Are you satisfied with your current level of productivity? I’m not. I’m always looking for ways to increase my productivity. The challenge, of course, is to get the most results within a certain period of time.
Recently I learned a technique to do exactly that called “ultradian sprint”. I read it in an article entitled Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time in Harvard Business Review:
Distractions are costly: A temporary shift in attention from one task to another – stopping to answer an e-mail or take a phone call, for instance – increases the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25%, a phenomenon known as “switching time”. It’s far more efficient to fully focus for 90 to 120 minutes, take a true break, and then fully focus on the next activity. We refer to these work periods as “ultradian sprints.”
While the ideas of “do not multitask” and “block the time” are not new, I’m interested with the word sprint. It describes the level of intensity required in such work periods. You should not just walk or even run; you should sprint. If you make it a sprint instead of just running, you will be able to accomplish much more in the same amount of time.
While I’m still learning to do ultradian sprints, here are some tips I can share to get more things done with ultradian sprints:
1. Set a clear goal
A sprinter needs a clear finish line to run to. Similarly, doing ultradian sprint requires you to have a clear finish line. Set a goal for your work period. The goal acts as a finish line that helps your mind focus on only one point so that you can run as fast as possible.
2. Kill distractions
Can you imagine a sprinter who is being distracted by someone or something while running? In a race where 0.1 second makes a big difference, even the smallest distraction is not tolerable. That’s why you should kill distractions before you begin. Here are some ways to do that:
- Listen to music to tune out outside noise
Of course, the music itself should not be distracting. Instrumental music could be good here.
- Unplug the Internet connection (unless your work is related to the Internet).
Unplanned browsing is a major cause of black time.
- Tell your colleagues not to disturb you
- Switch your cell phone off or put it to silent mode
- Use distraction-free tools
For instance, if you are writing you can use tools like Writeroom or Dark Room. They give you a blank screen with only your writing and nothing else.
When you are tempted to allow distractions, just remember: 0.1 second makes a big difference.
3. Set a timer
Using timer has a lot of benefits to increase productivity. In the case of ultradian sprint, timer helps you:
- Focus your attention
Since you know that you work for only a limited amount of time, it will be easier for you to focus within that period.
- Create a sense of urgency.
Using timer gives you a form of deadline that creates sense of urgency. This sense of urgency helps you increase your work intensity.
4. Determine not to stop before the time is up
For me, this is where the difficulty lies. There is often a temptation to stop before the time is up because I feel that I can’t concentrate. Often I do stop in such moments, but recently I try not to stop.
I think the word “sprint” gives us a tip on how not to stop. If you sprint, your mind is fully focused on the finish line that you can’t possibly think of something else. Similarly, if you do ultradian sprint, your mind should be so focused that you can no longer think of something else, stopping included. If we still think that we want to stop, it means that we are not focused enough. Perhaps we just run but do not sprint.
5. Aim to accomplish as much as possible
The word sprint means you should run as fast as possible. It is not the time to relax and work at a comfortable pace. Instead, you should push yourself to accomplish as much as possible within that period.
6. Take true break
After you completed a work session, you should take true break. It means that you should not do something work-related like reading emails. Let your mind be fully relaxed. Depending on your preferences, you could meditate, lie on the bed, take a walk in the park, or chat with colleagues over non-work topics. During this break periods, try to clear your mind and refresh your energy so that you are ready for another sprint session. The break periods might not seem important, but the quality of your next sprint session very much depends on it. So not only you should have quality sprint, you should also have quality break.
Do you have tips to make ultradian sprint more effective? Or perhaps you have other ways to get more things done? I would love to hear them.