One farmer was talking to another and said, “Did you work hard today?”
“Yep”, replied the other farmer.
“Did you get much done?”
“Nope, I just worked hard.”
If you’ve been working at all for more than a few days, you know exactly what that farmer was talking about. There is a big, big difference in working hard and getting a lot done.
There are all kinds of really good strategies for increasing your productivity, but let me share with you the best one I know.
USE THE HARD-EASY, INTERVAL APPROACH
The research is fairly conclusive for physical conditioning, using intervals or a hard-easy approach sees the best results for the least amount of time. Interval training means you go hard (run, bike, swim, lift weights, etc.) for a period of time, then ease off or rest, and then go hard again. You can vary the time of going hard and easy in a large variety of ways; each with a little bit different emphasis. This type of training has proven to improve fitness levels higher and quicker than any other type of training.
The same is true of productivity. No one, absolutely no one can go hard, staying focused all the time. Your conscious brain and your body just do not have that capacity. Yes, you can increase your ability to focus and the amount of time you can focus through practice and use. However, you must also have regular low focus, low energy times throughout the day to do your best work.
Apparently the bottom part of the brain, or the sub-conscious, never rests and does not need to. But the top part of our brain, the part that focuses on specific tasks and interactions must rest or it will lock up or shut down. You have certainly experienced that when you keep reading the same page over and over again or despite trying to focus, you just can’t.
When you give your brain break times throughout the day, the subconscious or bottom half of the brain, take the information you have been focusing on and draws connections from past experiences, other information, etc. to help you come up with fresh insights. That is why so many great ideas come when people are in the shower, taking a walk, or doing something unrelated to their project.
HIGH ENERGY, LOW ENERGY
You need to know when you are at your best during the day and then schedule your high focus, high emotional energy work for those times. List the 3 most important things to cover each day and schedule those for your highest energy times. Then schedule lower energy items for other times. For example, giving a presentation would be high energy. Answering most e-mails would be low energy.
Give yourself breaks throughout the day where you get completely away (at least mentally, physically is better) from the work you need to do. The right kind of breaks actually improves performance; they are not a waste of time. Obviously if all you do is take breaks that is a different story.
For most people working in intervals of 25-90 minutes seems to work best. Try it out and see which time frame is best for you.