May 28, 2014
Be Selfish With Your Prime Time

You’re great at managing your company, but do you wrestle with details endlessly in order to keep the ball rolling?

Think about this: Those leaders who manage gigantic global companies or preside over entire countries have just as many hours in a day as you do and they stay sane.

In fact, they golf a lot.

But simply working less isn’t the answer. For work and play, you need to focus on “prime time” to help you better achieve the success you desire in your work life — and the freedom you want in your personal life.

Two Kinds of Time

You have two kinds of prime time:

1. Biological Prime Time (BPT): This is your body’s most effective period of the day. If you’ve ever heard someone say he’s a “morning person” or a “night person,” he’s already got his BPT figured out.

2. Mechanical Prime Time (MPT): This refers to the things you do to achieve the freedom and personal life you want. What are you working for? Money? Free time?

The goal is to perform the most important mechanical activities during your most biologically productive time of day. For example, my BPT starts at 4 a.m. and goes until about 1 p.m. I don’t exercise during those hours. I don’t read. I don’t hang out. I work on the things that make me free — my MPT activities.

Your Biological Clock

You likely already have an idea of what your best time of day is, but let’s refine it. Stand outside yourself and observe your energy levels over the course of a week. Note when you’re most motivated, positive, and energized — and when you can do little more than stumble around.

If you’re a night person, you’ll slowly wake up in the morning, cruise gently into the day, and gradually work up your head of steam. If this is you, zealously protect those midday and evening BPT hours.

I recommend an even more radical approach to assessing prime time, however, because I’ve found that the better we harness it, the more we benefit. When you’re precisely assessing your prime time, consider:

  • Eliminating caffeine, alcohol, and any other mood enhancers or depressants. This will allow you to get an accurate reading of your most effective biological times. This isn’t fun, but it’s essential to collect decent data. If you have a dependency on caffeine, wait until you no longer feel withdrawal symptoms, then begin to chart your energy levels. As someone who used to depend on caffeine, this was the hardest part of assessing my own energy levels, but it was worth it. Your energy levels are quite steady throughout your life, so the data you collect will be accurate for a long time.
  • Waking up and falling asleep naturally. Don’t set an alarm.
  • Constantly monitoring your energy level. You’ll know when it’s strong, and you’ll know when it’s weak. Ride the wave, or take a nap. Whatever you do, look for your peak energy hours.

At the Helm

Once you discover your most effective time of day, you then have to decide which work-related activities are critical and which ones aren’t. Now we’re talking about MPT.

In my business, I simply steer the ship. My BPT is carefully allocated to the actions that are most important for long-term gain: MPT tasks. These include reviewing and suggesting refinements in our processes, holding brief meetings with staff to provide guidance or input and planning out strategy.

My non-prime tasks include handling payables and maintaining our website and blog.

This system works for me, but you have to determine where only you can make an impact and where your influence is most important in building your business and gaining more personal time. Those are your MPT tasks.

The Payoff

If the morning is your prime time and you stay home to work in the yard, that’s a waste. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but you should understand that you’re frittering away the only six or eight hours of the day when you’re potently effective. Likewise, if you’re a night person and you come into the office early in the morning, you’re probably not going to achieve much then or during your actual BPT.

You need to hoard your prime time hours. You have to be selfish with them so you’re not interrupted. You have to use them to focus on what you do best. For a CEO, prime time should be dedicated to building the company and driving it to success.

When you aren’t in BPT, it’s fine to focus on your MPT tasks. No matter what, keep your work activities focused on primary business-building or career-advancing activities. Throughout your day, stay with these prime tasks as long as possible, but also remember that you must be balanced in order to avoid burnout.

Once you begin to see a reduction in the demands on your time, you’ll be inspired to use these concepts even more enthusiastically. It’s a cycle of increasing returns. Eventually, you’ll have the time to write a book or get that easel out to paint again. You’ll gain time to do what you enjoy — you just have to do your most important work at the right time.


Sam Carpenter
Sam Carpenter is the author of “Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less,” now in its third edition. Website is Sam is also president and CEO of Centratel, the premier telephone answering service in the U.S. Sam also works as an international business consultant and speaker. He’s been featured on hundreds of media outlets, including NPR and ESPN Radio.