If you are anything like me, it sometimes feels immensely satisfying to burn the midnight oil up until all hours, 2am, 3am—even 4am. That mental push to force output up against a deadline—or you’re on a roll and ideas align, breakthroughs peek through at the peripherals, your energy feels focused, fixated on pounding out plans, concepts and strategies that are seemingly brilliant. You ride the flow, pinballing around your body as you surge ahead, running on fumes.

Your output could very well be brilliant—a new chapter in your novel or a business idea like a self-driving tiny-house. Rest assured that if you are one of the 38 resident companies or one of the 200 co-workers that call tekMountain home, you have 24-access to the office, so burn away.

In an effort to re-calibrate post burn-session, you may attempt to sleep approximately seven to nine hours per night, soak up some sun to boost the body’s vitamin D supply, try to eat mindfully, sweat through those burpees in our 6am bootcamp class, share a chuckle or two with your co-workers to relieve stress, you remember that your efficiency can drop as much as 40% when you’re multitasking—but then you’re slammed at work with 68 new emails to respond to, 2.5 fires to put out and then, sleep-deprived and hangry, you make a “decision” to eat cereal for dinner for a week.

Only 56% of employees feel physically energized at work. Consider this: are you of the bright-eyed/bushy-tailed 56%? Or the sluggish, exhausted, depleted 44%?

It’s not about the hours, it’s about the energy

“The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story.” Tony Schwartz, author, Harvard Business Review contributor, CEO and founder of The Energy Project states that that when we are in-tune with all our rituals and behaviors, we can better manage our energy to transform our lives. He defines energy as “…the capacity to work, energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit.” Schwartz strongly states, that the act of “recharging” ourselves brings with it the extra responsibility for individuals to first, recognize the costs of energy-depleting behaviors and then take the actions to change them.

Why you can’t “biologically” beat energy-depleting behaviors

One common energy-depleting behavior—you guessed it— is doing one activity for long uninterrupted periods of time (like working). The next time you try to pull an all nighter without breaks, consider biology. According to Nathaniel Kleitman, groundbreaking sleep researcher, that for most tasks, we can only work for 90-120 minutes before we need a break.

Kleitman found that this 90-minute cycle, called the “basic rest-activity cycle” is ever present during sleep as well as wakefulness. You are undoubtedly familiar with sleep cycles, the progressive shift through five stages of sleep, but Kleitman’s research also observed that our bodies operate during the same 90 minute rhythm during the day, as we move from higher to lower alertness—the ultradian rhythm. Depending on the task, you may be able to extend that 90-minute working session to 120 if you’re truly in a flow. But when brain fog descends, biologically speaking, you need to take a break.

Establish specific rituals and behaviors to renew your energy & spur productivity

We at tekMountain and CastleBranch are committed to encouraging our work communities’ improved health, well-being and productivity. It’s no secret that prolonged sitting is bad for you. In order to combat that finding, we support our vibrant community of workers to walk it out, take breaks, soak in some Vitamin D or read on their lunch break—or take an exercise class at our full-service gym, just one of our many competitive benefits if you join our ever-expanding tech and innovation ecosystem as a full-time employee, resident entrepreneur or bonafide co-worker.

The entrepreneur Murray Newlands, founder of Due, an online invoicing and time tracking service had a splendid idea—why not put his own office to the test with a certain ritual, and measure the results to see if productivity is impacted? He had come across a Stanford study which found that creative thinking improves while a person is walking. Newlands tasked his office (if physically able) to take two 15-minute walks per day, no phones allowed. He conducted the “ritual” for 30 days. The result was a quantifiable jump in productivity of 30 percent.

What rituals and behaviors do you intentionally practice? Do you meditate? Read a book for thirty minutes a day? Take a full hour lunch? Or a 15-minute power walk around the parking lot? Or like Steve Wanner, partner at Ernst & Young, sit down with his family for breakfast on a daily basis? Maybe you can commit to stretch and/or move 30 minutes during your lunch break for one month?

Work in “sprint”  intervals to foster motivation, unleash creativity

And if you are of the “powering-through” variety, consider cutting down your work sessions to 120 minutes if you feel exhausted, depleted or spent. Or try the gold-standard 90-minutes, like Schwartz, who wrote a book in under six months in 90-minute intervals.

Or, some swear by the Pomodoro technique to improve their attention span and heighten their productivity—a simple tracking system invented by developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. This method suggests the individual work in 25-minute increments (“pomodoros”), with short 3-5 minute breaks in between. The short bursts of intense energy (sprints) followed by cyclical rewards (in the form of breaks) help keep the worker motivated and on-point, according to Lifehacker. For more on this technique, check out Productivity 101: A Primer to The Pomodoro Technique.

The more we all attempt to establish rituals that are regularly scheduled, the more we encourage others by being a power of example. Imagine how it would feel to have these habits automatically ingrained in our routines—what we can then accomplish together?

Daydreaming is key to cultivate maximum output

Last tip: consider the work habits of Leonardo da Vinci, the painter, sculptor, architect, inventor, military engineer and draftsman—the epitome of a “Renaissance man.” According to Schwartz,

“While working on The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci regularly took off from painting for several hours at a time and seemed to be daydreaming aimlessly. Urged by his patron, the prior of Santa Maria delle Grazie, to work more continuously, da Vinci is reported to have replied, immodestly but accurately, ‘The greatest geniuses accomplish more when they work less.”

Last tip: daydream a little, resident geniuses.

The current series of blogs are about how to increase productivity & focus. We at tekMountain are dedicated to contributing to the dynamic conversation serving the wider business community. We are actively cultivating a culture of collaboration, dialogue, resource-sharing and brain breaks. We’d love to hear your strategies, tips and tools you use to keep on track and in the zone. Tweet at us, or leave comments on this blog or LinkedIn.


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumAmanda SipesBill DiNome, and Zach Cioffi with lead writer Beth Roddy.

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