90-Minute Productivity

Brain by Dierk Schaefer
Brain by Dierk Schaefer

Ever have one of those a-ha moments, when you encounter something that seems so brilliantly obvious?

The Internet gifted me one such moment a few weeks ago with the “Write It Down” concept. It happened again when I came across this video.

If you’re stressed, overworked, a parent, or any combo of the above, perhaps this 90-minute productivity idea could help you, too?

The Myth of the Overworked Creative
By Tony Schwartz
Watch the full video here


“Capacity is not infinite. The only resources that last are the ones we renew.”

And guess what? One of those resources isn’t time, though that’s what we always blame it on. Time is NOT renewable. (Unfortunately.)

The resource we need is inside


  1. You can build more of it, by converting one form into another.
  2. You can renew it, just like refilling your car.
  3. You can learn to manage it more skillfully or more efficiently.

Or to simplify it (as you may or may not remember from your elementary science class):

Energy is the capacity to do work.

So, where do we get this “energy”?

  1. Physical energy (quantity) – This is your foundation. If you can’t stay awake, you’re not going to be very productive. Makes sense.
  2. Emotional energy (quality)-  “It’s how you feel when you’re performing at your best,” claims Schwartz. “Those emotions that come to mind… that’s what you need… You can actively cultivate the emotions that serve you best, just as systematically as you can build a bicep or a tricep.”
  3. Focus (mental) – This one is constantly drained by our everyday “crack” technology. Did you know checking email hits the same dopamine centers in the brain as drugs?
  4. Purpose (spiritual) – If you feel like what you’re doing matters, your productivity goes up. Who knew?

Get to the practical stuff:

Myth: The best way to get more done is to work more hours.Emergency_Hopelessness

Reality: The better way to work is to build in intermittent periods of renewal.

Physiologically, human beings are designed to pulse: 90-minutes of spending energy, followed by a period of renewal for the next go round.

Schwartz says you need to work with, not against, this cycle. You’ve heard of the ultradian rhythm, right? The one that divides sleep cycles into 90-minute chunks? Well, this guy says your body has a similar rhythm during the day.

He warns that we’re not meant to operate the way that our digital devices do: at high speeds, continuously, running multiple programs. And yet that’s our current standard of productivity.CrashTestDummy

“Unfortunately, [breaks are] often seen as ‘slacking’ and looked down upon. But look at professional athletes. They recognize that renewal and recovery of energy are as important to success and performance as the spending of energy.”

He recommends working in 90-minutes sessions throughout the day, with breaks between. At first these breaks may need to be longer; however, as with training any muscle, your brain will be able to regain energy quicker as it becomes more fit, resulting in shorter breaks over time.

CreativeBrainMyth: It’s the number of tasks we’re capable of juggling simultaneously that determines how productive we are.

Reality: We’re much most efficient when we do things one at a time, fully absorbed, sequentially.

The more we try to do, over an extended, uninterrupted period of time, the less attention we’re paying to any of it. Therefore: more time + more multitasking = less productive.

Still not convinced?

Even if the following claim is marginally true, the implications are pretty staggering:

“You are increasing the amount of time it will take to finish a task by an average of 25% every time you move from that primary activity to another one.”

That not only affects the quantity of work you do, but it also affects:

  • the quality of that work.
  • the focus you can put toward it.
  • the sense of purpose you derive from it.

Here are some brain “fitness” exercises to help you break the multitasking mindset:

  • See how long can you go without checking email.
  • Take an hour or two to think creatively, without interruption or a specific goal in mind.
  • Take 30 seconds to breathe deep and quiet your mind.

“Live life as a sprinter, not a marathoner. Find a nice balance of spending energy and recovering energy. When you’re engaged, be fully engaged. When you’re recovering and renewing, truly renew. Stop living in the uncomfortable, unproductive, and ultimately unhappy grey zone in between.”


What do you think of Schwartz’s theory? Have you tried it (or think you will)?

Now that I’m mindful of it, I do notice a difference between the mindsets. If nothing else, the promise of having a break on the horizon seems to adequately “trick” my brain into getter more done in the time allowed.

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