Don’t worry… we don’t expect you to try and work while you’re running as fast as you can. What we mean by “sprinting” is that you commit to focused, intensive work for a period of time, followed by a shorter period of rest.
The Science Behind Sprinting
The human body has certain capabilities, and is subject to certain limits. The way we are designed, we are meant to spend our time either spending or accumulating energy. These cycles are known as ultradian rhythms. Using our brains counts against this energy.
As a result, our focus is limited to somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. Research indicates that, in order to perform well again after that, you need to take a 20-to-30 minute break so your brain can recover.
A sprinting methodology fits this pattern to a ‘T.’ By narrowing your focus to a single one of your tasks and blocking out distractions, you are better able to commit yourself to your goal. Once you hit the end of your sprint, you spend your recovery time refocusing yourself and preparing for your next foray into intense productivity.
Various authors and researchers have provided anecdotal evidence as to the efficacy of this approach:
- While writing The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, Tony Schwartz used 90-minute blocks of time to break up his day, only writing for a daily total of four and a half hours. Six months later, his book was finished.
- In 1993, performance researcher Anders Ericsson discovered via a study that the most skilled young violinists all followed a similar practice schedule: three 90-minute sessions of morning practice, with breaks in between.
- In his book, Schwartz tells the story of how Leonardo Da Vinci would put down his paints while working on The Last Supper and daydream for hours at a time. When he was questioned about it, Da Vinci is said to have replied, “The greatest geniuses accomplish more when they work less.”
Why and How to Leverage Sprinting
One of sprinting’s biggest benefits is something that many people are very familiar with: the feeling of being in “the zone.” It’s that time when you are fully committed to your task at hand, and are enjoying yourself as you apply yourself. Psychologists refer to this as “flow.”
One psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has committed his career to studying flow. As he said in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he wrote:
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.”
To make flow happen, sprinting once again fits quite well. Incorporating these patterns into your daily routine will help you to work more productively and ultimately, be more successful in your work.
What methods have you used to boost your productivity? Share some in the comments!