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Do You Accidentally Trash Time?


Author Tony Schwartz's technique of working for uninterrupted 90-minute blocks of time -- focusing intently on the task at hand -- and then taking a "rest and renewal" break, may help you get back more of your day.

Don't you often wish you had a 28-hour day to get more accomplished, or squeeze in more free time? I do.

One of my clients recently expressed frustration about his tendency to procrastinate -- mostly when he lacked confidence and competence for the task -- and waste time even when he felt he was up to the task. His own inefficiency was making his life miserable.

Together, we brainstormed ways to complete tasks that might match his preferred working style. His “homework” was to experiment with one or more of our ideas for the next two weeks. Experience has taught me that only occasionally do new techniques click right away. More often, it takes “creative inventiveness” to find a method that really suits a person’s work style.

And more than anything, it takes the dogged persistence and discipline shown by professional performers, athletes and experts to excavate old habits and cement in the new ones.

I'm always on the lookout for different ways to use time more effectively, so I enjoyed this Harvard Business Review May 2010 post “For Real Productivity, Less is Truly More.”

Businessman and author Tony Schwartz describes his technique of working for uninterrupted 90-minute blocks of time, focusing intently on the task at hand and then taking a break, for a “rest and renewal” meal or run.

He cites a study with this information:

“…our bodies operate by the same 90 minute rhythm during the day. When we're awake, we move from higher to lower alertness every 90 minutes. Other researchers have called this our ‘ultradian rhythm.’ "

"Our bodies send us clear signals when we need a break, including fidgetiness, hunger, drowsiness and loss of focus. But, mostly, we override them. Instead, we find artificial ways to pump up our energy: caffeine, foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, and our body's own stress hormones -- adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol.

"After working at high intensity for more than 90 minutes, we begin to draw on these emergency reserves to keep us going. In the process, we move from parasympathetic to a sympathetic arousal -- a physiological state more commonly known as "fight or flight."

Fits with what we, as doctors, know… correct?

In case you want to know how you spend your time, both online and offline, a simple and inexpensive technology tool, RescueTime, is a handy source of information. Here is a short post I wrote about RescueTime.

Maybe it’s not an extra four hours a day I’m after. Instead, tuning in to my ultradian rhythm and devoting 60 to 90 minutes of intense effort to my tasks, followed by a rewarding goofing-off spell will give me back my day … and even my disappearing year!

What do you think?

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