Published by Sarah Horrocks
Published on 22 January 2009

Varying tasks, taking regular breaks – you've heard it all before, but did you know that this type of sensible advice comes from chronopsychology? Chronopsychology is a type of therapy that helps us to work better and avoid burnout.


Chronopsychology is a relatively new scientific discipline. Its goal is to study the variation of physical and/or mental performance of each person during a day. Chronopsychologists are interested in our psychological rhythms: attention, memory, thinking, reaction time etc - aptitudes that depend heavily on our biological clocks.

The cycle of mental activity in a day
Everyone's attention varies according to the time of day. These mental variations are produced in a regular manner, called rhythmicity. Your graph of attention will be different if you're an early bird to that of a night owl.
- From 10am to 1pm is the best time for using your intellect, so ideal for holding important meetings and appointments. Specialists emphasize that an hour and a half spent on these is more than enough to reach maximum effectiveness.
- In the middle of the day, the brain's speed slows down, so having lunch in front of your computer or munching a sandwich while you finish a report is not the best way to be effective.
- After lunch, do tasks or activities which don’t require too much thought, like sorting the mail, filing or making phone calls.
- Between 4pm and 8pm, the brain starts performing well again. At school, the capacity of students' comprehension reaches its peak in the morning between 10.30am and 2.30pm. The two peaks in memory are located around 2pm for short term memory and around 8pm for long term memory. Of course, other factors should be taken into account such as motivation.

Why are breaks important?
The more stressed you are, the more breaks you need. The golden rule is to take a break around every 2 hours. You shouldn't take a break because you feel like one, but because it's a biological necessity to relax. Breaks maintain your levels of motivation and attention. 10 minutes is an ideal time: long enough to flick through a newspaper, make a personal phone call or and chat with friends/colleagues. Never work non-stop for ten hours - you won't be effective!

Monday mornings and Friday afternoons
It has been found that a person's psychological rhythm is very different on Mondays because of the effects of the weekend. On Friday afternoons and Monday mornings we're busy thinking about the weekend that has just passed or is on its way, and in our minds we're already/still there. No wonder it affects our performance!

Working rhythm
Many chronopsychologists object to exams that last 3 or 4 hours, as they do to spending hours in front of the TV. Adopt a non-linear rhythm: a pattern that keeps you moving around and moving from the abstract to the concrete, dreaming to reasoning. This is a simple way to be more effective but also to enjoy your work.

Did you know?
The two hemispheres of our brain do not work in a synchronised way. When the left (the analytical, rational and logical brain) is working at full speed, the right side (the synthetic, irrational and intuitive brain) slows, and vice versa. Chronopsychologists try and draw our attention to this, make us aware of it and make us alternate our activities. Organising your tasks according to this rhythm will make you more efficient.

It's all in the nose!
You can tell which hemisphere of the brain is working hardest by concentrating on your nostrils! Even when you don’t have a cold, you always have one nostril that is more blocked than the other. An American study has shown that there is a striking link between this phenomena and the cycle of the dominance of the brain hemispheres. In other words, if you notice that your right nostril is freer than the left, you are in a rational and logical phase because it communicates with the left side of your brain. If it’s your left nostril that is freer, then you are in fantasy and intuition mode!