You Need To Use Ultradian Rhythms To Maximize Your Day

Everyone wants to hack their routines to ensure that they can get the most things done in the least amount of time. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, society, especially the workforce, does seem to put more of an emphasis on doing rather than being, leading to a burnt-out and overworked culture. 

While I adore trying these productive routines and seeing which elements work for me, I understand that the unrealistic pressure to wake up at five in the morning and get all your lists finished for the day can be daunting and somewhat toxic. 

So, when I see a productivity routine that emphasizes natural rhythms and rest, I want to try it because it’s such a healthy way to go about life, rather than doing everything as fast and efficiently as you can.

What are Ultradian Rhythms?

Whether you know what they are by name or not, most of your life is naturally dictated by these rhythms. If you’ve ever been discouraged when you’re following a routine because of its rigidity and inability to match your schedule, using ultradian rhythms might help you stay on-task without ruining your natural rhythm. 

We all know what a circadian rhythm is and how it determines our sleep habits, but an ultradian rhythm determines the way we function when we’re awake. 

The hard truth is that our bodies aren’t built to be going and working constantly. This doesn’t even mean that we ought to rest during the weekends or actually take our vacation days; this just means that during our 9-5s (or however long your workdays is), we still need to take breaks. When we try to follow rigid routines that don’t allow for those necessary breaks, our bodies’ natural energy often doesn’t keep up with them, thus causing us to ‘fail’ at something our body was never intended to do.

How to Create Ultradian Rhythms

Ph.D. researcher Ernest Rossi found that the optimal routine that our bodies crave is 90 minutes of activity followed by 20 minutes of rest. Something to note is that he didn’t suggest 90 minutes of computer work, exercise, or house chores. He simply labeled it activity. This means that during those 90 minutes allotted for activity, you can do any of those outlined above, but this could also be the time you talk with a friend, play on your phone, or even watch tv. That’s activity. The 20 minutes of rest are meant to be spent doing nothing. You can meditate, nap, or just breathe, but this is not the time to doomscroll on your phone or call your mom to catch up with her. Save those tasks for the next 90 minutes and start learning how to turn your brain off. 

Examples of Ultradian Rhythms Throughout The Day

So now that we know what ultradian rhythms are, it’s important to know how to allow them to dictate your day and direct you toward a more restful life.

Look at your tasks and make sure that one task won’t stretch for more than 90 minutes. I know that a 90-minute time frame can sometimes be impossible for some tasks, but if you find yourself faced with that problem, break the task up into bite-sized pieces and tackle as many of those pieces within the 90 minutes as you can. 

Take a break after each 90-minute section is over. During this break time, you can practice light exercises, if that’s how you relax, like yoga or walking. You can also try to focus on breathwork or guided meditations. Just avoid doing small tasks or working at all throughout this time.

Morning Admin

Start your day by replying to emails and making to-do lists and divide them up into 90-minute increments. This act will also help you establish your priorities for the day.

Prioritize Concentration Tasks

We all know the negative effect the afternoon slump can have on us, so try to finish the tasks that require the most focus and creativity early in the day. Accomplishing a substantial task before lunchtime will also build a sense of momentum and set the mood for the rest of the day.

Leave the Passive Tasks

We all have tasks that aren’t as high-pressure and don’t require too much brain energy. End your day by doing these. This time can be used to research future projects or plan out your next day. 

Wrap it Up

There’s no need to rush at the tail-end of the day, so make time to tie up any loose ends you might have left at work or just to get your brain and space organized for the next day.

My Week

@jessicanicolewahl Ultradian Rhythm, not to be confused with circadian rhythms! #growth #wellness #health #healthcoach ♬ The Banjo Beat, Pt. 1 – Ricky Desktop

This was a little harder to get into than I thought it would be. Because our bodies somewhat naturally follow ultradian rhythms already, I thought it would be natural and normal to work in 90-minute segments. I was incorrect. Just like with any habit or way of life, when you work a certain way, it’s hard to get out of that routine. 

There were some days when I would pause a task halfway through to take my break, and during my break, I would only think about the task. It’s also very difficult to look at everything you have to do in a day and put them into columns and time block them into 90-minute sections. 

That being said, I started every morning this week with a clear focus and purpose. My to-do list was more organized than it’s ever been, and I was able to finish a number of tasks that seemed too small and annoying to do in the past. But when I was trying to fill in the last 10-20 minutes of my 90-minute activity time, they were a great option.

My Results

As I continued to block out my 90 minutes of work and section tasks off for certain periods of the day, it became much more natural. There were days when I worked for 100 minutes and there were days when I worked for 45 minutes. 

On the days when I had overscheduled myself, I gave myself grace and really tried to honor my 20 minutes of resting time. On the days when there weren’t as many things to do, I still gave myself grace and tried to knock out a few of the smaller tasks I had been avoiding. 

Are ultradian rhythms the end-all-be-all productivity hack? No, but I do feel like I was able to accomplish more during this week than I have for a while, and I feel as though I was able to give myself more grace throughout the week.


Have you ever heard of ultradian rhythms before? Are you going to use them in your routine now? Comment below!

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