Sprint, Dash, Whatever... Just Take Breaks!

Today I am continuing on with my good old fashioned productivity tips series. The first tip was so simple as to be almost silly. Now, that your legs are stiff and sore and you are cursing me gently let's move on to the next tip, which should help slightly in stretching out those aching muscles.

For all but the most hardcore of athletes, sprinting sounds like a horrid waste of energy and the guarantee of a pulled leg muscle. But if you are like me and have a multitude of projects that need to be worked on in a given day then sprinting may be just the thing for you.

My own productivity suffers greatly the longer I drag myself through a task. Especially the tasks that require staring at this computer screen. No matter how high the pixel density. The physical fatigue that sets in from staring endlessly, hunched over in front of a computer will cause you to suffer greatly in the short and long term.

To combat the exhaustion and injury that comes from not being aware of the time that is passing it is important to remind yourself to switch up your tasks often throughout the day and work in “sprints” rather than making your work all about “endurance.”

Sprinting your way to a fulfilling day

Let’s say you have 4 tasks that have somewhat equal importance and while they may not need to be completed today they definitely need to each be moved forward so that when they are due you don’t find that you have spent all your day on 1 or 2 and completely neglected the others.

10 + 2 * 5

Try this strategy, which is so entirely stolen from Merlin Mann.

  1. Set a timer for 10 minutes. You are going to work on your first task for this duration. 10 minutes is nothing so give it all you have.
  2. Break for 2 minutes. As soon as that timer goes off you are going to stop your work and refresh your mind. Get up from your desk, go walk around the house or step outside and take a few deep breaths. Read that text from your friend that you were diligently ignoring during your 10 minute sprint.
  3. Repeat 4 more times. All of the sudden you have worked for 50 minutes out of the past hour!
  4. Repeat the 10 + 2 * 5 pattern with the next task on your list. This is important when you have those multiple tasks that need to see movement. Yes, you have now made significant progress on that one task, but don’t get stuck there. It’s is important to move on to the next one now. Depending on the nature of your tasks you may even want to switch it up after each 10 minute session.

Trust the process. At first you may feel a little scattered with all the moving between tasks, but keeping your attention refreshed and diversified may lead you to interesting and surprising solutions that you may have never seen if you stayed mired in one task all day long. And mandating breaks for yourself will save your body greatly. Your body needs to take breaks, even (especially!) when you have a mostly stationary job. For the sake of your eyesight and back, do not try and be a hero and work through those 2 minute breaks! (My timer just went off a few seconds ago and I need to take my own advice.)

This method is open to endless modification. I would love to hear how you adjust it to fit your unique situation.