When do what and how many? 

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How to structure your day for productivity.

There is an optimal amount of work we can do and it varies greatly from person to person, changes over time, and can’t be accurately pinpointed.

Which is fine, we are not machines, and perfect is the enemy of the good.

But knowing what a good, meaning achievable, and sustainable, amount of work is for us gives us peace of mind, plannability, and structure. 

Let’s look at some ways to start a productive day, how much daily focus we can expect from ourselves, how the two phases of the day differ, and how you can support your natural cycles of focus and attention.

Morning habit

Making space in the morning to take care of your physical needs will increase your output over the long run. 

Here are 4 important habits to include in your morning routine:

Big glass of water

You probably heard about hydrating, right after waking up is the best time to start.

Get some unfiltered sunlight in your eyes

Ideally, go outside, an open window is a barely acceptable alternative but artificial lights most likely won’t do the trick. If you live in a windowless box and can’t go outside, a LED ring light can at least help remind you what you are missing out on. 

10min of outside light exposure is a good goal to aim for.


Went outside to see the sun? You can check this box as well.

You don’t have to do a workout in the morning, but some light activity like taking a walk to get the body warmed up a little should be part of your routine.

Delay coffee for at least 90min

Your alertness and focus will naturally increase in the 2h after waking up. 

Let your hormones do their thing and then keep your energy on a sustainable level by drinking some coffee.

If you decide to work out in the morning you can have your coffee before.

The two phases of the day

As our physical and emotional states change during the day we are best suited for different kinds of work.

After waking up our body is (ideally) well rested and starting to boot the system. 

Alertness and attention are high and we are primed to tackle challenging tasks that require logic and deep thinking.

We can support this state by working in a well lit space and drinking a well timed coffee.

Skipping breakfast and doing your first work bout fasted can also help to keep you focused and alert.

Putting our most important and challenging tasks at the beginning of the day is not just psychologically smart but also supported by how our inner clocks work.

In the second half of the day (9-16h after waking up) our physiology is in a more relaxed state and lends itself more towards creative tasks.

Taking a short nap can be beneficial if your energy levels are a bit low.

As with not wanting to drink coffee too early in the day you also should stop drinking any caffeine 8-10h before your bed time to ensure high quality sleep.

Stay close to a natural light cycle by shutting off overhead lights and dim them.

Also dim your screen brightness later in the day, additionally using software to remove blue light from your displays (e.g. flux).

Protect your productivity windows

Our true work requires us to be as alert, focused and in tune with ourselves as possible.

Even if we optimize our workspace and habits as much as we can we still won’t be able to focus forever. 

It’s hard to stay concentrated for longer than 90min and doing more than two 90min work sprints a day is not sustainable.

Knowing this it makes sense to structure your day so you can create the most value when you are in the best state to do so. 

Deep work is not a calendar event that we can just move around and fit into our schedule.

The schedule has to be built around our most productive times to give us the chance of reaching peak focus.

The hardest part after finding out when your productivity is highest is then protecting these times. Communicate with your team and religiously block off the slots in your calendar.


  • Have a morning routine
  • Use light exposure to help your body transition between phases
  • Use coffee strategically 
  • Aim for two 90min deep work windows a day

I hope this helps you put out your best work, see you next week.