Thursday, August 18, 2022

How to be more effective in 90 minutes

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I have been starting each day with 90 minutes of uninterrupted time spent on the most important task I will be facing the following day. For nearly a decade now, I have followed this routine. I take a break after 90 minutes.

While I’m working, I turn off all of my email, close all windows on my computer, and let the phone go to voicemail if it rings.

How Long Is 90 Minutes is the time when I get the most work done, and I feel more satisfied with my output, than any other time I devote to work. While it can be difficult on some days to focus for 90 minutes, I always have a clear stopping time, which makes it easier.

The reason for launching this practice is that I discovered a long time ago that my energy, my will, and my capacity for intense focus diminished as the day wore on. The most challenging tasks I put off tend not to get completed, and the most difficult work tends to have the most enduring value.

This discovery first occurred to me while writing a book. This was after I had written three other books. I would drudge myself to my desk every day at 7 a.m., and I often stayed there until 7 p.m.

My past self probably spent more time avoiding writing than writing itself. It was instead my inordinate amount of time and energy spent organizing my files, responding to emails, and keeping my desk clean.

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On some days, I didn’t write at all. I found it frustrating.

To make this work, we need to build highly precise, deliberate practices that are carried out at specific times, so they become automatic, with little effort or self-discipline required, similar to brushing our teeth at night. This is why I run my company, The Energy Project.

I used this approach at times when I was writing the book I was working on and at other times when I was working on something else. My productivity has improved dramatically. After writing my third and fourth books, I spent less than half the time on my fourth.

Whenever I’m not working on a book, I pick the task for the next day the night before. This is because I do not want to waste time thinking about what to do when I should be getting the job done.

Whenever I do something I consider it “important,” it means it will add enduring value in some way. Steven Covey used the phrase, “important but not urgent,” to describe this sort of challenge. We usually put off these activities in favor of those that are more urgent, easier to accomplish, and provide a more immediate sense of satisfaction.

It is at a very specific time that I start, as I discovered very early on that if I didn’t keep myself to a specific time, I would procrastinate. After a while, I would say, “Oh, I’ll just reply to this email,” and before I knew it, I had already answered a dozen and half a dozen others were waiting for my attention.

There’s no shortage of excuses for not doing hard work.

Scientific research suggests that 90 minutes is the optimal amount of time for a person to concentrate intensely on any one task. Researchers like Peretz Lavie have found that our energy levels are determined by this “ultradian rhythm” (see page 51 for details).

Especially when the mind is fully focused, we go from a relatively high energy state down into a physiological trough within 90 minutes.

The signals that our bodies give us that we need a break – such as difficulty concentrating, physical restlessness, or irritability – are sometimes unwittingly ignored. However, we often override this need by using caffeine, sugar, and our own stress hormones — adrenaline, noradrenalin, and cortisol — which are all short-term energy boosters but lead to excessive anxiety.

I have learned to listen to my body’s signals by intentionally aligning with its natural rhythm. The first time I notice them, it usually means I’ve reached the 90-minute mark. Even if I’m feeling good at that point, I take a break, because I’ve learned that if I don’t, I’ll pay later.

It’s not something I do all the time, but this one practice has changed my life.

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