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Top performers work in bursts and take frequent breaks.

One of the most influential studies of human performance, conducted by professor K. Anders Ericsson, found that elite performers need 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to reach levels of greatness. While this finding sparked a debate about the role of natural talent versus countless hours of practice, another element was all but missed.

Professor Ericsson’s studies of elite performers — including musicians, athletes, actors, and chess players — also reveal how resting more can maximize achievement. He found that the top performers in each of these fields typically practice in focused sessions lasting no longer than 90 minutes. The best performers work in bursts. They take frequent breaks to avoid exhaustion and ensure they can recover completely. This allows them to keep going the next day.

Working on a task too long can actually decrease your performance. To avoid this, work in bursts, take regular breaks, and make sure you get enough sleep to be productive.

For direct links to any studies referenced in this article, see the Eat Move Sleep Reference Explorer application. Adapted from the book Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes by Tom Rath (Missionday, 2013).