I’ve worked hard on getting more awesome stuff done. Others might call this ‘productivity.’ It’s been my biggest success so far in ‘becoming fucking awesome.’
Email once a day is awesome.
Putting together a life plan that gets reviewed weekly is awesome.
Just not doing stuff that you don’t need or want to do helps.
I’d like to describe something else I am working on: work periodicity.
Sprint vs. Marathon
Most people run a marathon their entire lives. Work, stress, constantly connected, minimal vacation time while still connected, etc. And like a marathon it basically kills your body.
I believe by using smart periodicity in our work we can achieve far more. We can enjoy the amazing benefits of sprints in our work life.
The beauty is that this works on micro and macro timescales.
The Pomodoro Technique is a wonderful way to apply periodicity and focus to a single day.
“The basic unit of work in the Pomodoro Technique® can be split in five simple steps:
Choose a task to be accomplished
Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break”
This is fucking magic – I don’t rigorously apply the Pomodoro Technique yet – but I need to get back there because it was a nirvana of productivity when I tried it.
We already have build into modern life a bit of nice periodicity in a traditional work week. 5 days on and 2 days off. That’s if you don’t screw with your weekends by working through. When I am working hard M-F I actually like to take about half a day Saturday to quietly work – so my desired schedule looks more like 5.5 days on/1.5 days off. That’s likely due to the overload of M&M’s (Meetings and Management) during the work week.
Take a 3-4 day complete disconnect weekend.
Brad Feld suggests a quarterly Week Off the Grid. He claims it saved his marriage.
I don’t practice this regularly – but I should. My off-grid times are typically during ‘play hard’ sessions of mountain climbing where being on-the-grid simply isn’t an option – but it’s something – and I always come back refreshed.
Take a 2-3 week vacation. Last year for me it was just over 2 weeks skiing in Europe.
Every Few Years
Take a 2-3 month sabbatical.
Take a mini-retirement. There is huge value to both your life and your work here – especially when considering how stupid the traditional concept of retirement is.
Take a year and do something new. I’m inspired by Steve Job’s Stanford Commencement Speech where he discusses the amazing value brought it his work by auditing a calligraphy course for the sheer joy of it.
OK – so that’s time off – but the concept of a sprint rather than a marathon relies on another critical factor: Intensity during work periods. When you are ON – be ON like a fucking banshee. Focus, passion, drive – turn it all on and be insanely productive. And just like a physical sprint – it’s PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE to keep this up for a marathon distance.
I’d like to throw out there a possibility – the people who are ‘always on’ and are in marathon mode are leaving on the table their true passion and intensity.
I think the actual length of each period will really differ for each person. If anything I’d lean toward the ‘less is more’ approach and really turn on the intensity. If you feel your energy flagging – increase the recovery time.
Application in My Life
I honestly remember entire weeks of staring at a screen and sitting in front of a desk for 60 hours – and feeling at the end that I had achieved nothing. Todo list looked the same, energy was constantly low, etc. Then I’d get frustrated, disappear for a weekend, and on Monday morning from 9-11 accomplish more than in the entire previous week.
Although I am nowhere near productivity nirvana I generally feel like I am working on the right things now and am making measurable progress against them – or consciously relaxing.
On the sabbatical side – I am actually kicking one off right now. Eight years after starting Zeo I am getting a bit fatigued. I am taking at least 3 months in a lower gear (working part-time for Zeo and doing some mentoring for other companies) and doing some skiing in Jackson Hole. After that I am leaving things open – return to Zeo, continue my break, start something new – everything is on the table.
Usain Bolt can complete a 100M dash in 9.58s seconds. A high school sprinter – 11 seconds. And the average bored desk worker – maybe 20 seconds, 30 seconds? That’s a 2-3x difference – which on the face of it seem pretty large.
I think in terms of ‘doing awesome work’/productivity the differential between the elite and the average desk worker is well over 100x (in programming many agree). The gap is huge because we understand so little about the techniques that need to be applied to really kick-ass.
What if people could be coached on productivity in a measurable, scalable way? I see a day in the near future where we can create a feedback look on productivity (like we have done for sleep with Zeo) – Measure -> Analyze -> Improve.
‘It looks like you are sucking wind this morning Dave – we’ve noticed that your concentration is low (using brainwaves and HRV) and you’ve been staring at the same news article and reading it distractedly (eye tracking). Why don’t you put down the keyboard and head to the gym for a half-hour. When you get back I’ll help you prioritize a few tasks according to the life plan we put together – then I’ll help you use the Pomodoro Technique for a few hours to knock them cold. Oh – and at the gym – remember to sprint – not jog.’
I’m trying to get one of the companies I am thinking about mentoring heading in this direction…