Productivity Tip #4: Working in Cycles

stretching during breaksIn the previous post, I talked about how to plan realistically but didn’t mention one of the most important things to plan. When planning out your days and weeks you need to make sure to schedule in breaks.

This might seem obvious as we all take breaks throughout the day but when we strategically plan them, they can help us be more efficient and stay on track.

If you’re the type of person who gets so focussed that you don’t notice the time it can be hard to tear yourself away from work, but it is necessary to take some downtime in order to sustain your energy throughout the day.

Deliberately working in cycles has helped skyrocket my personal productivity. I aim to work in 90 minute sessions then take at least a five minute break. During this break, I step away from my desk and get a drink of water, go for a quick walk or do some stretches and breathing exercises.

Just as our bodies go through cycles of sleep at night, we also go through cycles of alertness and fatigue during the day. We can push ourselves past fatigue but we eventually get exhausted and cannot quickly recover again.

Many of us have worked all nighters the night before a big exam or project. With enough caffeine, sugar and willpower we can power through and generally finish just in time. But a crash is inevitable. We end up needing a nap or more caffeine and it can mess up our sleep schedules. Getting back on track can be a long process.

When we plan ahead, we can schedule in breaks to allow ourselves to renew physically and mentally. This mental break is especially important when working on creative tasks. Stopping and focussing on something else for a little while can help you come up with novel solutions or ideas that you may not have thought of.

Working in cycles also encourages you to be more efficient. You’ll want to finish your project before the next scheduled break time and will work to meet the deadline. It’s far better to work efficiently for short periods of time than spending hours making minimal progress.

When you’re working in cycles it helps motivate you to get started. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is get started. Thinking about sitting down to write, read or analyze figures for eight hours can be daunting but if you know that you only have to work for 90 minutes at a time makes it easier to start.

You also have to know when the most productive time is for you. For everyone it is different. My time is not in the early afternoon, in fact I may as well be snoozing because the productivity just plummets. But if I know this about myself I can work around it. As much as possible, I schedule my surgeries in the morning when I’m at my peak mental health. Afternoons can be spent on less challenging mental tasks.

During your breaks, it’s important get up from your desk and move around. Take a walk outside, to the water cooler or the bathroom. You might want to try some quick deep breathing or meditation exercises to clear your mind.

An added bonus to regular breaks is less time spent sitting continuously. Research is just starting to show us the dangers of sitting for long periods of time even if you exercise regularly. Moving around often wakes up your muscles and restarts your metabolism.

Try breaking your day into four 90 minute cycles. Work on your hardest task in the morning, then take a break. Work on something a little less challenging then break for lunch. If you can, spend the after lunch period on administrative or social tasks that require less mental creativity. Then once you get your second wind in the afternoon, you can finish up loose ends and prepare for the next day.

The next blog post will talk about starting your day off on the right foot with an hour of power.

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