I decided to take him on as my personal trainer. (I know a lot of gyms do this and I was probably suckered-in, but we genuinely got along and I wanted to get some help from a specialist). He was called Conor and we had a session once a week and I would go the gym three or four times a week. He was a funny guy, we would talk about murder mystery books or TV shows and we had great fun seeing how far we could push me physically.
It got me thinking about the way people work and a lot about the mindset of people at work. Firstly there was simply the phenomenon of having someone who ‘notices’ you. I would come into the gym one week and Conor would set me a challenge and we would both notice that I could do it easier or longer than before, so he would always stretch me further. Simply this made me perform better and better because I knew that someone would see it. Of course some people are good at generating this themselves internally, but not me. I like it when someone acknowledges what I am doing and the progress I am making.
Another benefit of having an expert help me was that I realised my ‘common sense’ of getting fitter was completely and totally wrong. For example running, I always thought that pounding along a path for an hour must surely be good for my fitness. In reality, of course this does have some benefits. But it is not as good as doing what’s called interval training. This is jog for a minute and then sprint as fast as you can for a minute and then jog again and keep doing this for 10 minutes only. The same is true with swimming. And my fitness shot up when I was doing this kind of training.
This applies to work in a very similar way. As human beings we have ultradian rhythms, and like circadian rhythms, they control our timing and energy levels throughout the day. We work best in 90 minute sprints followed by 20 minute breaks.
Productivity thought leader Tony Schwartz says “… it’s better to work in a highly focused way for short periods of time, with breaks in between, than to be partially focused for long periods of time. Think of it as a sprint, rather than a marathon. You can push yourself to your limits for short periods of time, so long as you have a clear stopping point. And after a rest, you can sprint again.”
I first came across the scientist Anders Ericsson, in Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’. His research on the best violinists found that 10,000 hours of practice is what it takes to be a master. Also, as talked about here, that when they engaged in purposeful 90 minute sessions of practice and then a rest, then they were much more effective.
I coach and train busy business people and most of them say that they can’t get away from their desk. They can’t step away, that they are so busy, their boss would frown upon it. But the 90 minute evidence shows that they are not working at their most productive.
The concept of an 8 hour working day with one lunch-break has been thrown out, along with the typewriter, as old fashioned. And yet so many of the clients I work with still complain that they can’t do anything about it. There is still the culture and mindset of compliance to those “old fashioned’ rules.
Now when I am training in the gym, with what Conor has taught me, is that I have to completely surprise my body every time I train. As soon as the body gets used to some exercise then it knows how to handle it. Therefore the exercise benefit is limited. So I turn up and we might be boxing, pushing weights, working my core stability or sprinting on a treadmill. No two sessions have ever been the same.
To be your most productive at work, a similar mindset is necessary. Surprise yourself! No two days the same! Burst through the stifling cultures that are totally out-dated.