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Using Your Bodies Natural Rhythms For Productivity

For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of making more money while working less hours (Duh. See all of us with losing Powerball tickets). When I was a kid, my mom use to ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I always answered, “I’m going to play in the NBA.”

She then, concerned about my lack of speed, height, and average free throw percentage, said, “Okay honey, but what’s your Plan B? Just in case things don’t work out.”

I thought for a moment and replied, “I’ll just buy an Island, live off the coconuts, and invite all my friends and family to hang out.”

From then on, when somebody asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, she quickly reassured them that I had it all figured out; that I would simply live off the coconuts.

Having time and freedom has always been important to me. Sure, I would have to live off of coconuts, but at least I wouldn’t be slogging away from 8-to-5 everyday in an excel document while listening to Barry complain about his wife and kids. Ever since, I’ve been scheming on how to make more money, while working less hours.

Recently, I stumbled on the story of Eugene Schwartz.

Eugene Schwartz was a big time copywriter in the 1950’s and 1960’s. From the outside looking in, we could all get use to living like Eugene. He had an apartment in Manhattan overlooking Park Avenue. He had an art collection worth millions, he worked from home, oh, and he worked a mere 3 hours per day, and took the weekends off.

Imagine how much Netflix, Chipotle, & pick up basketball we could squeeze into our day with all that extra time.

Schwartz tapped into tools, either intuitively or by accident, that psychologists use to increase the performance of elite athletes and top business executives.

The Secret: Ultradian Rhythms

Eugene would sit down in front of his typewriter, set a timer for 33.33 minutes, and work intensely until the timer went off. Once the timer buzzed, no matter where he was in his work, he would get up and take a 10-15 minute break.

In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, Tony Schwartz (no relation to Eugene) and Jim Loehr talk about two types of natural rhythms that our bodies cycle through.

The first rhythm is called the Circadian Rhythm. This is how our bodies cycle energy over a 24-hour period. We wake up, get our Starbucks and muffin, hit the gym, go to work, and meet up with Phil for happy hour. Then we go to bed to refuel for a new day full of muffins and workouts.

This alternating pattern of being asleep and awake is the Circadian Rhythm.

This rhythm makes sense to us. We get tired, so we sleep. Without sleep our work would suffer, we’d be cranky, fat, irritable, and ugly. And if we went long enough we would eventually die.

Yet, there is a second natural rhythm, that is just as important, in which we all ignore. Our hustle-all-day-everyday culture makes abiding by this rhythm taboo.

This second natural rhythm is called the Ultradian Rhythm. You still with me? It’s sexy stuff, I know.

Ultradian Rhythms are shorter awake/rest cycles that happen throughout our day. These typically flow on 90- to 120-minute intervals. We have these 1-2 hour periods of high-energy, in which we are focused, creative, energized, and engaged. After about 60 minutes of intense work, our attention and energy begin to fade. After 120-minutes, they are almost nonexistent.

So, just as we need sleep at night to refuel, we need to be taking these 10-15 minute refuel periods throughout the day. This is what Eugene Schwartz tapped into that made him so effective. He would work intensely for 33 minutes, then take short rejuvenation breaks.

The Spanish tap into this rhythm by taking a nice little siesta in the afternoon. The Germans focus intensely on their work, and then completely unwind and disengage when they’re off the clock. The French take extended lunch breaks. Americans answer emails from bed.

What To Do Now

Playing to these natural rhythms can make us more productive, increase the quality of of work, and give us more energy to do things that we actually want to do, like watch ESPN and eat nachos.

Not only that, when we work in short, intensely focused intervals, we get way more done. In his book, Activate Your Brain, Scott Halford writes, “One hour of focused time is equal to about four hours of distracted time.”

That means you could knock your whole workday, or all of your homework, out before 10:00am. 

Try it this week, set a timer, anywhere from 33.33 minutes to 2 hours. Once that timer goes off, take 10-15 minutes to do something to rejuvenate you. Here are some rejuvenation activities to try:

  • Take a nap
  • Rep out push ups
  • Flirt with Betty by the water cooler
  • Read
  • Write in a journal
  • Take a walk
  • Meditate
  • Do something nice for somebody. It won’t kill you
  • Stretch/Foam Roll
  • Drink a protein shake

There are many rejuvenation activities we can pull from, but the point is to work in short intervals, and then take breaks to recover. This is essential to having more energy, getting more done, and performing better.

Try it out this week and let me know how it goes. Are you more productive? Did you feel more energized? Did you get Betty’s phone number? 

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