Distraction or a lack of focus is one of the biggest challenges facing us in a world that constantly wants our immediate attention. Technology can be both a blessing and a curse. My own struggles to concentrate have led me to do a bit of research over the past few years on how to improve my concentration levels at work. The 90-minute rule is probably the most influential nugget of information that has helped me to focus and to be more productive. I read about it in a book on productivity called ‘Be Excellent at Anything’ by Tony Schwartz.
Research indicates that during the day our levels of concentration fluctuate from higher to lower alertness during 90 minute periods. As we near the end of the 90-minute cycle our levels of concentration begin to wane and we experience indicators such as physical restlessness, greater irritability and wandering attention. Instead of heeding these warning signs most of us either try to keep our attention going with stimulants such as coffee and sugary foods, or just push through regardless despite diminishing effectiveness in our work. A study by Ericsson showed that the top violinists in the study never practice for longer than 90 minutes. Other research into top performers in other fields such as chess, sport and scientific research similarly indicate that these performers intuitively work to this 90-minute rule.
The most effective way to use the 90-minute rule is to break your day up into 90-minute chunks of focused work (also referred to as ‘chunking’). During these periods try as far as possible to switch off your email, take no phone calls and to focus completely on the task at hand. Give yourself refresher breaks in-between these intense focus periods (have a snack or meal, an exercise session, or read something relaxing). Note that a refresher break is not reading email or surfing the internet! It should require movement and a change of scenery.
After reading about the 90-minute rule I decided to put it into practice. I have been amazed at how effectively it has enabled me to focus and to achieve far more in a shorter period of time than previously. The beauty of the 90-minute rule is that it enables you to ‘hyperfocus’, to be completely in the here and now. There is something incredibly energising about this level of focus. Contrary to popular thinking, our minds are not wired for multi-tasking (yes, even us women!). The 90-minute rule enables you to focus fully on the task at hand and to therefore give it your best. In return you feel more engaged, more stimulated and happier with the quality of work you have done.
I challenge you to try the 90-minute rule in the next week or two. Let me know how it has worked for you!