The New York Times has described a phenomenon often associated with a certain billionaire entrepreneur and media personality (in the US at least): sleep-deprived road warriors en route to joining the digital revolution. And the symptoms are all there—at the beginning of your day, struggling to get through emails, and juggling other obligations when you finally manage to clamber into bed at night.
“The internet has made us feel like we have a one-minute gap in the day when we should be sleeping,” says Anne Spitzner, a management professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. But this isn’t true. “You can actually get so much accomplished in that one-minute gap in the day.”
The period is called the “peronsal productivity zone,” Spitzner explains, and it comes from the 1960s, when researcher Gary Zukav came up with the phrase “Peronsal principle” (pdf) to illustrate how many working hours could be easily offset by a proper schedule. He suggested employees take two “peronsal” minutes to themselves every hour.
Spitzner uses Zukav’s research to explain how you can get much accomplished within that one-minute gap. For instance, she cites a paper that mentions working one hour at a four-hour interval during your day, compared to working the entire day in one long eight-hour stint, increasing the total hours by 40%. When it comes to projects in which time is of the essence, she says, “the closer you get to an actionable timeline, the more productive you are.”
To achieve this, she gives a good example in a recent book she wrote (pdf): that time between 8am and 9am on a Monday morning, before kids (and perhaps a few unplanned visitors) arrive for the day. Spitzner says she had been a busy kid herself, and looked forward to some time after the middle school day of reckoning was over. So she and her husband, John, decided to create a “calendar radical” (a planner without a number; rather, it functions as a rough outline of future information for all days) and carve a time on the sheet of paper every morning and schedule it. They call it “the session”. It’s a happy coincidence that early in their marriage, John’s attorney, architect, and forester were out on a job together doing a square-meter measuring of a building and wall design for the development in Manhattan. “I went with him on every single measurement. I learned a lot from them.”
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