Just like you, your productivity isn’t made to be “awake” 24/7. That’s why sometimes, you find yourself feeling at the top of your game for a certain period… and then suddenly you lose focus and enthusiasm. This is because of ultradian rhythms, a kind of internal clock.
If circadian rhythms have to do with our body’s natural 24-hour cycle of sleeping and waking up, ultradian rhythms explain the way we process the work-play balance.
According to Dr. David Chinsky of the Institute for Leadership Fitness, we experience an ultradian rhythm every 90 to 120 minutes. Just like circadian rhythms, reactions to and duration of an ultradian rhythm differs from person to person and depends on one’s habits.
Of course, one’s common response to a dip in productivity would be to fight it. While some will barrel through with completing what they’re working on, some will choose a “softer” approach—for example, a writer opting to read a book instead of forcing themselves to continue writing. However, these strategies sometimes fail when faced against the natural process of ultradian rhythm. Remember how you ended up reading the same paragraph over and over again before you actually understood it? Yes, that’s ultradian rhythm taking over.
Others may also go for an “artificial fix,” which includes chugging down coffee or energy drinks. Unfortunately, these quick pick-me-ups are notorious for their negative health effects, which is why they aren’t really advisable.
So how do you battle productivity slump brought on by ultradian rhythm? Well, the answer is: you don’t. The best way to deal with it is by not fighting it—it’s a natural cycle, after all.
Lulls in productivity brought by the cycle is not something that we, as humans, can simply find a workaround for. Instead, what we can do is listen to our bodies and take the rest that it needs.
“If we want to sustain peak performance, we must become more skillful at managing our energy throughout the day. By taking periodic breaks, roughly every 90 minutes, we allow our body and mind to renew,” says Chinsky.
Doing so will also help us avoid getting burned out, which can help in the long run especially if we effectively incorporate the habit of taking breaks in our daily work routine. The moment you feel your enthusiasm and focus dwindle, you should take it as a sign that you’re entering the low point of your ultradian rhythm and prepare yourself to step away for a bit.
Once you begin your rest period, make sure that you completely pull the brakes because the goal is to clear your mind of everything, especially work. Twenty to 30 minutes may already be enough, and you can easily fit in activities like taking a short nap, talking to the people around you or meditating within that period of time.
That said, proper time management is still one of the best ways to ensure maximum productivity. Optimize your performance by knowing when to start and stop, as well as prioritizing your tasks according to importance, so that you finish what needs to be done—all before your body starts requiring you to rest.
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