Work Smarter: Get Stuff Done in 90-Minute Chunks

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This Week’s Insight: It seems like the best way to get stuff done at work is to just make yourself do it. Summon every last drop of your willpower, sit your butt in that chair, and do not get up until that to-do list has been demolished.

But productivity experts know a secret: Our minds function better if we allow ourselves both times of highly focused work and times of rest.

An Example: As Tony Schwartz, author and CEO of the Energy Project, once wrote for the Harvard Business Review that we can steal the habits of elite violinists and apply them to our comparatively humdrum to-do lists. Schwartz writes:

Consider the study that performance expert Anders Ericcson did of violinists at the Berlin Academy of Music. The best of the violinists practiced in sessions no longer than 90 minutes, and took a break in between each one. They almost never practiced more than 4 ½ hours over a day. What they instinctively understood was the law of diminishing returns.

The top violinists also got an average of more than 8 hours of sleep a night, and took a 20-30 minute nap every afternoon. Over a week, they slept 16 hours more than the average American does."

Why It Matters: Instead of trying to force yourself into productivity over long stretches of time, rework your to-do list so that it outlines the tasks you can realistically accomplish within a span of 90 minutes. After that 90 minutes is up, take a pause. Stretch, refill your coffee cup, chat with a co-worker, or let yourself scroll through Twitter for a bit (which will make you less likely to check in on Bradley Cooper and his teeny-tiny shorts during your productive time). You may find you’ll return to the next task at hand feeling refreshed and ready to go.