Work like you exercise…in intervals

Interval training has been shown to benefit your workout. Do concentration intervals help your production work? Photo by ZAGGORA via Flickr.

Interval training has been shown to benefit your workout. Do concentration intervals help your production work? Photo by ZAGGORA via Flickr.

Recent exercise studies have found evidence that interval training — repeating the same exercise short in intervals of 30 and 60 seconds at much higher speeds, with same 30 to 60 seconds of rest between each one — can have the same, or greater, health benefits as extended periods of lower intensity work.

(One Smart magazine editor I know — and myself — swear by a recent workout published on the New York Times Well blog.)

After reading a blog post, also from the New York Times, about applying the same theory to mental work, I realized this idea was something I’ve always done.

My day at work generally looks something like this: Get in at 9 a.m. Write/research for shorter periods of intense concentration. Break. Repeat until 6 p.m.

The idea of letting your brain chill for 5 or 10 minutes of every hour is an idea that’s been around for a while.

But the new angle here is that not only will you benefit from the break, but so will your work.

By focusing fully on the task at hand — no Facebook, no email, no cellphone — you will get more done and the work will be of a better quality. Plus, you’ll probably get it done faster.

On the other hand, just like running intervals is demanding, so too will be the focus necessary in work intervals. You have to be willing to experience frequent, short-term discomfort.

Humans instinctively avoid pain of any kind, which is probably why we feel the pull to check Twitter in the middle of writing summaries of the latest financial earnings from a local business. Oh, is that just me?

Tony Schwartz from the New York Times suggests rituals and prioritizing to get through the intervals of the work day.

He argues — and I have to agree — that the ability to concentrate is strongest at the beginning of the day and weakens as you move closer to quittin’ time.

So he recommends working on the most important task as soon as you get in.

Every morning, I mentally run through my agenda. What needs to be filed today? What story needs more research before it’s ready? Are there any meetings scheduled?

Before I walk into the office, I have a plan. Like most jobs, my plan needs to be flexible. But just having one gives me a place to start.

How do you get through the work day? What strategies have worked to make you more productive and/or efficient?

This entry was posted in Jobs, Office life, On the job, Stephanie Reighart, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.