The Myth of Marathons
When the pressure is on, tight deadlines to meet, a report to draft or stack of paperwork to get through, people have a tendency to work flat out for several hours without stopping for a break. This was a mistake I was repeatedly guilty of a couple of decades ago when I was a busy attorney.
Sprint for Success
For over one hundred years researchers have known optimum performance and productivity is achieved when people work in cycles of 90 minutes. Nathaniel Kleitman, Professor Emeritus in Physiology at the University of Chicago and regarded as the father of modern sleep research, discovered the basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC) and concluded that 90 minutes of activity followed by a short period of rest enabled people to achieve more.
This is because most peoples’ brains can only focus intensely for 90 to 120 minutes. This is the Ultradian Rhythm that regulates our sleeping and waking lives.
And if You Want to Master Something
Research also indicates that mastery is best achieved by practicing in blocks of 90 minutes. Psychologist, Anders Ericsson, a leading expert on expertise, conducted a study involving the best young violinists in the world and found that the top performers all had the same practice characteristics:
- They practiced in the morning
- They practiced for 3 sessions
- Each session lasted 90 minutes
- There was a short rest between each session
For many people, a break of 10-15 minutes is sufficient to fully recharge. To maximize recovery, get up and go for a short brisk walk and make sure you hydrate with water. If you have nature nearby then either look at it or even better go to it. Numerous studies have demonstrated that nature and green boost creativity and productivity.
It’s important to think of these 90 minute blocks as sprints rather than casual strolls. Although, forcing yourself to take a short break may seem counterintuitive, by working in sync with your natural cycle you’ll soon find your performance and productivity noticeably improve.
Martin Soorjoo works with individuals and teams to improve their performance and resilience.