) would make more sense.

In the words of psychologist Simon Folkard, who was one of the first scientists trying to understand the mechanisms underlying performance rhythms during the day, “The main conclusion to be drawn from [many] studies on the effects of time of day on performance is that the best time to perform a particular task depends on the nature of that task.”

To tackle this in-depth, we need to take a look into our circadian rhythms.

Attention Cycles

Circadian rhythms are natural cycles in all living organisms, including humans, that involve regular fluctuations in various physiological factors, like body temperature, melatonin, and cortisol.

We all have noticed that we feel more alert and focused at certain times of the day while feeling more sluggish or less sharp at other times. These fluctuations can, in part, be attributed to the influence of circadian rhythms.

Attention is our cognitive ability to engage effectively with the environment, select relevant information from our surroundings, and respond to them appropriately for varying lengths of time. Attention, of course, follows a circadian pattern.

In most humans, in the morning, between 7:00 and 10:00 a.m., attention tends to be lower. This is because circadian rhythms reach their lowest point during this time. The lingering effects of sleep, called sleep inertia, contribute to this reduced level of attention.1

As we move towards noon (10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.), attention gradually improves, then a slight decrease in attention after lunch (between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m.), commonly called the post-lunch dip. Then, attention tends to strengthen again during the afternoon and early evening hours (from 4:00 to 10:00 p.m.). Finally, towards nighttime (between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m.), attention decreases once more, reaching its lowest levels during the early morning hours and at dawn (from 4:00 to 7:00 a.m.).2

Various factors, such as our chronotype, sleep deprivation, and age can influence the timing of our cognitive performance.

Chronotype refers to our personal preferences regarding the Kming of activities. Some individuals are “morning types” who prefer and feel their best in the morning, while others are “evening types” who choose to engage in activities during the evening. There are also “intermediate types” who don’t have a strong preference and can perform tasks at any time of day.3

It’s important to note that an individual’s chronotype is a stable characteristic that doesn’t change easily.

Morning types tend to experience a shift toward earlier phases of their internal rhythms, while evening types tend to experience a shift toward later phases. In simpler terms, morning people naturally adjust their internal clock to wake up and be alert earlier, while evening people naturally lean towards staying up and alert later.

Circadian rhythms also impact two critical cognitive processes: analytical and creative work.

Creative and Analytical Work Maximization

Working memory involves storing, retrieving, and using information in our minds. The fluctuations in our ability to hold onto and process verbal information can affect reading comprehension and verbal learning.

Additionally, circadian variations affect executive functions such as self-control, focus, task initiation, planning, organization, goal setting, and flexibility, impacting our ability to regulate emotions, stay focused, intricate tasks, prioritize, and stay organized.

It should be like this

  1. Divide your regular work day into different time intervals and, throughout the week, assess and rank these intervals based on productivity. I suggest 6-10, 10-2, 2-6, and 6-10.
  2. Alternate analytical vs creative work for each interval if you can, otherwise simply rate your creative work out of 5 and your analytical work out of 5 for every interval.
    • For example, Monday 6-10 analytical work, 10-2 creative work, 2-6 analytical work, 6-10 creative work (a)
    • Tuesday, 6-10 creative work, 10-2 analytical work, 2-6 creative work, 6-10 analytical work(b)
    • So on alternating for every day of work
  3. Of course the greater amount of data you have, or “n” days, the higher the likelihood of accurate results, repeat it for a whole month if you can, but a week will do.
  4. At the end of your work create a table of your “creative score” and your “analytical score” you will quickly be able to identify when you do your best work
  5. Bonus: if you want to get nitty-gritty, track actual time worked vs not worked
6-10 analytical6-10 creative10-2A10-2C2-6A2-6C6-10A6-10C

Looking at my scores above, we can see that I do my best creative work from 6-10 am, analytical work from 10 am – 2 pm, and creative or analytical work from 2 – 6 pm. With abysmal work from 6 – 10 pm.

It can be beneficial to track which intervals you find most productive for analytical tasks and which ones are better suited for creative work.

By doing so, you can evaluate and determine the optimal time slots for different types of work.


“The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short.

Oliver Burkeman

Now, we’ve come to organizational skills. This is the one that people mostly focus on.

Improving your organizational skills isn’t just about organizing your work to manage your life better.

It’s about taking charge of your life first and then structuring your work around it.

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!

Benjamin Franklin

Here are some quick tips for organization. For a more in-depth guide, I recommend you check out my detailed post linked here.

  • Schedule everything (even relaxing time)
  • Eliminate unimportant things in your life (TV, jobs, social commitments)
  • Use to-do lists
  • Break large projects into smaller, manageable yearly, monthly, weekly, then daily tasks
  • Plan the next week the Sunday before it starts (what important thing will you accomplish each day?)
  • Plan the next day the night before (when will you cook? eat? exercise? in what order will you accomplish work?)
  • Schedule breaks, exercise, sleep, and important relationships time

One of the essential approaches when organizing your tasks is to make appointments with yourself to ensure uninterrupted time to dedicate to your most important projects.

In this way, you may find yourself setting up the conditions necessary to enter the state of Flow.


[Flow is] the holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement


To experience flow, it is crucial to balance the challenges presented by a task and the skills required to overcome those challenges. In other words, when the difficulty level of a job aligns well with our abilities, we are more likely to enter a state of flow, around 85% difficulty.4

A study on work-related flow and energy found that being in a state of flow during work is important for our energy levels while we’re working and has a positive effect on our energy levels outside of work.

In other words, when we’re fully engaged and focused on our work, it spills over and boosts our energy during our time away from work.

This shows how our work experiences can significantly impact our overall energy and well-being, both on and off the job.

Final Thoughts

The whole point of time management is to create time to do what is meaningful to us.

Once you no longer need to convince yourself that you’ll do everything that needs doing, you’re free to focus on doing a few things that count

Oliver Burkeman

Work Cited

  3. Montaruli A, Castelli L, Mulè A, Scurati R, Esposito F, Galasso L, Roveda E. Biological Rhythm and Chronotype: New Perspectives in Health. Biomolecules. 2021 Mar 24;11(4):487. doi: 10.3390/biom11040487. PMID: 33804974; PMCID: PMC8063933.
  4. Wilson, R.C., Shenhav, A., Straccia, M. et al. The Eighty Five Percent Rule for optimal learning. Nat Commun 10, 4646 (2019).
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