"Stress is cumulative… You can either make time to rest and rejuvenate now, or make time to be sick and injured later.” - James Clear
In the middle of my most difficult struggle with productivity, I was really bad at one thing: rest. I would wake up early in the morning and work from home. After getting my family settled for the morning, I would go off to work from 8 am to 6 pm.
My only breaks throughout the day were to get water and go to the bathroom. No lunch. No other breaks. Only work. Then I would go home and spend some half-hearted time with my family. I put my daughters to bed, and then I would work from 7 pm to 10 pm while my wife watched TV.
I would do this Monday through Friday and sometimes work on the weekends. It seemed as though I would never get caught up. No matter how much time I spent working, it just wouldn't seem to matter.
And so I resigned myself to thinking I couldn’t rest. When I started to truly believe this, I started to experience the physical manifestations of stress: panic attacks, muscle and joint pain, headaches. All of these were symptoms of how I was overworking my body.
I didn’t understand what it meant to rest or how vital it was for me to be productive. I just knew I was working myself to the brink of losing my mind.
When I physically couldn’t take it anymore , I knew something was wrong with my current state of working. I started questioning myself and my situation. Rest seemed to be important, but how could I do it?
What does it mean to rest? Why does not working help us become more productive? How do I do this and not lose precious time? Where will I find the answers to these questions? These were questions I began to ask myself in the moment I realized something was wrong.
As it turns out, I still don’t have all the answers. But I do know why it is important we rest and how to do it. It absolutely helps us become more productive at work and in life.
Naturally Occurring Requirements for Rest
What I ended up learning from my experience is how rest is a natural part of work and life. I needed to stop sacrificing rest on the altar of productivity. Many of us think we cannot take a break and must push ourselves to the sharpest edge - right up until we have some kind of mental or emotional breakdown.
But this isn’t true.
We don’t need to do this to ourselves. Rest is part of our everyday life. It is a naturally occurring cycle we need but so often deny ourselves. And it comes in the form of Ultradian Rhythms.
Ultradian Rhythms and The Basic Rest-Activity Cycle
In the 1960s, there was a psychologist by the name of Nathaniel Kreitman who, by most accounts, is the father of sleep research. He dedicated himself to understanding our sleep and how it benefits us.
During his research, he started seeing rhythms that seemed to be naturally occurring in the sleep cycle as well as during waking hours. They were ultradian rhythms. These are the natural courses of how our body experiences and performs during rest and activity.
He found an apparent natural cycle which he called the basic rest-activity cycle. The premise is that we have basic cycling of rest and activity, specifically a focus on activity levels for about 90 minutes before our body naturally wants to rest.
He first noticed this in his sleep research, however, he expanded his studies to awake hours and found it to be true during this time, too.
Most people today have these natural cycles occurring every 60 to 120 minutes. It is during this time that we are able to do exceptional work before we need to take a break and rest our minds.
And when we learn to take advantage of this naturally occurring rhythm, we can begin to experience less stress and more energy in our productivity. But how do we take advantage of these natural occurring rhythms?
The Pomodoro Technique
In the 1980s, Franesco Cirillo, one of the modern productivity gurus of our day, developed a technique to take advantage of ultradian rhythms. He coined it the Pomodoro Technique after the Italian word for tomato, the shape of the kitchen timer he used in college to help him with productivity.
The foundation of his technique describes using a kitchen timer to keep track of the time one needs to do specific tasks. He would pick his tasks, set the timer for 25 minutes, and then get to work. Once the timer went off, he would take a 3-5 minute break before going back to work. He would repeat this process four times and then take a full 15-30 minute break.
He would divide his day into smaller sections in an effort to complete his work with an emphasis on focus and timeliness. The goal was to increase workflow and reduce interruptions during his most productive periods.
Why not give this approach a try? How can you schedule rest to be part of your regular rhythms?