I’d venture a guess that by now many of us have tried our hand at a Tabata workout. In this absolutely genius fitness trend, you work your booty off for 20 seconds and follow that up with a 10-second rest. Then repeat. Until you hit 20 minutes. And then you’re done!
For those of us who came of age in the era of the marathon sweat session, the idea of doing a 20-minute workout (complete with all those short rest breaks) sounds a lot like cheating.
And the promise of being more tired and more fit than you are after a longer workout sounds completely counter-intuitive.
Yet, this workout methodology is SO effective that you can indeed get better results in a fraction of the time. It’s amazing. And addictive.
So here’s the twist.
What if you applied the Tabata concept to your work?
What if after a short burst of intensely focused work you took a short break, on purpose?
Hear me out.
I’m kind of a workhorse by nature. I have no problem with stamina. Set me up at dawn with my laptop and enough coffee and water and snacks and I’ll still be there at dusk. Truth. But I’m not necessarily productive that whole time. After I’m at it for a while, I start to droop. And then my mind wanders. My eyes get a little red. A yawn sneaks out. I start rubbing my back in one particular spot or stretching out my shoulders.
Too much sitting. Too much staring at a screen. Too much stamina. It’s always been tempting for me to just push through – to get that one more thing done. But a while back …
I decided to see what happened if I applied this Tabata idea to my work day…and I’m hooked.
I start by picking the most important thing I have to get done that day. And I work on it for about 30-45 minutes without distractions. Then I take a 5-10 minute break.
I might make a cup of coffee or refill my water. I might read a magazine article or a blog post online. I might make a short phone call or text a friend. I might fill out a school permission slip or do the dishes in the sink. I might make a smoothie or write a thank you card. I might listen to a piece of music or watch a funny video someone sent me. I might get on Pinterest or Instagram. I might go outside and water my potted plants on the patio. It’s like a little oasis waiting for me right in the middle of my project.
Once 10 minutes or so have passed, I’m back at my desk for the next round, a little more alert, a little more creative, and a little more focused.
Paradoxically, taking a break from my work does seem to give me more focus when I come back to it. And more creativity, too! I can’t tell you how often an idea clicks during one of these breaks and when I sit down again, I’m smiling at how it all fell into place.
At the end of the day, even after a collection of breaks that taken together could add up to almost two hours of time (gasp), I invariably have accomplished more than I would have if I’d tried to push through without them. And I don’t feel so drained and depleted!
Now, in full disclosure, there are times when I get lost in the flow of a project and two hours fly by before I even know what happened. No worries. I’ll take two hours of flow anytime it wants to find me and I’m not going to interrupt it to go water my flowers! This technique isn’t designed for those times. It’s designed for the times when I find myself losing steam and I need to get my head back in the game.
There also have been days when my rejuvenation breaks started to stretch from 10 minutes into 20 or 30, so now I use a timer on my iPhone to try to keep that in check.
So if you’re open to trying something new in your ongoing quest for higher productivity, try this: