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This Is Why You Shouldn’t Work For More Than 90 Minutes at a Time

Topics: Career Advice

There’s so much emphasis on increasing productivity these days. Some companies are even doing things like doing away with meetings altogether to try to increase it. Workers are being mindful of productivity, too. Given the pace and expectations of modern life, we’d all like to understand how to best maximize our time and energy. It turns out, there may be a simple solution. By working in 90-minute intervals (or less) you could maximize your productivity. Here’s what you need to know.

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  1. Strategic renewal works.

Sometimes it seems like rushing around from place to place, or from one task to the next, is the only option we have for getting everything done. Our days are packed, so trying to find a chance to slow down a little feels almost impossible. But, taking time to relax could actually save you time in the long run. According to a piece in The New York Times, “strategic renewal,” which includes everything from daytime naps or workouts to longer and more frequent vacations, has been shown to increase productivity in the long run. So, while it might seem like there isn’t enough time to take a break, it’s actually one of the keys to getting a lot done.

  1. The Basic-Rest-Activity-Cycle (BRAC) impacts our waking and sleeping lives.

We’ve known for more than 50 years that we sleep in 90-minute cycles. (If you have a sleep tracker, likely as a feature of an activity band, you might have noticed this yourself.) We move from light sleep, to deep sleep (and restorative REM state) in roughly 90-minute waves. About a decade after we learned about this natural sleep cycle, researchers began to realize that we follow a similar pattern in our waking lives as well.

  1. To maximize productivity, work in 90-minute intervals.  

In response to this information, and in an effort to better understand productivity, Florida State University Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues studied “elite performers,” folks who excelled in their field, whether they were musicians, athletes, or chess players. Ericsson discovered that uninterrupted practice in intervals of 90 minutes or less, with breaks in between sessions, worked best for maximizing productivity. Also, he noted that these folks rarely worked more than four-and-a-half hours in a given day.

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“To maximize gains from long-term practice,” Ericsson concluded, “individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.”

By focusing on limiting our fatigue to a level that we can completely recover from in a timely way, we can help to maximize our time and our productive efforts. Perhaps thinking of work or projects in terms of how they can be blocked into 90-minute chunks could be a good place to start. Who knows, maybe with practice we could even build to keeping our active workdays under that four-and-a-half-hour maximum Ericsson recommended, too.

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What do you do to increase your productivity? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Tired of mean peopleSteve ITraceyJen Hubley LuckwaldtNetScanr Recent comment authors
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Tired of mean people
Tired of mean people

maybe the commenters on this article should contribute to the conversation instead of leaving snarky comments, trying to bring down others to make themselves feel better.


So you’re saying work on one activity/project for 90 mins? Then what? Swap tasks? Go for a run? Take a nap? The article feels unfinished.

Steve I
Steve I

What is a person supposed to do in these breaks as Tracey mentioned? This article isn’t complete.


This is a useless article. Great performers, in rare elitist work, perform best with average working days of 4.5 hours or less per day. Current professional white-collar workers are LUCKY if they can get away with working 50 hours a week without their boss thinking they’re a slacker. What good is an article saying to perform at your best, work 22.5 hours a week? Can you provide a list of employers that will provide a very good salary in return… Read more »

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