Why do some people exceed expectations at work with seemingly little effort, while others struggle just to get through their workload? Maybe the Fred Astaires among us intuitively work with their bodies instead of against them.
Working with your body’s natural rhythms
is something that the folks at Asian Efficiency,
productivity training company” teach people to do, based on the work of sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman and later performance psychologist Jim Loeher.
In the 1950s, Kleitman discovered that humans have daytime cycles (rest-activity cycles) as well as sleep cycles. He found we work best and are most productive and effective when we engage in a task single-mindedly for 90-120 minutes, and follow this by a period of rest, from 20-30 minutes.
Fifty years later, Jim Loeher with business writer Tony Schwartz published their best-seller, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, an energy-management training system based on Kleitman’s work. They coined the term “ultradian rhythm” to refer to his daytime, rest-activity cycles.
According to Asian Efficiency, “Physiological measures such as heart rate, hormonal levels, muscle tension and brain-wave activity all increase during the first part of the cycle—and so does alertness. After an hour or so, these measures start to decline. Somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes, the body begins to crave a period of rest and recovery.”
Although it’s possible to soldier through these cravings for rest, you do so at our own peril. Not only will you be far less productive, but pushing against your body’s need for a break elicits the fight-or-flight response, flooding your body with toxic stress hormones. On a chronic basis, this leads ultimately to burnout and breakdown.
Our bodies, this theory maintains, are built for intense and focused bursts of work. This means being fully engaged with a single task. Multi-tasking is counterproductive as it takes (and wastes) a lot of energy to shift from one focus to another, resulting in decreased productivity and lower quality output. So it’s best to concentrate on one thing at a time, without distractions and interruptions, and really dig in, using your full mental capacities. (This doesn’t preclude getting up every 15 minutes to stretch and move, go to the bathroom, etc.)
The goal of the break, on the other hand, is to disconnect completely from your work and give your brain a chance to turn off. It’s best to leave your computer. Good break-time activities include reading for pleasure, taking a walk or a short nap, meditating or chatting with a friend.
Some people may find working for long stretches without distractions difficult; it may help them to remember that a pleasurable break time isn’t far away.
Working with rather than against nature is always a good idea. In this case, lots of research has shown that alternating periods of intense work with designated rest periods makes you more productive, supports mental and physical health, reduces accidents and injuries, and makes your work life more satisfying.