REFLECTION: You’re working away – head down – afterburners aflame. You’ve been making great progress and, blessedly, the interruptions have been few. Still, after an hour and a half or so, you start feeling restless. Your attention begins to wander. And, you find yourself becoming a touch irritable and impatient.
Why are you having trouble with focus when the stars are aligned for work? It could be your internal body rhythms clamoring for your attention.
The human body isn’t built for nonstop high performance. We do a better job of maintaining energy over the long haul when periods of focused concentration are offset by time out for renewal.
There are parallels in other life situations. For example, a race car driver’s success depends on fast, high speed performance on the track. But an equally important part of that racer’s success is knowing when to pull off the track and into the pit for adjustments and repairs. Ignore, postpone or cancel the pit stops, and the race is lost.
Top performers in all kinds of fields tend to work in approximately 90 minute cycles – sprints if you will. They shift back and forth between periods of intense effort offset by periods of purposeful renewal.
A key word here is purposeful. The impact of automatically grabbing a caffeine or sugar hit, or giving yourself a ‘rev it up’ pep talk to drive your energy back up the ergometer, will be short lived. Many of these ‘short term quick fix’ energizers fizzle fast and end up harmful in the long term.
Plan for variety and be more intentional in choosing your renewing pauses. For instance, if you’re focused on developing a project plan or writing a report, you’ll be expending a lot of mental energy. During your break, you might engage in a contrasting way – move your body (walk or stretch) or connect socially with others (share a chat or a joke).
The length of a pause is not as critical as the regularity. Make sure you DO step away from the work, and that you choose the best recharging option for your needs and your situation.
ACTION: With the fast pace and high expectations of today’s workplace, many people abandon the practice of taking breaks. If that’s the case for you and your colleagues, share these ideas with them, and build support for each other. Talk about the kinds of renewing breaks you can try solo or with others that might make sense in your world.
Set an alarm or reminder to interrupt you at 90 minute intervals – or at the very least mid morning and mid afternoon. It’s easy to get caught up in the press and flow of the work, so help each other to step away before exhaustion and inefficiency set in.
With regular bits of time away, you’ll return to the work at hand with fresh energy and be able to maintain a higher level of focus and concentration for the long haul.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The higher the demand, the greater and more frequent the need for renewal.” – Tony Schwartz
RESOURCE OF THE WEEK: For more on the impact on productivity of time out for renewal, check out this article, The Productivity Myth, from the Harvard Business Review Blog.
READERS WRITE: In response to last week’s message, Along For The Ride Or Deeply Engaged, Pause reader DB writes: “What an awesome opportunity! I’m so glad you took advantage of it and shared it with us, your readers. This reminded me of my own experience. One Sunday morning several years ago, when I asked an old farmer at church how harvest was going, he asked if I’d ever been on a combine. When I said no, he asked if I’d like to go for a ride with him. I did and absolutely loved it. He let me take the wheel and began patiently teaching me and answering my questions. What a thrill for this city bred girl! Would you believe that for the past 3 years, ever since I retired from teaching school, I’ve been operating his combine in the fall and his harrow/packer during spring seeding? Like your captain, he noticed my interest, extended an invitation and taught me bit by bit until I felt both comfortable and competent behind the wheel. My life has been so enriched because of it.”