What makes you more stupid – smoking marijuana, emailing while talking on the phone or losing a night’s sleep?
Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London studied 1,100 workers at a British company and found that multitasking with electronic media caused a greater decrease in IQ than smoking pot or losing a night’s sleep.
For those of you in Colorado, this means you should put down your phone and pick up your pipe! In all seriousness, in today’s tech heavy world, the temptation to multi-task is higher than it’s ever been. And this has become a major issue. We don’t focus and we do too many things at once. We also aren’t efficient or effective when we stay seated too long.
The Energy Project Audit found that 69% of workers have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time and are easily distracted during the day, especially by email. A McKinsey Global Institute study found that the average worker spends 13 hours a week on email – 13 hours a week! That’s the equivalent of 28% of our workweek.
What’s the solution? It also involves studying the brain. Science has discovered that our brain naturally goes through cycles with peaks and valleys. When you fall asleep, you enter REM cycle sleep after about 90 minutes of non-REM sleep and continue to cycle in this way throughout the night. As it turns out, our brains and bodies go through similar 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. To maximize your output, it is vital that you honor these peaks and valleys by balancing concentrated, focused time with relaxation and integration.
Understanding how your brain works is important not only to accomplish your existing workload in less time, but it is also the key to giving yourself the space to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions. Scientists have found that people who take time to daydream score higher on tests of creativity, and that those big “aha” moments are more likely to happen in the shower than while sitting in front of a computer.
One simple technique to improve productivity is to do what I call a Power Hour. A Power Hour consists of working in concentrated chunks of time (to begin with I suggest no more than twenty minute intervals) followed by short periods of rest, in order to harness the optimal performance of your brain and body.
Here is how you do it:
Set yourself up for success. Put away all distractions – silence your phone, turn off email notification or close your laptop, close out of all web browsers. Block off your calendar for the next 75 minutes, I don’t care if you have to put a fake meeting with “New Pro Tool” on your calendar – do whatever it takes to make sure you will not be interrupted.
Sprint. Take the #1 most important task on your To Do list and spend 20 minutes completely focused on your most important 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 pass go, do not check email for this entire 20 minute period.
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 Two above by doing another 20 minute interval focused on this same task. If you have already completed the #1 most important task on your To Do list, move on to #2 and then #3. 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).
If you work in this way, I guarantee you will see a huge increase in your productivity.
When doing a Power Hour, it can be helpful to create a ritual or find a sacred space where you can work uninterrupted. You may want to leave your open office space and go to Starbucks or book a conference room for an hour. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. 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.
If this is new to you, I recommend starting with the Basic Power Hour schedule 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. This is the key to Success with Ease.
And, if you want a simple tool to improve focus, join our 30 Day Meditation Challenge – it’s free.