We all struggle with slumps throughout the workday. Whether it takes you awhile to find your stride in the morning, or you hit a wall at 2 p.m. – it’s not possible to be “on” at all times.
Unfortunately, many corporate cultures don’t recognize the importance of recharging to improve productivity, leading to widespread burnout.
But, we can take control of our natural times of activity and create a better-balanced workday by tapping into Ultradian Rhythm.
You’re likely familiar with the circadian rhythm, or the process that regulates our sleep and wake cycles every 24 hours (among other things). An ultradian rhythm is a biological rhythm that repeats in shorter cycles throughout that 24-hour day, like your appetite.
Specifically, the Basic Rest-Activity Cycle (BRAC) is an ultradian rhythm of rest and activity in 80-120 minute cycles that repeats all day and night. On average, this looks like 90 minutes of focused activity followed by 20 minutes in a more restful state.
Tapping into this rhythm can help you be most productive during your own natural times of productivity.
“Most people have this backwards,” said ViveTeams co-founder Alex Bowen.
“They reach their peak productivity zone and knock out a bunch of low-value tasks because it feels good to check things off your to-do list. But, this peak energy is better spent working on high value, high difficulty work.”
Knowing your peak performance times, and times when you need a break will help you schedule activities accordingly, increase your productivity at work, and help to prevent burnout.
When you are in your peak productivity times, you want to make sure you’re doing your most important work.
Ideally, you should prepare for these times to minimize distractions. Put your phone on DND, schedule yourself as unavailable and do any necessary prep work so you can hit the ground running when the time comes.
Examples of peak performance activities can include:
When referring to “rest” time, we don’t necessarily mean nap time (unless your workday allows for that, in which case yay!). The rest period of an ultradian rhythm is typically used for lower-frequency brain activity during the day.
“There are two main tasks that people should do during their downtimes,” advises Bowen.
“The first is administrative/repetitive work that doesn’t take much creativity or prefrontal cortex work to process. The second type of activity we recommend are passive and active recharging during your downtimes,” said Bowen.
For the days when honoring your work-rest cycle will be a challenge, consider employing the Pomodoro Technique to help you take short breaks so you don’t burnout. This process encourages breaking work into 25-minute increments with five-minute breaks, set to a timer.
ViveTeams employs the Pomodoro Technique in meetings to ensure guests aren’t staying in one delivery method (lecture, activity, etc.) too long. Bowen shares that they use breaks, music and fun to create a flow that leverages peak times and provides opportunity to recharge.
“Most workshops expect people to be on and attentive for 8 hours straight, we recognize this is the wrong approach and architect our workshops to be different,” said Bowen.
While there is a lot of science behind how to technically track ultradian rhythm, Most people already have an idea of their peak hours instinctively – we can all feel it.
Finding your rhythm is as simple as paying attention to your energy levels. Take one week and commit to checking in every hour to rate and track your energy level on a scale of 1-10. You can download a helpful spreadsheet here, or create your own.
With this amount of data you can start to identify trends in your peak performance times (ideal for your most important activities) and your sub-peak times (better for administrative tasks or recharging opportunities)
While it may not be possible to schedule everything around our ultimate productivity times, until corporate cultures embrace the need for downtime, recognizing our own ultradian rhythms and respective them is a step in the right direction.
Establishing your patterns of high energy and low energy can help you become more productive on important work, avoid scheduling intense meetings during your low-energy periods or just remember take a minute to breathe and give your brain a rest throughout the day.