In today’s tech heavy world, the temptation to multi-task is higher than it’s ever been. We don’t focus when we do too many things simultaneously. We also aren’t efficient when we stay seated too long. Like the REM and non-REM cycles of sleep, our brains and bodies go through cycles during the day. Our heart alternates between beating and resting, our lungs inhale and exhale, our entire body is pulsing off and on and our brain is participating in this cycling as well. Sleep researchers have found the same oscillations from higher to lower states of alertness during the day. For optimum output, it is vital that you honor these peaks and valleys by balancing concentrated, focused time with relaxation and integration.
One simple technique to improve productivity is to do Power Hour. A Power Hour consists of working in concentrated chunks of time (begin with about twenty minute intervals) followed by short periods of rest, in order to harness the optimal performance of your brain and body.
How to do it?
Put away all distractions – silence your phone, turn off email notification or close your laptop, close out of all web browsers. Book your schedule for the next 75 minutes. Make sure you will not be interrupted.
Sprint. Take the most important task in your To-do list and spend 20 minutes completely focused on that task. If you need your computer to complete this task, have only one window open on your screen – only use whatever is required for you to complete that task. Do not check email for this entire 20 minute period or do anything else.
Rest. At the end of the 20 minute sprint, take a two minute break. Stretch, move, breathe. Stand up, go get a drink of water, do something that gets your body moving.
Sprint. Repeat Step 2 by doing another 20 minute interval focused on the same task or those following it, if you have already completed the first one. The important thing is that you are only working on one task at a time and you are not checking or responding to email, looking at Facebook, or receiving instant messages during this time. You are completely focused on a single task. You are being proactive rather than reactive.
Rest. At the end of this 20 minute interval, take another 2 minute break. Stretch, move, breathe. Get a glass of water, stand up, play a song that energizes you – ideally, dance around if you happen to be in a windowless office or aren’t afraid of looking silly.
Final Sprint. Complete a third 20 minute interval.
Longer Rest. Take a 10-15 minute break at the end of this final sprint and do something that is completely unrelated to work. Go for a walk outside, call a friend, read a fiction novel in the bathroom…whatever works for you.
That’s one power hour (more like 75 minutes total).
Do your Power Hour first thing in the morning when your concentration is at its highest, and schedule meetings in the afternoon when your energy will naturally peak.
Beginners may start with the Basic Power Hour schedule mentioned above. If you are already working in this way, you can begin to extend the periods of concentration to up to 90 minutes, followed by a longer break. One 90-minute interval is the longest you want to be doing any one thing. Ultimately, it is up to you to determine your body’s optimal flow throughout the day. Notice when you have the most energy, and tackle your biggest and most important projects then. The key component that most people ignore is to intentionally schedule in pauses and breaks throughout your day so that you can relax, refresh and unplug from work.
Work smarter, not harder.