Productivity can be an extremely fluid concept.
We can’t be productive all the time. Thinking we can is a nice illusion but the reality is different. I think you can agree with me here.
We will always struggle with laziness and maintaining productivity because that’s just how we’re wired as human beings.
The key to productivity is working in short bursts and taking regular breaks.
But how long should those bursts be? How long can you be in peak productivity for?
In this post, you will learn the different time frames for maximum productivity and the critical importance of regular breaks that will help your productivity in the long run.
You will also notice the similarities in all of these different strategies and hopefully use this information to tailor a productivity system that will best suit your needs.
33 minutes and 33 seconds
Eugene Schwarz was one of the most prolific copywriters of his generation and arguably the most successful in the history of the business.
What did Eugene know that others didn’t?
What was the secret to his success?
Gene had a ritual where he would sit down in his chair near his cluttered desk, place his coffee to the left, have a few pens to the right, and set his small kitchen timer to 33 minutes and 33 seconds.
During this time, he would be faced with a blank open page staring at him, waiting for it to be written on, with his research notes to the side.
He could drink his coffee, he could fiddle with his pens, he could stare out of the window and daydream, but the only thing he couldn’t do during those 33 minutes and 33 seconds was leave his chair.
And when the timer went off – he was done, or at least done insofar that he could do anything he wanted during a 10-15 minute break. Then rinse and repeat.
The Rule of 52 and 17
Julia Gifford at The Muse used a productivity app called DeskTime to track employee’s computer use and used the data to study the behaviour of its most productive workers. In her article, she calls this ‘The Rule of 52 and 17′.
52 minutes of work followed by 17 minutes of rest. Here’s Julia:
“The reason the most productive 10% of our users are able to get the most done during the comparatively short periods of working time is that their working times are treated as sprints.
They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.”
The magic number for students
What can we learn from the study habits of exceptional students?
In his book ‘How to become a straight-A student’, Cal Newport reveals the study habits used by real straight-A students.
Cal compiles the advice from these students gathered from countless interviews into an easily digestible guide.
“So how do these [straight-A] students achieve this goal [ability to get work done quickly and with a minimum of wasted effort]?
A big part of the solution is timing. They gain efficiency by compressing work into focused bursts. (…)
Through trial and error, dozens of high-performing students have individually stumbled across this technique – study for an hour, then take a break.”
The winning formula
All of the approaches mentioned advocate two things: (1) work in short intense bursts of focus and concentration, and (2) take regular 10-15 minute breaks.
Here’s Cal on the importance of regular breaks:
“This disengagement helps refresh your mind and facilitates the process of finding new angles and insights when you begin your work again (…)
Even when you feel like you are on a roll, keep taking regular breaks. Over the long run, it will maximise your energy and retention of the material.”
Rest and your mind will work
When you push yourself away from the desk and go on to do something else, it isn’t exactly ‘out of sight, out of mind.’
Though you might not be devoting conscious attention towards it during your break, the stuff you’ve been working on is operating in the background, marinating and consolidating itself into your subconscious.
This is what Dr Christian Jarrett draws upon in ‘Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind’:
“When you’re at the problem-solving stage or you need to generate new ideas, psychologists have shown that taking your mind off-task briefly can help your subconscious find links between disparate concepts.”
How to make the most of your work sessions
There is no one-size-fits-all productivity system. After all – we are all different and we have to have an appreciation for those individual differences.
That being said, if you are intent on maximising productivity in anything you’re working on – try each approach on different occasions.
Work in short, intense bursts of focus.
Take regular breaks to maximise your energy.
Be attentive to what works for you and what doesn’t.
By putting each of these into practice on different occasions, you will slowly create an amalgamation of these approaches by tweaking and specifically tailoring aspects of each in a way that works best for you.
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