I’m elated! I finished two writing projects yesterday and had enough focus to do a third. In addition to the 500 words a day challenge from Jeff Goins, I’m applying something I learned this summer while on sabbatical. That is, your brain needs a break when working on creative stuff like problem-solving or writing. Research has shown that segments of about 90 minutes are most effective in maintaining focus. Then you need a break.
How many meetings have I been in where we have more agenda than time and the facilitator says the dreaded words, “there will be no formal break?” You know that you are fully pressing into issues that may actually require more time. Taking a break can be dangerous – you may not hear pieces of crucial information or get to bring your viewpoint into the discussion.
From what Tony Schwartz, over at The Energy Project, and others have found, that’s the worst move you can make. People actually need the time to recharge their brains. When we continue without stopping, we are actually draining the battery. We think we’re getting more done, but the chances that we are making inferior decisions grows.
I do the same thing! When I’m trying to get stuff done, I assume that if I focus a little more and keep going, that I will be more productive. Not necessarily so. Many times, that kind of grind it out mentality is more tiring than effective. The law of diminishing returns sets in, and often, I don’t even realize it.
Getting up and taking a break, putting in a change of pace or activity or redeeming a reward gives my brain a chance to rest and re-fuel. A 30 minute walk is probably the best thing you can do mid-afternoon.
Donald Miller, on his blog, Storyline, offers a tool that follows this line of thinking- the Storyline Productivity Schedule. I downloaded it a few weeks ago and used it to identify key project. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I used it to plan my day. He incorporates this idea of a few key projects a day with “rewards” in between. I love that! The incentives actually helped me stay on track when I was tempted to do something different. Another feature of this scheduling tool is “if I did this day over, I would….” I like it because it makes me think about things I would regret not doing today.
All of this has helped me stay in touch with the fact that I am not a machine. Being more productive is not about gritting your teeth and trying harder. It’s about paying attention to focus and energy.
The best focus has come through praying about the things in my day. I love that God is concerned about the details of my life. He makes this promise: “the Lord will accomplish what concerns you.” He is able to guide me, give me strength and inspiration. When I come to Him, He not only refuels my brain but refreshes my soul. He makes the burdens light.