Should you begin doing less, in order to accomplish more?
Pulse And Pause
You may have heard of studies indicating that humans are designed to “pulse” between expending energy and renewing energy. Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, teaches this. His research shows that humans naturally move from full focus and energy to physiological fatigue every 90 minutes. Our body sends us signals to rest and renew, but we override them with coffee, energy drinks, and sugar… or just by tapping our own reserves until they’re depleted.
Schwartz suggests that we need to purposely take short breaks every 90 minutes throughout the day to drink water, walk, or to eat healthy snacks. His mantra is, “Pulse and pause.”
The idea of pulsing energy is also behind the increasingly popular Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo. With the Pomodoro method, you set a timer for 25 minutes, work on a single task with your full focus, then take a 5-minute break to get up, move around, maybe drink some water. Then, you repeat the cycle. (The name Pomodoro, the Italian word for tomato, was chosen due to the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used as a university student.)
The Draugiem Group, a collection of companies based in Latvia, installed software that tracked the time and productivity of all their employees. They discovered that their top ten percent most productive employees didn’t actually work any more hours than anybody else. In fact, they took more breaks. On average, this high-productivity group worked for 52 minutes and then took a 17-minute long break.
In the examples above, we see recommendations to sprint for 25 minutes, 52 minutes, or 90 minutes–all followed by breaks. The important point isn’t the exact length of the sprint or the break, it’s to figure out what “pulse and pause” cycle works best for you. Our cognitive capacity declines throughout the day; you must build in frequent mental breaks to recharge and maintain productivity.
Work To A Deadline
In addition to the science behind the productivity benefits of “pulse and pause”, many users of the technique feel the deadline approach provides added value.
For example, Ian Cleary, founder of Razorsocial (an award-winning marketing technology blog), tries to set a timer for everything he does. “I use the Pomodoro technique,” he said in an interview for my book. “When you have a deadline, you are more productive.”
My own experience is that a deadline helps me to finish an article, finish a chapter, and even helps me to get to inbox zero in record time. I wish I was as productive without a deadline, but there is something that seems to drive focus and intensity in seeing those minutes ticking away.
Most of the “pulse and pause” techniques recommend taking a longer break after you have cycled through your work sprints (and breaks) a certain number of times. For example, in one variation, after four complete cycles it’s recommended to take a break of 30 minutes.
How should you use your break? One option is to do some exercise.
It’s no secret that regular exercise improves our metabolism and increases energy levels. But many feel that including exercise within the workday is asking for too much—and that’s why using this longer break for simple exercise is so effective. Simple exercise could include a 20-minute power walk or a bike ride of similar length.
Mohammed Dewji, CEO of the Tanzania-based MeTL Group and named by Forbes as the youngest billionaire in Africa, says that his daily lunch hour workout is what keeps him sane. “On most days, by 1:00 p.m. I have already put in about seven hours of work. At that time, it’s a no-brainer that I need to recharge and refresh so that I can handle the second half of my day with the same focus and energy as I did the first half.”
Bestselling author and musician Abel James extols the value of even shorter breaks:
“Get your blood pumping for at least a minute or two every day. Quick workouts give a huge boost to energy and feed the brain with the oxygen you need to take over the world.”
Bringing It All Together
Instead of trying to cut out time for breaks or exercise, realize that these activities can actually be used to boost your productivity.
Find the combination that suits you, and get more done with less stress.
Kevin Kruse writes and speaks on time management.