How to Use The Ultradian Rhythm to Improve Focus and Get More Done

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I might be the laziest writer around. Or so I used to think. I’d wake up bursting with energy, a huge to-do list in hand, ready to conquer the day. But without fail, within two hours the yawns would start, my focus would scatter, and a thick mental fog would roll in. Turns out there is a scientific name for my perceived laziness – and it’s called the ultradian rhythm. As you must have guessed, it’s not really laziness. It’s just how my body works and how yours does too. Understanding this natural cycle will help you boost your focus and get more done as against several productivity habits. Let’s dive in!

Understanding The Ultradian Rhythm

Think of the ultradian rhythm as your body’s internal productivity timer. It works on a roughly 90-120 minute cycle, switching between periods of high focus and alertness, followed by a period of lower energy and rest. Unlike your circadian rhythm, which tells you when to sleep and wake, the ultradian rhythm dictates how you feel throughout the day.

The ultradian cycle has two phases; the high phase and the low phase.

  • The High Phase: This is your productivity powerhouse! Your brain is alert, focused, and ready to tackle demanding tasks. It’s like that sweet spot after your first coffee (but without the jitters).
  • The Low Phase: This is when your brain and body naturally need to recharge. Think of it as the mid-afternoon slump when those emails seem far less urgent. Don’t fight it – this is your body’s way of saying “take a breather!”

How Ultradian Rhythms Impact Focus and Productivity


Remember how my mornings used to go? All that energy and enthusiasm, then boom – mental fog. Turns out, I was fighting against my ultradian rhythm, not my inherent laziness. For maximum personal productivity, the way we work has to be in tune with our natural energy flow, or we’ll keep hitting those productivity brick walls.

So what do you do?

Identify your ultradian high phases. This is when your brain is firing on all cylinders, making it the ideal time for:

  • Deep Work: Tackle your most challenging projects or complex problems.
  • Creativity: Brainstorm, write, problem-solve – those “aha!” moments are more likely to happen now.
  • Laser-Focus Tasks: Anything that demands your full concentration goes here.

When the energy drains, it doesn’t mean it’s time to check Instagram (well, not only). However, trying to power through leads to focus debt – that scattered feeling where work takes twice as long, but with half the quality. So use this period to recharge or do lighter less-intensive brain tasks.

Other Benefits of the Ultradian Rhythm

Beyond focus and productivity, the ultradian rhythm can also help you experience

  • Less Stress: Regular breaks prevent that overwhelmed, always-behind feeling.
  • Boosted Creativity: Letting your mind wander during low phases can spark awesome ideas.
  • Improved Mood: Feeling in control of your energy, rather than at its mercy, boosts morale.

Picture this: Instead of feeling frazzled all day, you have bursts of productive energy interspersed with intentional rest. You get stuff done and still have mental fuel left at the end. That’s the power of ultradian rhythms! But how does it really work?

The Science Behind The Ultradian Rhythm

Our brains are dynamic, ever-shifting systems – and this is the root of the ultradian rhythm. Scientists are still uncovering the full intricacies of the ultradian rhythm and how it interacts with our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycles), mood, and overall well-being. While everyone has an ultradian rhythm, exact timing and intensity can differ slightly from person to person. 

Generally, here’s a breakdown of what’s happening behind the scenes:

  • Brain Regions in the Spotlight: Key players include the prefrontal cortex (focus, decision-making) and the reticular activating system (regulates alertness). Activity levels within these regions rise and fall throughout the ultradian cycle.
  • The Role of Neurotransmitters: Fluctuations of neurotransmitters like dopamine (involved in motivation and reward) and norepinephrine (linked to alertness and focus) directly influence how energized and mentally sharp we feel.
  • It’s All Connected: These brain changes don’t happen in isolation. Think of the ultradian rhythm as a complex dance between brain activity and neurochemistry. These shifts create the distinct peaks and valleys in energy and focus we experience throughout the day.

(Want to delve more into the science? Check this article out)

My Ultradian Rhythm Work Method

Here’s how I deploy the ultradian cycle so I can get more done:

  • I harness my ultradian high phases by breaking them into Pomodoros (25-minute blocks of deep focus). This works for me for two reasons:
    • Natural Alignment: These shorter bursts match my peak energy periods perfectly.
    • Task Breakdown: Even large projects feel more manageable when tackled in smaller, focused chunks.
  • During these focus blocks, distractions are banned! No email, no Slack – just me and the task at hand.
  • Next, I take a quick 5-minute recharge break. These aren’t about zoning out, but proactive resets:
    • Quick Admin: I catch up on emails and messages. This keeps my focus time interruption-free.
    • Body Boost: I step away from my desk, stretch, and move a little. It’s amazing how refreshing this is, both mentally and physically.
  • After about 90 minutes (roughly three of these focus cycles), I take a longer break. This could be a brisk walk, a short power nap (if I’m extra tired), or handling important messages. This recharge is vital in preparing me for my next round of focused work.

This system is my general guideline, but I listen to my body! Some days need longer focus periods, or sometimes I’ll use low phases for less demanding work. Experimentation is how you find what truly works for you.

The results? My focus is sharper, I’m getting more done, and I feel far less burned out by the end of the day.

Your Turn! 

The beauty of the ultradian rhythm is its adaptability. Discover the rhythm that syncs with your energy patterns and you’ll unlock a whole new level of productivity.

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4 thoughts on “How to Use The Ultradian Rhythm to Improve Focus and Get More Done”

  1. Amazing! I didn’t know there’s a name for this. I’ve noticed something similar with my body, too. When I start to work with a burst of energy and high expectations, around 9 am, I just notice something begins to happen to my body around 11 am and 12 am – dizziness and lazy-yawning.

    When I noticed that this kept recurring, I started taking a nap, instead of struggling to keep my eyes open. When I wake up, I’m always refreshed and ready to continue working.

    Thanks for sharing your strategy, too!

  2. This is the whole understanding I needed, mind to correct you though, I thought I was the laziest person on earth lolz but now that I know what it is, I’m ready to work with it and understand myself more.

    Thank you Adebayo for this information, looking forward to more.

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