There’s a rhythm to thought.
When you respect and respond to your mind and body, it will get the results you need at the right time.
But the question remains: when does the magic hour of peak thought arise?Is there one universal “best time” to think, or are we each governed by the rhythm of our unique minds and bodies?
Let me get what works for me out of the way. I don’t do my best thinking in the morning. I use my peak energy and focus to write first thing in the morning. I will explain why in a little while.
Peak performance in the morning
For many, the morning is the best time to gather thoughts, reflect or write a to-do list. For others, a good morning holds a specific promise for clear-headed contemplation.
The mind is as clear as the light of day when we wake up. Our thoughts flow unhindered. The stillness of the world can quickly become the quiet power for concentration.
Research suggests that we experience peak alertness and cognitive performance in the late hours of the morning. Some studies have proven that our cognitive functions, like memory, focus, and analytical reasoning, are sharpest in the early hours.
Other studies have also shown that cortisol levels, the body’s natural stress hormone, are at their lowest in the morning. That means a calmer, more focused mental state — prime time for analytical tasks or dissecting complex problems with logic and precision.
Aligning your most important task with this peak period means two thing:
- You do your highest priority task in the AM
- Or do your best thinking in the morning.
I chose option one over two years ago. I do my best writing in the morning. If I still have a reserve of mental energy, I then focus on thinking. Writers like Hemingway, who embraced the pre-dawn hours for his writing, swore by the clarity and focus that only the morning could offer.
The afternoon slump
Miiday is the best time for reflection, connecting the dots, for letting ideas connect. The afternoon slump, often considered a period of drowsiness, can be repurposed for pondering.
Lunchtime, for many, is a mental reset, a chance to shed the morning’s rigour and embrace a more relaxed mode of thinking. That gentler state of mind can boost divergent thought.
The day’s momentum is at its highest peak at midday. Attention span is stretched. But most people use this time for meetings and brainstorming. That works to a certain extent.
If you haven’t exhausted the brain with complex tasks in the morning, you will probably still have the mental energy to focus on your best thinking.
But don’t stretch it.
As the day wears on, fatigue sets in. Logical tasks give way to introspective thoughts. Real productive work begins to suffer. Cognitive abilities peak around noon, with memory, information processing, and decision-making reaching optimal levels.
The best time for crucial meetings, analysing data, working on presentations and proposals, replying to emails or gathering thoughts for your next peak time.
Artists and writers like Virginia Woolf, who valued the golden hours for their introspective power, found inspiration in the afternoon.
What can you do at/after sunset?
As the sun dips, our minds follow suit.
The moment you clock out of work, the mind assumes wandering. Allow that to happen naturally. It’s the best time for our minds to wander freely in search of unexpected connections.
Night owls do their best thinking when the world stops.
Philosophers and scientists like Marie Curie found mental clarity in the quiet hours of the night for her scientific pursuits. She understood the unique power of nocturnal thought.
Free from the constraints of external stimuli, they can delve into the depths of their consciousness, exploring uncharted territories of thought.
Beyond the clock
The plain truth is there is no single “best time” to think. We are not gears in a machine programmed with identical peak performance hours. Our chronotypes, a unique blend of genes and experiences, shape our minds.
The environment also plays its part in how and when we do our best thinking. Time in nature can soothe an anxious mind.
The best time to think is not a fixed point on a clock but rather a personal interplay of our internal rhythms, external cues, and the nature of the task.
What works for you may not work for me.
Do external factors, like your work schedule or family obligations, dictate the rhythm of your thinking hours? Recognising your unique patterns is key to unlocking the full potential of your mind.
A better understanding of your rhythms also helps. Identify those precious hours when your mind is most receptive to deep thinking, most fertile for the seeds of thought to grow.
Time is not the only determining factor for harnessing the power of thought. Chronotypes, your innate preferences, play a crucial role. Recognising and respecting these innate tendencies is key to unlocking the full potential of our thinking prowess.
“If you’re doing a task where you want to entertain lots of different possibilities and think outside the box, then operating at your nonoptimal time is to your advantage,” May says Cynthia May, PhD, a professor of psychology at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
Don’t force yourself into a mould, but cultivate an awareness of your own internal cues and respect for the ebb and flow of your cognitive powers.
So, the answer to the question about when to do our best thinking lies not in a rigid schedule. It’s in the embrace of the moment, in the trust that your mind will find its way towards clarity, towards that elusive hour of peak thought, whenever and wherever it may be.
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