My 90-Minute Rule

Yesterday, I mentioned on Twitter that I was violating my 90-minute rule, and the draft I’m working on was suffering for it. The 90-minute rule is “stop working on whatever I’m doing after 90 minutes and take a break.”

The reason I have this rule is partly psychochemical — I have anxiety issues that are linked to the sort of stuff I work on, and the form that takes is that I get tired quickly due to my brain running overtime–especially when I’m editing, as I’m keeping in mind multiple reader viewpoints at once. When I hit around two hours non-stop, I poop out, and the work suffers.

Now, you might ask why not make it a two-hour rule? Because it takes far less time to take a break after 90 minutes to reset myself than it does after two hours. If I can get my brain to relax when it’s not exhausted, it’ll start again faster than if I try that once I am.

This becomes a problem when I’m on deadline, but since the reason I’m working on a project is because of my expertise and skill, I have to choose between getting something done now and have it suffer, or take the pace I need to and risk running the deadline. And since having work suffer is something that’ll haunt me & the work after publication, I end to take the second route.

But because I am, I feel guilty, which then causes me to unconsciously push myself anyway. And then I crash, which can cause me to run the deadline anyway. So it’s sort of a catch-22, but in the moment I’m not thinking about that.

This is something I’ve spent years coming to terms with. I am not as fast as many of my peers, which frustrates me. And I suspect I never will be, because of how my brain is wired. (And this is with taking anti-anxiety medication, which is necessary for me to work at all now[1].)

Thus, much like eating lunch, this is one of those rules that exists for the purpose of making me a more production & healthier creative. But it’s something that’s easy to space on, which is why it’s an explicit rule I try to follow.

– Ryan

[1] As crippling headaches come are a constant when I’m not on medication.


One Response to My 90-Minute Rule

  1. Jess Banks says:

    It’s great that you’re aware of your limitations, and observe them for the most part; everyone has to push through sometimes. The 90 min vs 2 hrs isn’t just your own thing–it’s a medically proven fact. I had to learn about the body’s natural rest cycles for my pain management stuff. If something makes you feel like you’re a little winded from exertion, it takes 20 min to recover. If something makes you feel fatigued, it’ll take 45 min to recover. And if something leaves you exhausted, it’s a minimum of 2 hours to recover (though for people like me, you’re pretty much done for the day). The more you push through those natural cycles, the longer the recovery time when your body finally takes you down forcibly. If you can even just put a 5-min mini-break every 30 min, you may find you can focus more easily for longer, if need be.