Want to be more productive during your day or week? Who doesn't. Well, you can do what some of the world's most successful people do -- wake up at that ungodly hour of 4 a.m.

If that's not your cup of tea (I couldn't pull it off beyond a few days myself), know this: To become more productive, first master the principle of managing yourself wisely.

Notice I didn't say "manage your time." We all wake up in the morning with the same exact number of hours, minutes, and seconds in a day. We can't control time. As it ticks away, it's gone, never to be reclaimed again.

But here's what we can do, which is very much within our control.

The Trick: Intervals

The predominant concept known as "interval training" used by top athletes and Olympic medalists for decades can now help busy entrepreneurs and ordinary folk do a lot more in less time. Allow me to have two experts in the field of human performance explain.

As Stulberg tells Science of Us, behavior scientist K. Anders Ericsson discovered in the 1990's that what separates great performers -- musicians, artists, chess players, even physicians -- from everyone else was not that they practiced more than their peers. Rather, "it's how they practice: with full attention, focused on high-quality work, and in chunks of 60 to 90 minutes separated by short breaks. In other words, interval training."

In their research, Stulberg and Magness found plenty of evidence that adopting an interval-based approach to productivity isn't just for gifted artists, jocks, docs, and other brainy types. It can transform the workplace as well.

The Secret Sauce for Optimum Productivity

The Draugiem Group, an international social-networking company, discovered that its star employees preferred a work routine where "they spent, on average, 52 minutes engrossed in their work, took a 17-minute break, and then returned to their work," says Stulberg.

Tech writer Julia Gifford documented the study while working for The Draugiem Group. She wrote in The Muse,

Using time-tracking and productivity app DeskTime , we've been able to pinpoint the working flow that leads to that incredible ability to get things done. Turns out, what the most productive 10 percent of our users have in common is their ability to take effective breaks. Specifically, the most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes before getting back to it (similar to the Pomodoro Method). The employees with the highest productivity ratings, in fact, don't even work eight-hour days. Turns out, the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer--but working smarter with frequent breaks. The reason the most productive 10 percent of our users are able to get the most done during the comparatively short periods of working time is that their working times are treated as sprints. They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.

Kosio Angelov, founder of High Performance Lifestyle and Amazon bestselling author of The Lean Email Simple System, proposes his own "50-10-50-30 Energy Management Strategy" to keep your energy and focus high throughout the day:

  • Step 1: 50 minutes of timed focus on one task at full speed.
  • Step 2: 10 minutes of relaxation to restore your mental and physical energy. Get up and walk around, stretch, and drink lots of water. No email or tech. Disconnect completely. .
  • Step 3: 50 minutes of timed focus. One task only. No distractions. Set the timer and pedal to the metal.
  • Step 4: 30 minutes of relaxation. Same rules as before, but add in some healthy food as well.
  • Step 5: Start over. The main goal is to take short sprints of work/focus time, followed by a mandatory break.


Stulberg says more companies across all industries are now following suit with the same amazing results: Regardless of job type, repeating cycles of intense, highly focused work followed by short breaks seem to produce the best performance.

And the reason for the recent success of these companies is the same reason why top athletes have succeeded for so long: Intervals stave off both physical and mental fatigue, allowing people to work better for longer over the course of a day.