Why Are Your Coworkers More Productive Than You?

During difficult economic times, companies are forced to make tough decisions to keep stockholders happy and to spend less money. They’re also expected to create big results with fewer resources. Workers are being asked to do more with less, and the competition for the coveted jobs is unlike it’s ever been before. Understanding that most of us have limited control over our company’s decisions or the global economy — the one thing we can control is our personal productivity. As a result, there’s no better time to explore creative ways to increase your productivity without sacrificing your health, well being, or family.

Do you ever wonder why some people just seem to get things done and always leave the office early? Perhaps they’ve just found their rhythm. Studies show that personal productivity might be more about natural rhythm, rather than continuous “busyness.”

Ultradian Rhythms & Ultradian Sprints

BrainThere are several methods for increasing productivity, covered by our Life Blog and other resources. Many of these productivity tips center around focusing on one related task at a time, and taking breaks. In an effort to learn more about focusing on one task at a time and fewer interruptions, I began research about Ultradian Rhythms and Ultradian Sprints.

Ultradian Rhythms are the natural switching of brain hemispheric dominance, from left brain to right brain, which happens about every 90-120 minutes. Switching over to right brain dominance lasts approximately 20 minutes. Ultradian Sprints are a method for taking advantage of Ultradian Rhythms. With an Ultradian Sprint, you focus on one task at hand and complete it within the 90-120 minute interval — avoiding all distractions. It’s the opposite of multitasking.

The left hemisphere of the brain handles organization and logic and is more suited for linear, logical thoughts. The right side of the brain assists with intuitiveness and curiosity and correlates with parasympathetic activation. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system can create a positive feeling, which can reduce stress and strengthen your body’s defenses. When you switch to right brain dominance, you can recover, boost the immune system, and clear your thoughts.

According to Ernest Rossi, an expert about Ultradian Rhythms and the author of “The Twenty Minute Break: Reduce Stress, Maximize Performance, Improve Health and Emotional Well-Being Using the New Science of Ultradian Rhythms” taking a 20 minute break can convert your stress into the “Ultradian Healing Response.” This can improve your creativity and productivity, prevent mistakes, and improve health and well being.

The Downside of Multitasking

Most productivity experts agree that multitasking, or switching among different projects, is counter-productive. Keeping interruptions at bay, as well as taking breaks can improve your output. Multitasking seems to be in fashion, and makes people feel smart and superior. It’s usually the “busy people” who tout that they’re the best multi-taskers. Well — I have a news flash. Multitasking is out like last year’s bubble skirts. Single-tasking is in, and all the cool kids are doing it.

Have you ever experienced a situation where a manager answered email or text messages during a meeting and missed important information that you were required to repeat at a later time? Perhaps, you’re guilty of this? Consider the implications when you’re making decisions — yet lacking relevant information for those decisions to be informed. According to research at Stanford University, “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”

Furthermore, in an interview with Fast Company, Gloria Mark from the Department of Informatics at the University of California, states that from her research “we found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.” In addition, Mark states that those in a study who were asked to answer an email and were interrupted with phone calls and instant messages “had higher levels of stress, frustration, mental effort, feeling of time pressure and mental workload. So that’s the cost.”

Tips for Ultradian Sprints

The following tips can help you avoid distractions and turbocharge your productivity. Of course, ensure these tactics are acceptable within your particular work environment.

  • Establish your priorities — If your priorities aren’t clear or misdirected, all actions for improving productivity are futile.
  • Schedule tasks into blocks — Evaluate your day and schedule similar tasks together. For example, answer email during sessions; schedule meetings on similar topics together; and review reports during blocks of time. Keep in mind, these items should follow the culture and rhythm of your business.
  • Find your natural rhythm — When do you naturally get things done? Be aware of your productive times and take advantage of them.
  • Turn off notifications — Turn off social media, text, your phone ringer, or email notifications to avoid interruptions during 90 minute intervals (unless those notifications are essential to your job or personal life).
  • Close your office door or put up a sign — Let others know when interruptions cannot occur so others respect your time. Headphones with white noise can also be useful.
  • Use a timer — Set a timer for 90 -120 minutes. Take a 20 minute break after that time period.
  • Be a role model — As a leader or manager, understand your employees’ rhythm and respect it. Don’t interrupt their time unless necessary.

The Ultradian Break

Don’t forget to take a 20 minute Ultradian Break — meditate, have some herbal tea, listen to music, take a walk, have a power nap, people watch, drink something with olives, or do yoga — whatever tickles your fancy. However, don’t engage in thinking about the task you were working on during the previous Ultradian Sprint. If you cannot take a 20 minute break because of dreaded all-day meetings or other factors, try to fit in a shorter break. According to Ernest Lawrence Rossi, “Many really creative people throughout history – Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison – have noted how their best inspirations seem to come after they have made a great conscious effort to solve a problem and then taken a break when they were initially frustrated with failure.” I’ve personally experienced this — especially when working on a difficult issue, solving a complex problem, or finding a technical solution to a problem — always resulting in the highly-regarded “aha” moment.

If you have coworkers or employees who could use a little productivity boost, I’d recommend you shoot them the link to this blog. Please comment and let us know if we helped you find your rhythm.

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  1. […] I wrote a post about Ultradian Rhythms and the science of why taking breaks enhances productivity. Taking breaks is truly a little known […]

  2. […] tele­vi­sion. Focus for 90 to 120 min­utes, and take a 20 minute break. See our post about Ultra­dian Rhythms for more […]

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