Do Your Day Your Way
I have to admit that I find it difficult to
stop what I’m doing when I become extremely focussed on something.
On a few occasions this has worked out well for me as it made it easier to get things done. I feel ultra productive and at the top of my game.
But too often after stints like that my energy levels crashed to depths that had me feeling like I needed a week of sleep just to get back to normal!
As I became older my patience for this boom – bust cycle was at its lowest and I made it my mission to figure out what I could do to reduce the likelihood of repeating this draining chain of events.
The Lead Up
The typical scenario goes like this. I take a long time to get into the work that I’m doing. I keep on going knowing that at some point I’ll figure out what I’m doing and get most of the task completed. I get to the previously mentioned point and work like crazy. Finally I finish the work but at the end I feel exhausted and glad that it’s over. Then I get the new stuff that needs to be done and the process repeats.
Although it’s great to get the work done, the process can seem overly stressful at first, until you get into the flow and then work seems effortless. The problem is the after the work is done part.
What’s the point of doing all that work just to feel too tired to appreciate the time and effort put in? If you know that you have this work pattern it can be very discouraging to start because of how much effort it takes to get to the flow part.
Boom Then Bust
In the past I’ve found that just by doing something does help to start the process but the effort of starting can prolong the time it takes to get to the really productive part of the work cycle.
Then once in the productive phase, because I want to get things done, I found it difficult to stop because I didn’t want to risk loosing the moment that I worked so hard to start. This is good for my productivity targets but bad for my energy and sense of well being.
The fact that it took me so long just to get started, as well as the fact that at the end of my work stint I felt so tired was proof that something needed to change as the way that I was working was not sustainable.
During my research I found that I was displaying classic fatigue symptoms that if left uncorrected would become worse and eventually could get to the point where I would not be able to function “normally”.
Some of the signs of fatigue are:
- Fuzzy thinking
- Slower response times
- Productivity declines
Thankfully once I identified that maybe I was fatigued, it was a not so simple matter of trying out things that could correct it without having to take prescription drugs or visit a doctor.
By the way, if you feel that you may be suffering from fatigue and you’ve exhibited the symptoms for a while, make an appointment to see your medical advisor or doctor just to make sure that you are not suffering from anything that could seriously affect your health and well being.
So with that said, here are three possible causes of my boom-bust work style and how I addressed them.
- Sleep Deprivation
Was I getting enough sleep? I decided to use a sleep tracker on my Apple Watch to see the quality and length of my sleep. Apparently we humans need between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep a day. During my tracking period I was getting between 5.5 and 7 hours a day. So it was fairly clear to me that I would have to increase the times that I’m actually sleeping and not lying in bed trying to get to sleep.
A fix for that problem was to increase the amount of exercise I did, changing my routine from every other day to everyday. This worked fantastically and had the beneficial side effects of making me get more healthy and boosting the quality of my sleep.
- Work Patterns
Setting up a daily routine helps with structuring my day and getting my mind ready to focus on what it needs to. I realised a while back that I’m more of a morning person when it came to certain tasks, so it made more sense to me to structure my work around that. Further I found that working to my circadian rhythm helped with my focus and productivity. As an example of my typical day, I structure my more intense, hard thinking type work to be worked on during the mornings and my more routine work after lunch. If I start working at 09:00 then I make a point of finishing for the day no later than 18:00. I stick to this schedule Monday through Friday and I believe that it has made things so much better. When I’ve worked longer days or stray from the schedule, I notice the difference immediately.
- Time on Tasks
This was my major issue and correcting this noticeably increased my productivity whilst at the same time helping to correct my boom-bust work cycle.
Our brains like any muscle or body part for that matter, when used to excess becomes tired and non responsive. Any physically or mentally demanding tasks will take its toll on us. Because we sometimes overlook the amount of time that we spend working on a task (which is what I do all the time), it is very easy to burn ourselves out without noticing.
To correct this we must insure that we take regular breaks throughout the working day. When and how you structure this is deponent upon your own work circumstances, but luckily for me my workplace is fairly relaxed when it comes to taking breaks (as long as there isn’t an impending deadline, but that’s for another post). Up until recently I was just using the Pomodoro technique of working for 20 -25 minute blocks, taking a ten minute break, then back to another block. This worked well but didn’t account for the times when my alertness levels weren’t so great. Now days I rely heavily on our Apple Watch app,V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, to notify me when my alertness levels drop so that I can take a natural break at the times when I need it most.
Ultimately for me to change my work cycle of boom then bust it meant that I had to change my attitude to taking breaks whilst working and making sure that I did the things that promoted habits that would encourage me to get enough sleep whilst helping me to focus better throughout the day.
So as the picture in this article suggests, take some time out and go for a walk instead of sitting at your desk all day trying to get everything done at once.
“No matter the risks we take, we always consider the end to be too soon, even though in life, more than anything else, quality should be more important than quantity.”Alex Honnold