Work sprints

I found myself with another short article-writing project on Wednesday, due on Friday. I am getting used to these quick-turnaround pieces, and rather enjoy them. Though the pay is not large, they are good practice for my “journalistic” style and for working with an editor.

It reminded me of a strategy I used to use when I used to procrastinate on a project, and I think I learned it from Martha Beck back in the day when I was in grad school. It involves taking a huge project and breaking it into short chunks of only 15-30 minutes at a time, especially if we are avoiding just getting started. Often, just starting and gaining  momentum is the hardest part.

Nowadays, I can usually set a timer for 60-90 minutes of uninterrupted work at a time because I have worked up to that. The idea is that you set everything else aside and just focus on that one thing. It is harder to do that in an era when we often feel tied to our inboxes and phones.

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But really: email is not urgent. If someone cannot wait a day or two for a response, they should call you on the phone. We need to de-condition people to getting automatic responses from email, social media and all the other distractions.

After my 60-90 minute sprint, I typically take a break of 20-30 minutes. Research shows that few humans can focus behind 90 minutes anyway, due to our ultradian cycles. These are basic rest-activity cycles discovered in the 1950’s. When we respect these rhythms of focus and rest, we can better manage the ebbs and flows of our energy and be much more productive.

I think that is one problem with corporate work environments. Typically they are built around an 8+ hour workday, and are not sensitive to human rhythms or people’s individual chronotypes, which also influence their productivity. When I complete 3 of these focused 60-90 segments in a day I typically get a mountain of work produced, more than I ever did in a corporate day that was highly interrupted. I am so very grateful for being able to manage that and design these “work sprints” for myself.

What is your cycle for accomplishing your best work? How can you plan to incorporate that cycle into more of your days?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

What makes the most sense?

When you start your work day or your work week, do you ever ask yourself: What makes the most sense? It may be a good way to clarify your objective in any given moment or hour of the day.

Do you ever consider what time of the day you work best?

(I am going to answer for myself in the parentheses below the questions: yes, morning. My best work happens before noon.)

Do you plan your time so that (if you are a morning person like me) you accomplish your most important work at that “best time”?

(Yes. Most of the time that works well. In my corporate job, it did not work as well, because I had to be sure to be available to my team at certain times, and morning was the time the most probably intersections.)

Do you spend multiple hours checking and responding to email?

(I used to do this. It took up WAY too much time and required me to refocus far too many times in the day to get to my “deep work” tasks as much as I wanted.)

Are you able to put aside distractions such as social media, email and other items while you are trying to complete your most important work? 

(It is truly tempting to have the social media “open” during the work day but I realized this was a recipe for disaster. So now I define times I will do that, usually during a break between harder tasks, before/after lunch break or at the end of the day when my brain is shot anyway.)

These are some questions I am using for my own self-coaching as I begin to work for myself, and launch a successful consulting practice. If they can be helpful to you as well, awesome! If you have some other coaching questions you like to ask yourself for helping to focus on working effective, I would love it if you share them with me. 

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Cheers & happy Monday!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com