Richard G. Petty, MD

The Forty-Eight Minute Hour

Every teacher and lecturer knows that the attention span of the average student is about forty five minutes. It was always said that the reason for instituting 55 minute periods in
American public schools was a response to some psychological research
into the attention spans of American teenagers. There is also an urban legend that the length of time between television commercials was driven by research that purported to show that the attention span of the “average American” was six minutes.

Though some days I wonder if attention spans are down to the one minute duration of the commerical breaks!

The very term “attention span” is imprecise and driven by multiple variables including innate ability to hold attention, mood, time of day, plasma glucose level and our level of engagement in the material before us. You can do a brief test to measure your own attention span.

For the psychoanalyst, an hour is actually only 50 minutes. In the early days of psychoanalysis it was found empirically that this was the ideal duration of a psychotherapeutic session. It just so happened that it also gave the therapist time to decompress before the next session.

Several months ago I revealed that I have a “problem” called hyperfocus. It was my own chiropractor in Atlanta – Teresa Brennan – who pointed out that sitting immobile for hours at a time was not a good way to treat the spine. Exactly what I had been telling other people for years! So I installed a little free gizmo on my computer desktop that reminds me to get up and stretch every 50 minutes. And since then my productivity has soared.

So I was very pleased to see an article that strongly advocates the approach of working intensely for 48 minutes and then taking a 12 minute break before resuming work. I think that this makes very good sense, and if you are not happy with your own work habits or work output, I suggest that you give it a try.

From the psychological literature this duration seems to make sense. I also like that it introduces some balance into our work activities.

Though personally I would have preferred, perhaps, for the number to have been 42. Since that is, of course, the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (And Douglas, old friend, you are still missed.)

Or perhaps the number should have been 43.

After all, my name really is Richard Petty! (For readers outside North America: my namesake is a renowned former race car driver, but not, alas, a relative! His car was always number 43.)

Try the 48 minute approach and see if it works for you.

“Take time for all things: great haste makes great waste.”

–Benjamin Franklin (American Author, Inventor and Diplomat, 1706-1790)

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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