Don’t Force a Schedule, Honor a Rhythm
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
A big part of managing energy for peak performance is letting go of workhorse mentality: you must take breaks. Otherwise you flame out. Sure, you’ll recover but you’ve lost momentum, possibly motivation. You want to be consistently, not occasionally productive. Think marathon, not sprint. Prolific author Stephen King writes four hours a day. That’s it. Most people hold jobs that require eight to 12 hours a day. Tons of research show that is not sustainable or productive, even in the short term.
When your mind starts to wander and it seems difficult to focus, take breaks. Your energy, more than a clock, will determine when. Find rhythms most nourishing to your mind, body and spirit and access peak performance cycles as much as possible.
They fuel rather than sap momentum. During breaks, complete disengagement from the project in which you are immersed is at the heart of replenishing energy. This means switching to a different activity. I prefer a short walk, progressing on a visual art project or riding my scooter. Sometimes I listen to music, dance or nap. Other times, I dive into chores such as washing dishes or starting a load of laundry. Got junk? Need to organize your work space? Breaks are good times to relocate boxes from the garage to the dumpster, clean out analog files and the catch-all drawer. Generally, chores don’t jazz me. Though when I’ve been immersed in a project for 90 minutes, switching to physical activity in service of chores is refreshing and welcome.
Experiment with the neuroscience of creativity and productivity. Apply what you discover to your working rhythms. Through my own experiments, here’s one discovery that helps me to be increasingly yet sustainably productive.
This is a free-form day. No schedule. No goals. Simply honor the rhythms as they come. Why do I call this state of being The Float? Because that’s how it feels to me. I’m not diving into the day. I allow my energy to bob with the currents, content to encounter whatever beckons in the moment. Floating in a body of water is non-directive. Swimming requires propulsion. There’s none of that on Float Day. You drift with gentle rise and fall. You are rudder free.
During the Float, awaken without alarm; lie still rather than missile launch yourself out of bed.
This day is for resting the brain’s “central executive,” the network responsible for focus and goal orientation. You don’t need that when you Float.
Allow ideas to bob up from the hypnogogic state, that twilight between sleep and conscious awareness. Follow whatever surfaces as long as it’s unplanned and non-directive.
On Float days an activity will pop into my head and I think, yeah, let’s do that. Because that’s what I feel like doing. Sometimes, it will be an activity that I love but have not engaged for a while because I’ve not created the space for it to bubble to awareness. I might remember, Hey, I’ve not been swimming in the pool for weeks. Let’s do that. Or, I wonder who’s playing at the comedy club this week? Perhaps the Float has created an opening for me to discover a new walking route.
The Float = adventure. You get to do whatever fun stuff you want. This is not errand day. That’s for the Day Off when you break from your creative projects to get stuff done: visit the dentist; buy toilet paper; toss garbage; pick up the prescription called into the pharmacy three days ago before they toss it out.
On Float Days, by contrast, you cut yourself loose from goal orientation, taking direction from no one or thing. Including your current project. This is a day when, if you work a traditional job, you are not at that job physically. And, you temporarily sever all digital and cognitive connection.
Neither are you engaging someone else’s agenda. Your partner wants you to attend his niece’s birthday party on Float Day? Might be time for a “No, and…” offer. As in “no,” to attending the birthday party and “yes” to a girls’ shopping lunch as a belated, personalized gift.
To truly be productive means there is no “on” without “off.” Spend one full day a week and, some measure of each day Floating. When you return to your projects it will be with fresh perspective and gusto.
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