Success in 90-Minute Increments
A few months ago, I blogged about interval training for writers. I referred to the growing body of research on human performance suggesting we’re most productive when we move between periods of high focus and rest, rather than attempting to maintain high focus for long periods of time. I’d been strongly influenced by Tony Schwartz’s book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working (which is still a favorite). I wrote that:
- 90 minutes is the optimum high-focus work time; and
- a maximum of three 90-minute focused periods a day provides for the most productivity.*
Lately I’ve been experimenting with this, using a timer on my desk to create 90-minute intervals for highly focused work, usually writing. The first few times I did this, I was amazed at how I finished the interval feeling energized, not wanting to stop what I was doing, and extremely excited to pick up the work again at my next interval. This happened without fail, every time I used the interval strategy.
But yesterday I was impatient to get more accomplished and so I scrapped my 90-minute interval plan. I worked pretty much straight through the day, with only brief breaks for snacks and letting my family know I was alive.
And I regretted it. By late afternoon, I was completely burnt out. I was no longer excited about the project; in fact, I was convinced it was a horrible piece of dreck. I felt no enthusiasm whatsoever for the next time I might be able to work on it. I never wanted to look at it again.
The difference between how I felt after a day of carefully planning my work intervals, and a day working straight through, was so startling that I felt it was worth blogging about again. What I’ve found is that my creativity (the “muse”) tires easily, and responds favorably to enforced time limits. Whatever I’m doing that requires focus, I will do it better if I pay attention to the simple concept of 90-minute intervals.
Have you tried the intervals yet? Does this method work for you?
*Click here to read about Tony Schwartz’s “90 Minute Solution.”