Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ultradian Rhythms

A few months back, I read a Harvard Business Review article by Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project. Upon reflecting on the good sense his parents had to name him something as fantastic as “Tony,” I went on to actually read the article. Tony talked about Ultradian Rhythms, which are 90- to 120-minute energy-related cycles that human bodies go through. These are cycles of peaks and valleys. Tony concludes that if we take breaks every 90- to 120-minutes and temporarily get our minds off the work at hand, then our efficiency increases significantly.

This theory was tested successfully at Wachovia, where employee work groups took breaks every 90 to 120 minutes. And guess what? They were more efficient.

For go-getters, taking frequent breaks might seem lazy or ineffective. I know a guy who has his day planned to the minute. He races around all day long from one meeting to the next, timing his phone calls with his wife. And sure, he’s effective sometimes, but more often than not, he ends up crashing. I’ve actually been in meetings with him where he’s fallen asleep. His wife tells me that he comes home and just sits. He can’t help around the house. He can’t interact with his kids.

He would be much more productive if he took five-minute breaks every 90 minutes or so. I know this is true because guys named “Tony” don’t lie.
Today’s Challenge: Honor you body’s Ultradian Rhythm by taking five-minute breaks every 90 minutes or so. Note whether your level of productivity increases, decreases, or stays the same.

--Tony Rose is the author of Say Hello to the Elephants: A Four-Part Process for Finding Clarity, Confronting Problems, and Moving On.

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