Business of Men

90/20: How to work 10 hours less and get more done


Evolution is nature’s way of adapting to the needs and behaviours of a species which is why none of us should be surprised to see children born with enormous hands and eyes that filter out blue light.

There is no longer an off switch. Content is always on, ready to be delivered. Our phones are always on. The lights are always on. Eventually evolution will adapt to this but it’ll probably take millions of years and with human productivity going the way it is we’ll probably be slaves to the robots by then. Just kidding.

The answer to being unproductive seems to be to work longer and whilst it’s easy to blame employers for making us work longer we really only have ourselves to blame for two key reasons:

  • We set our own expectations for how many hours we spend in the office.
  • By never switching off we make it acceptable to make and receive calls/emails at all hours.

Too much work is a bad thing

Starting earlier and staying later is not the right response to falling productivity – in most cases it actually causes us to be less productive. The answer to improving productivity is to WORK LESS!

Yup, you head right. WORK LESS. We’re going to keep saying this until you know it, your boss knows it and your boss’s boss knows it. WORK LESS.

When you work too hard (yes that is actually possible) your productivity is affected. You can no more function at the same level for 12 hours than you can run at the same speed for 12 hours so stop working longer hours thinking you get more done. Okay, maybe you get more done but don’t for one second think it is work of the quality you are capable of.

So, working less – well, productivity can actually be improved by working fewer hours and taking advantage of our natural cycles of activity. Sleep studies conducted in the 1950s discovered REM sleep. Further studies resulted in something called the ultradian rhythm – the cycle of neural rest-activity we experience throughout the night as we move from light to deep sleep (on repeat until we wake up).

You may think you know what we’re going to say that you need to sleep more, well that is proven to boost productivity, but that’s not what this article is about. This article is about working smart. By working smart you work less but get more done and it is all about the relevance of ultradian rhythms to our work days.

What we can learn from sleep

Scientists found that REM and the basic rest-activity cycle of 90 minutes is present when we are awake too. There’s a really long explanation for it but in short, our brains function best in 90 minutes bursts. Your body knows this and does its best to send you signals such as:

  • Hunger (hours before or after normal meal times)
  • Fidgetiness
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of concentration
  • Struggling to think of simple works or recall fine details on command

This is your body telling you it needs a break. Most people just ignore it or misinterpret the signal and go looking for a caffeine, sugar or carbs boost which often causes your body to create stress hormones. These chemicals being released by your brain often slow you down more which forces you to work late to get something finished.

Save 10 hours a week with 90/20

If you learn to implement a system of 90 minutes of working followed by 20 minutes of rest – just switching off, tuning out or getting some exercise – you could save up to 10 hours a week without doing less work. Our bodies can only cope with bursts of activity lasting no more than 90 minutes at a time so the trick is to maximise your output during that time.

You work nonstop for 90 minutes and then you take a break of at least 20 minutes. The 20 minutes you spend resting will not be a waste of time because the energy you regain during that period will allow you to work at a more productive and consistent level for the next 90. If you’re working 10-12 hour days with few breaks it is likely you’ll be working at 70% on average (and that’s being generous). That’s the equivalent of 7 hours of work at 100%.

Working in 90 minute bursts followed by 20 minutes of rest would allow you to work 7.5 hours at 100% in 8.5 works hours. You’d get more done in less time and your day would look something like this:

  • 00am – Period 1
  • 30am – Rest
  • 50am – Period 2
  • 20am – Rest
  • 40am – Period 3
  • 10pm – Lunch (take the full hour! Eat something, get some exercise, zone out)
  • 10pm – Period 4
  • 40pm – Rest
  • 00pm – Period 5
  • 30pm – Home

Time spent in the office 8.5 hours not including lunch. That’s 2 hours a day saved and you did the same amount of work but crucially it was all done at the apex of your quality. Over the week that’s 10 hours. Imagine what you could do with 10 hours. You could watch an entire season on Netflix. You could paint two mid-sized rooms. You could fly to Bangkok but it would make getting into work on Monday a bit of a drag (*insert dad joke about your arms being really tired*).

The take away from this is we should all be working for 90 minutes and then resting for 20 minutes to be at our most productive and stop Skynet from replacing us.

About Maria Bellissimo-Magrin

Attitude isn’t everything. But it sure helps.Maria Bellissimo-Magrin certainly wouldn’t have become a CEO of a full-service creative marketing agency without it. While you’ll never hear her claiming to be a creative genius, with such a fantastic team at Belgrin backing her, it doesn’t take long for her clients to start throwing this term around. That’s the power of good marketing.She started out in the industry 15 years ago and was quickly head hunted by Saatchi & Saatchi. In that time, she’s worked in Sydney, England and Bahrain. For the last eight years she’s been at the helm of Belgrin working to combine her vision and the firm’s class to create something greater and more meaningful than its parts. She’s done so well because she offers the perfect blend of design, PR and social media. Her aim? To make marketing easy, so you can spend your time on more important stuff.Her client list certainly attests to her success at that! It includes Jones Lang LaSalle, GPT Group, Colliers, Bingo Industries, Mercedes, Audi, Fiat, Ford, the list goes on. She enjoys providing answers and delivering on these, offering a support network for a company’s creative marketing requirements, and passionate clients who want to create something special. But what she truly loves and what she does it for is that gleam in a client’s eyes that tells her she’s exceeded their wildest expectations. And yes, that twinkle might not happen every day, but with her it’s a hell of a lot more common than with anybody else out there.

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