If you lack the ability to concentrate for eight hours straight, then welcome to the club. If you are superhuman and somehow you are able to focus for that long (which I know you can’t) then you may want to read on too. It turns out we may actually be more productive when we don’t focus on working extended periods of time. Gasp!
I recently began working from home on some days, and I’ve been trying to figure out where I’m the most productive. Home is quiet, there are no distractions, and I can move around where I’m the most comfortable working at that moment. At the office, it’s all about the setting. I work within the boundaries of my cubicle, sit at my desk and often engage in conversations with my co-workers. But the eight-hour workday, which most of us live by, had its roots in an environment much different than the cubicle-laden office floors we report to today.
The Eight-Hour Day Movement
Before the Industrial Revolution and 1890 when the US Government started tracking workers’ hours the average manufacturing employee worked 100-102 hours per week. It was thanks to the Eight-Hour Movement and their slogan, “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest” that government finally got it together around the turn of the century and imposed restrictions on what employers could ask of FACTORY employees.
A New Way Of Thinking
Researchers since the 1950’s have been looking at how our brains work and they began to notice 90-minute cycles in our sleep patterns. Years later researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman realized a similar cycle repeats itself when we are awake.
Florida State University later studied a wide range of focus-driven individuals. They looked at athletes, musicians, actors and chess players. The study found the best performers practiced in no more than 90-minute sessions. Following the sessions they held breaks and never trained or worked more than four to five hours a day.
“The way we are working isn’t working- for employees or for their employers. There is a better way to fuel productivity and high performance,” said Tony Schwartz,a best selling author and expert on time and energy management. According to Schwartz humans are “hard-wired to pulse.” He believes we operate the best when we work in 90-minute intervals with breaks in between.
Take A Break
Ernest Lawrence Rossi, author of ‘The 20 Minute Break’ explains that to avoid stress and maximize performance your body and mind need a break about every 90 minutes. He says passing on that break can make you tired, unable to focus and more prone to making mistakes. Rossi says taking a 20 minute break allows the mind to recover and “build up it’s internal supply of energy, clear up the backlog of unfinished business and gear up for another hour and a half of good work, play and health.”
Sure it’s hard to convince corporate America to once again change its current workday culture, but it could be something you could try on your own. If you do choose to try working in intervals here are some tips that can help you be more productive during those 90 minutes of focused work.
-Make a list: Prioritize your tasks for the day. Start with the things you can finish faster.
-No Multitasking: Focus on one thing at a time. Studies show only 2% of Americans can successfully multitask.
-Distractions: Remember you are WORKING, so for these 90 minutes you must focus on your work. So don’t let distractions interrupt the rhythm you are trying to keep. If you are working from home, go into your workspace if you have one.
Most important is to listen to your body. If you start to lose focus, or get tired then you know it’s time for a break, even if it means getting up and just stretching. Of course, it’s different in every industry but one thing Tony Schwartz suggests is to think of your work day not as how many hours you work but how many tasks or goals you accomplished in your workday.