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The 90-Minute Rule: How Unplugging Can Improve Your Productivity

People are organisms. Organisms run in cycles. According to Drake Baer, you need to respect that cycle in order to do your best work, which he wrote about in a recent article for Fast Company, Why You Need to Unplug Every 90 Minutes.

Unplugging and the Ultradian Rhythm

Describing the findings of Nathan Kleitman, a groundbreaking sleep researcher, Baer reports that your brain can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs a break. It’s called the ultradian rhythm, a cycle present in both our sleeping and waking lives. Without frequent breaks, our work quality and output suffer. Unplugging periodically throughout the day improves your productivity and help you get the creative juices flowing.

The concept is simple: top performers focus for dedicated chunks of time, rest, then repeat. It’s not a new concept, and there’s plenty of science to support the cognitive reboot that frequent breaks deliver — yet it’s still far from common practice.

Practical Productivity

Courtney Seiter, a writer for Buffer, offers a few practical ideas for making intentional brain breaks a habit:

  1. Use the Pomodoro Technique to work in small bursts. “Just set a timer for 25 minutes, and when it goes off, take a short break for 5 minutes. After you’ve done four Pomodoro sessions, take a longer break of 30 minutes or so.”
  1. Alternatively, try the 52-17 method, which splits the difference between the Pomodoro and 90-minute blocks: work for 52 minutes, then break for 17. Why is this a good idea? It’s consistent with how highly productive people work, say researchers at the Draugiem Group. “They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.”
  1. Take a walk. “A 20-minute stroll can increase blood flow to the brain, which can boost creative thought,” Seiter writes. Regular walks pack even greater benefits: slowing age-related decline in brain function, improving recall and cognitive performance.

Ideas into Action

So, what should you do during your break? Daydream, eat, read, doodle, nap, exercise, or run to Starbucks – whatever floats your boat and gives your brain some respite from the project at hand.

Read more ideas or jump right in and try a few brain breaks. Chances are that before long, you’ll experience notable improvements both in how you feel, and in the quality of work you produce.

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