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Productivity is an essential aspect of any work environment. However, sometimes it can be challenging to maintain.
Whether you’re easily distracted, feeling burnt out, or simply struggling to stay focused, there are plenty of ways to boost your productivity and get more done.
As productivity is such a huge topic, I’ll cover different aspects ranging from work, home and personal solutions over the next few weeks.
Firstly, let’s look at neuroscience and biology around how the brain and body function in relation to productivity.
Using Your Circadian Rhythm
Our circadian rhythm encompasses a range of 24-hour cycles operated by the body’s internal clock. We are unaware of them, but they constantly run in the background, carrying out essential functions and processes.
Part of our circadian rhythm is our sleep-wake cycle. These are 90-minute cycles, which are on constant repeat during both the day and night.
Today I’ll focus on our daytime cycles and discuss sleep/sleep hygiene in a separate article, as there’s more than enough information to share on that one topic.
Daytime Biorhythm & Cycles
Once you know about your circadian rhythm, you can start working with your biorhythms to be more effective.
Here are some fundamental principles:
- We are at peak alertness 2-3 hours and again 9-10 hours after we wake.
- Assuming we wake up at 7.00 am, at around 2.30 pm, our co-ordination is at its highest.
- At 3.30 pm, we have our quickest reaction time.
- At 5.30 pm, we experience our best cardiovascular and muscle strength.
The figure below demonstrates the entire 24-hour cycle:
In addition, during each 90-minute cycle, our focus, energy and ability to concentrate also ebbs and flows. You will definitely have experienced this flex.
For example, consider a time when you’ve started work, but no matter how important the ‘thing’ is that you should be doing, you just can’t seem to focus. However, after 10-15 minutes of faffing around, you enter almost a trance-like state (we call that being in a ‘flow state’).
Alternatively, you may have been working hard for an hour with extreme concentration and suddenly find your mind wandering. You may find yourself daydreaming or have a sudden urge to do something entirely unrelated. However, no matter how hard you try to refocus, you just can’t. That’s your brain taking its natural break!
If you consistently try to override this natural need to ‘zone out’ (and it is a need, not a want) over the long term, it can lead to anxiety, overwhelm and eventually burnout. We are simply not made to focus for long periods without a break.
Therefore, if you can tune into your own 90-minute cycle as well as your 24-hour biorhythm, you can learn to work with it to ultimately become more productive and effective.
Use the Ebbs & Flows to Your Advantage
One problem I see with many clients referred to me as they are nearing burnout is their apparent inability to take breaks. They mistakenly believe that they’ll get more done by sitting at their desks without a break and battling through (after all, they’re far too busy to take a break!).
The absolute opposite could not be more accurate. If you don’t give your brain a break, even if you stay sitting at your desk while you do it, you will become less and less effective over the course of the day.
There is a phenomenal amount of research on this topic, most agreeing that we are only capable of around six hours of ‘quality’ focussed productivity. After that, both our output and quality of output decline significantly.
52/17 Productivity Hack
The 52/17 productivity method has become popular since its inception in 2014. It works by tapping into your natural circadian rhythm. Although a little shorter than 90 minutes, it’s been proven to help increase productivity and quality of output.
To use the 52/17 method:
Set a timer for 52 minutes. Then, work full-on for those 52 minutes (preferably concentrating on one thing) without interruptions.
During that time, you should not do any other task other than the one you’ve assigned to that period. In other words, no checking social media, emails, phone calls, bathroom visits, tea making, etc.
At the end of the 52 minutes, set your timer for 17 minutes and switch to something completely different, preferably where no concentration is necessary. This could be anything from staring into space, daydreaming, checking your phone, going for a walk, making a brew etc. Anything, as long as it’s not work-related.
Repeat this cycle for the rest of the working day.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is another popular productivity hack. Again, it taps into your natural ebbs and flows but with a 25/5 ratio of working and resting.
With the Pomodoro Technique, you work for 25 minutes solidly (as with the 52/17) and rest for five.
The downside of this method is that you may be in full ‘flow’ when the alarm goes off, interrupting you and breaking your flow state.
Try both and see which of these two productivity hacks works best for you. Alternatively, you could create your own based on 90 minutes. However, often, we have to try things for a while before they become effective. So, avoid trying one of these techniques once and giving up. With anything new, we need to build and deepen the neural pathway for them to become a habit.
Next week’s article will explore tips and techniques for regulating your circadian rhythm and being more productive at work
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