Not all writers have an entire day to devote to their craft, but if you do it’s worth it to figure out when your brain is at its best and take advantage of that time. While times of optimal productivity tend to vary according to individual biological rhythms, research has shown that mid-morning is a great time to tackle difficult tasks, which is part of the reason why I advocate writing in the morning (whatever morning means to you!)
But here’s the real kicker: the best way to be more productive is to…wait for it…take more breaks!
It sounds counterintuitive, but recent research by the Draugeim Group showed that intense work sprints followed by lengthy breaks accounted for a significant rise in productivity among employees. Julia Gifford, the company’s owner, tracked employees using DeskTime, a productivity tracking app aimed at companies. She found that the top 10% of productive employees in her company worked “with intense purpose” for around 52 minutes and then took lengthy 17-minute breaks. They cycled on and off like this throughout the day. Supporting this theory is a study by Cornell researchers that showed even small breaks increase productivity by 11%, while research conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration found that breaks increase productivity by 16%!
Interestingly, when these employees were at work, they worked with a singular purpose toward their goal. And when they were on break, they did the same. They disconnected completely from the workplace, stepping away from their computers and choosing to chat, read a book, or take walks. This correlates with the philosophy of doing whatever you are doing “full-on”:
When you’re working, work; when you’re resting, rest.
You can incorporate this same productivity-boosting method into your daily writing sessions. Set a timer for 52 minutes. During that time, focus completely on the task you’ve set. No checking email, answering social calls, or searching the internet for cute puppy pictures. No glasses of water or bathroom breaks. Then, when the timer rings, set it for 17 minutes and get completely away from your desk. Read a magazine, water a plant, or walk the dog. Whatever you’d like do is fine, as long as it has no relation to your work.
I tried this myself and the results were pretty amazing. First, knowing that I was working for 52 minutes gave me a sort of “soft” goal that made it easier to be laser-focused on my writing. My word counts almost doubled working this way! The second thing I noticed was a sharp increase in creativity. Ideas flowed more easily after my breaks and I felt more refreshed and better able to tackle my tasks, even those that fell in between two and four — my personal slump time.
If you’d like to try your hand at tracking your productivity like the Draugeim Group did, get one of the apps available for your computer. I like the time tracker Klok for OSX and Windows. It’s available for a small, one-time fee and there is a free version as well. Klok is a great way to see how much time you are spending on each project on your list. If you want to time your intervals like I did, there are plenty of simple interval timer apps available for both iPhone and Android. I like Medigong for Android because of the gentle gong sounds available for timing changes and the fact that it is FREE. For iPhone, there’s Pomodoro Time (free) and Pomodoro Time Pro ($4.99), which are based on the Pomodoro Method of productivity. This method is similar to what what I’ve described, above, with shorter intervals (25 minutes working/5 minute breaks called Pomodoros with the reward of a 30 minute break after four “Pomodori”). You can try these shorter intervals, although I find them too distracting. I set the timer to 55 minutes for working followed by a 20 minute break, which is perfect for me. A University of Illinois study showed that 50-60 minutes is the optimal time to focus on any given task; after that concentration drops off, so take that into consideration when setting your intervals.
Sift through this information and see how you can make it work for you. Don’t forget to take your natural rhythms and preferences into consideration and modify your work/break schedule to make the most of the writing time you have available.
See you on the next page!