Rest + Routine + Rhythm Series – Part III: Rhythm
Welcome back to our three-part series, Rest + Routine + Rhythm! It’s our prescription for living a healthy, creative, and fulfilled life. So far, we’ve looked at the importance of rest and routine in our work and everyday lives. In this final installment, we turn our attention to the sometimes mysterious but ever-present concept of rhythm. It’s not just for musicians and athletes—finding your rhythm and flow at work and in life can boost creativity, productivity, and happiness.
Thanks to Gloria Estefan (hello, poof!), we all know the rhythm’s gonna getcha! Luckily, that’s not as scary as it sounds. Rhythm is inherent in everyone (unless you’re this ’90s icon) and vital to most activities—even ones that have nothing to do with movement and timing. Like Steph Curry getting into a rhythm before draining a three, we can find rhythm in our everyday lives and benefit from it.
The Man in Black said it best when he sang, “If you get the blues, get rhythm!” Rhythm isn’t just used in disciplines like music, art, design, and sports, however. We all have internal and external rhythms we can use. It’s something that can be cultivated, but not always how you’d think. To apply rhythm in our lives, we must have an understanding of our body’s natural rhythms and how to work with them.
In the ’50s, sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that the human body cycles through 90- to 120-minute periods of rest and activity. At night, these correspond to the stages of sleep. In the daytime, they relate to cycles of levels of alertness and energy. Heart rate, hormonal levels, muscle tension, and brain-wave activity all increase during the first part of the cycle and as they wane, we begin to need rest. The key is to follow the organic pattern of your body’s rhythm and the task with synchronicity. Don’t regard the job as just something to be completed; instead, follow its natural progression to the end.
In a study that spawned the notion of the 10,000-hour rule (an Oprah fave), K. Anders Ericsson observed young violinists and their practice habits. The most successful musicians followed the rhythms of their alertness cycles. The pattern he found in top performers was focus, rest, and then focus at 90-minute intervals. The best didn’t practice for four-and-a-half hours a day, but for three with a 90-minute break in between.
HUSTLE & FLOW
A hip-hop MC uses unique rhythm or cadence to develop a stylistic flow. In the same manner, we can encourage flow at work by developing productive rhythms and listening to our body’s cadence. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the term “flow” as a mental state. He describes flow as being fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Flow results in a state of complete focus to the point the individual is unaware of his or her sense of space and time. Sounds like a pretty good state of mind for working, huh?
One of the reasons we love coworking is the atmosphere, which is vital to flow. Environments like ours here at CAST are designed to be conducive to flow, but the physical surroundings are just part of an atmosphere. Working around others enhances flow because rhythm is contagious and synchronous. Rhythm and flow aren’t products of force; rather, they’re obtained by becoming comfortable in your surroundings and inspired by others.
Now that we’ve found the right place, the next step is identifying and developing personal characteristics and routines to increase the experiences of flow. Some are born with it—according to one study, drummers are natural intellectuals. The study shows a correlation between a high aptitude for rhythm and scoring better on problem-solving exercises. These characteristics come naturally for some, but anyone can identify and hone them. Csikszentmihalyi points to three conditions for achieving rhythm and flow at work:
- Clearly defined goals
- Immediate feedback
- Balance between opporunity and capacity
With increased occurrences of flow under these circumstances, we experience what Csikszentmihalyi calls “growth towards complexity.” Achievement brings with it the development of increasing "emotional, cognitive, and social complexity."
‘THE RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT’ … AND DAY, WEEK, AND MONTH
Coworking can be conducive to finding your rhythm and flow, but the freedom it allows can work both ways. When used correctly, flexibility with your work schedule can be productive—if you keep yourself accountable. Following a whim to take the day off for Taco Tuesday and half-price margaritas is fun, but it’s not going to get things done. Following your internal rhythms can, however. Enjoying flexible schedules but still adhering to work rhythms can keep us grounded through repetition.
Finding an optimal routine by following your internal rhythms is key. Schedule your time around when you’re most productive. Consider your unique creative rhythm: How do you work best on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis? Sound difficult? It’s not, and we’re here to help with daily, weekly, and monthly recommendations for finding your rhythm at work!
- Daily Rhythm: The trick for a daily rhythm is finding a structure and routine that allows you to not only use your time best, but one that focuses on your preferences. Do you like to check your emails right off the bat, or do you need that time to focus on larger projects? Either is fine, as long as you’re being honest about when you do a task the best. Don’t procrastinate; take care of things at the times most optimal for you.
- Weekly Rhythm: Weeks have their own cadence—from ramping up and catching up on Monday to wrapping up on Friday. Maybe you need Wednesday afternoons to step away and evaluate where you are for the week. Understanding the work week’s natural cadence and planning around it can help you accomplish tasks and projects in stride.
- Monthly Rhythm: Be realistic here. Please, for your own sanity! Likely, you can handle one major project in a month. We’re talking big projects here. You’re more likely to get more done in a month if you plan for less. That may seem counter-intuitive, but when we focus on one major task we’re much better at accomplishing it at a high level—it’s our natural rhythm. Outside obligations are another thing to consider. We at Cast love our weekends on the trails or trivia nights at the local brew pub (shout out to team Wrong Imo’s!), but it’s important that these activities fall into our pace, so we don’t fall out of rhythm. Rhythm is pace, and it’s important that we pace ourselves when it comes to commitments. Otherwise, they go unfulfilled.
REST + ROUTINE + RHYTHM = A BETTER YOU
Thank you for helping us delve into the rest-routine-rhythm equation! We hope you learned as much as we did and maybe have even begun to implement some of the advice already. All three work together and by becoming aware of how they affect us and how we can use them, we can become more productive and happier by the day.
BY SEAMUS MCKENZIE
03 • 13 • 2019