Ultradian Rhythms

How to Use Ultradian Rhythms to Keep Productive

Last Updated on by Michael Brockbank

Looking for a way to keep yourself productive while working from home? Why not try exploring your ultradian rhythms? No, this isn’t some new-age trick that involves meditation and incense. Unless that’s your thing.

In fact, the original basis of the study was completed back in the 1950s.

In reality, your ultradian rhythms can contribute to keeping yourself focused without burning out. Think of it like your bio-rhythm that governs how well you work on any given day.


What Are Ultradian Rhythms?

Originally, Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that humans have a sleep cycle ranging between 90 and 120 minutes at a time. And it was found that these cycles are also present during our waking state.

So, in a nutshell, ultradian rhythms are those biological “clocks” that have several peaks over a 24-hour period. These are peaks of time in which you are the most productive. Well, when your brain is the most alert, anyway.

When sleeping, it’s referencing when you’re the most at rest.

It’s a growing belief that ultradian rhythms contribute to keeping yourself highly productive throughout the day. In fact, there are a lot of papers online supporting the claim and how it’s useful when you time breaks right.

In the book, “The Power of Full Engagement,” Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz depict the ultradian rhythm as the “ebb and flow” of the energy humans have during the day.

During a 90-minute period, you are the most productive. But then the stress of work starts to bring you down to a lower point. If nothing is done at that point, focus and energy levels degrade rapidly.

How Ultradian Rhythms Keep You Productive

Working for extremely long periods of time is bad. And not just because it can vastly increase your stress level. When your mind isn’t focused on the job, you’re more likely to make mistakes.

As a freelance writer, this could mean more revision requests from clients because you missed something or delivered poor content. By maintaining a specific balance between work and rest, you can maintain energy levels during peak times.

This means you can essentially get more done…and do it correctly.

Instead of just one peak and then tiring yourself out throughout the day, you can have quite a few moments of high-production value.

I know it works well for me, anyway.

How to Use Ultradian Rhythms to Get More Done

Most businesses already offer something that helps with the ultradian healing response in the form of a break every two hours. But, because time is money, usually these breaks range from 10 to 15 minutes.

Everything I’ve come across dealing with ultradian rhythms state to have at least 20 minutes to essentially recharge your batteries. And since I’m one who doesn’t argue with scientists, especially when they have quantifiable evidence, that’s where we’ll start.

Using the 90-Minute Rule

OK, so the 90-Minute Rule works like this: you put in a solid hour and a half of work and then take a 20-minute break. For those who work a traditional job, this might be somewhat difficult.

Employers might not understand if you tell them, “I need to take an ultradian healing break, Boss.” However, for those of us who work from home, working 90-minutes, and then taking a 20-minute break is easy to accomplish.

In fact, 90-minute work intervals can be exceptionally beneficial to your workflow, whether you’re a freelancer or a traditional employee. Especially if you take the proper types of breaks during your down-time.

Personally, I tend to bounce around a lot between 80 and 100 minutes without really putting much thought into the process. I seem to naturally want to get up and take a break by then.

Perhaps I created a habit for myself years ago and just really didn’t know that it was part of my Ultradian Rhythm.

Types of Proper Breaks

According to the various sites I’ve read, a 20-minute nap is ideal. But, I hate taking naps and am incredibly grumpy afterward. So, I think we need to find other ways to relax for that 20 minutes.

If you’re following along at home, you can:

  • Go for peaceful walks away from distractions.
    This is probably the most prominent in my case. While walking in the backyard, there is nothing but the distant sounds of birds chirping.
  • Stay away from digital entertainment.
    Much like how electronics keep the brain alert before bed, they do so during the ultradian healing cycle. So, getting on Facebook or Twitter during your break is somewhat counter-productive.
  • Sit in silence or meditate on your heart rate.
    The point is to remove distractions and give your brain a chance to recuperate. Sitting in silence or meditating on your heart rate is a great way to refocus the mind.
  • Do some daydreaming or work through current problems.
    I usually get my best ideas while taking a break. I often walk and think about how to address a current situation or how to fix something broken. And oftentimes, the solution comes to me while I’m off the clock.

The point is to get your mind to relax and not stress about the workload. So an ideal flow for me would be to work for a solid 90 minutes and then go for a 20-minute walk. In reality, any activity that can keep your mind clear is the best option.

Everyone is different.

It’s all about finding methods that work best for you when it comes time to relax.
What works best for you to relax while working throughout the day?x

My Accidental Experience with Ultradian Rhythms

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know that ultradian rhythms existed until recently. So, it was kind of cool to see how my work patterns developed since I began writing full-time.

Over the last several years, I’ve noticed that I work in 90-minute intervals before needing a break. Usually, this was about the time when my knee started to ache from sitting too long.

So, the dog and I would go out and walk around the back yard for about 15 minutes or so. Then, I would come back in and be ready for another hour and a half of work.

Little did I know that this was an actual thing and perhaps driven by my own ultradian rhythm. And because I do track every minute of work in a spreadsheet, I could see how long I could work without needing a break.

On average, it was about 90 minutes. And the trend continues to this day.

After each proper break, I feel refreshed and ready to continue working on whatever project I have at that moment. And if I try to break too soon, it really messes with my ability to focus.

Do You Notice Spurts of Productivity?

Whether you believe in ultradian rhythms or not, it’s still a good idea to step away from work and relax for a moment. Usually, my breaks bounce between 15 and 20 minutes.

And speaking from personal experience, it does make a difference in staying productive.

On days when the emergencies are just too great and I put in four straight hours, I’m completely wiped by the end. And also why I don’t get many videos up on YouTube.

What are your rhythms like, and do you find 20-minute breaks to be beneficial?

Michael Brockbank
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