When it comes to optimizing productivity, it should go without saying that we’re basically more than willing to try just about anything to get the job done. (Try to get most of our work done at 4 a.m. you say? Ugh, fine.) But in lieu of trying out productivity hack after productivity hack, we may have just found the most effective strategy around for getting your workflow on point: tapping into your ultradian rhythm. (Okay, we don’t know what that is, but if it means nixing the 4 a.m. wake-up calls, we’re listening.)
Like the more familiar circadian rhythm, ultradian rhythm refers to natural waves of energy or activity that occur in your body throughout the day – waves that often occur in cycles of about 90-120 minutes. But while circadian rhythm applies more specifically to the sleep-wake cycle and can tie into things like REM sleep or restlessness at night, ultradian rhythm is more about the cycle between alert, energetic periods of activity and less energetic periods of rest.
So, what does that mean when it comes to working? Basically, your body is operating on fluctuating bouts of energy throughout the day, seeing one peak and a low within every cycle (which, again, is 90-120 minutes or so). This means that in order to make the most of your productivity, you’ll want to coordinate your workflow with the natural rhythm of your energy. To that end – and with your ultradian rhythm in mind – experts recommend a 90/20 workflow, by which you work for 90-minute intervals separated by 20-minute breaks.
Of course, if you’re working an 8-hour workday, it doesn’t really make sense to take 20-minute breaks between every 1.5 hours of work. Instead, what you might consider doing (in addition to taking occasional shorter breaks when you can to go for a quick walk or just give your mind a little rest) is breakdown your work accordingly so that you’re shifting tasks and maybe working on easier items from your to-do list every 90-120 minutes. That way, even if you’re not taking a full 20-minute break every time you’re at a natural energy dip, per your ultradian rhythm, you’re at least catering your workflow to those energy fluctuations to help you make the most of your brainpower.