Q&A: What Anti-Procrastination Technique Works for You?
We all know what sprinting is, right? Short but intense bursts of energy that are meant to bring out the full extent of your body’s capability.
Well, that’s what I do when I’m trying to get over that mental procrastination block—and no, I’m talking about going down to the local track and running laps.
I use the productivity sprint technique. It works especially well when I have a few different projects I’m working on and I want to make quick progress without sacrificing focus. I’ve found that it also helps me tune out distractions.
It’s honestly one of the best productivity techniques I know, and that’s partly because it’s based on using the body’s natural concentration cycles to boost productivity and increase focus.
The Science of Productivity Sprints
We all know that there are times of the day when our minds just seem to shut down. It’s like all the factory workers clocked out for the day, and everything’s come grinding to a halt.
The afternoon slump is real, and it’s caused by the body’s natural ultradian rhythms.
You’ve probably heard of the Circadian rhythm, describing the ebb and flow of energy over a 24-hour period. Well, the ultradian rhythm is just that process over a shorter period of time. This biological phenomenon helps explain why certain periods of the day are more productive than others.
Typically, the human brain works best by focusing on a task in 90-minute intervals with 20-minute periods of rest in between these more intense focus sessions. Pushing past this 90-minute mark results in burnout and decreased focus.
That’s why productivity sprinting is so effective. It takes advantage of your brain’s natural rhythms to capitalize on the times you are at your peak performance.
How to Become an Olympic-Class Productivity Sprinter
The 2 keys to using productivity sprints are maintaining your focus and managing your rhythm.
Before you start a series of sprints, set specific goals for each chunk of time. Whether you want to break one project up into smaller chunks or you want to tackle a different project for every sprint, establish expectations ahead of time and write them down. I like to use a white board and give each project a code name (like a Top Gun character for each project in the image below) to keep it interesting.
Now that you have your goals laid out, set your timer, you don’t necessarily need each sprint to be 90 minutes. It all depends on your personal rhythm. If you work better in 30-minute intervals with 5 minute breaks, go for it! The important thing is that you start paying attention to your natural productivity cycles and adapt to them.
During the sprinting period, you must turn off all outside distractions and focus on a single task— no social media, no multitasking, no snack runs. Just 100% pure focus on the task at hand.
Just like the type of sprinting you did in track and field, you might struggle the first time you try productivity sprinting. You might be tempted to check your email or get up to walk around. Resist the urge! Know that a break is coming, and you just have to push through the initial resistance. If you find it difficult to keep on task, you can look into an internet restriction app that blocks access to certain sites. Also, try to keep your eyes off the clock for the duration of the sprint as it can be distracting.
When that timer finally goes off, you must stop what you’re doing immediately. If you’re writing, don’t be afraid to stop mid-sentence. In fact, stopping mid-sentence is a common hack that writers use to ward off writer’s block, and the practice stems from Ernest Hemingway’s recommendation:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel, you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you, so try to remember it.”
If you find yourself consistently wanting to keep working past the timer, consider upping your sprint times. You may find that your endurance increases the more you practice this technique. As long as you keep your sprints under 2 hours, you should still be able to reap the productivity benefits.
Just don’t forget to also set timers for your breaks, and stick to that schedule!
Next time you’re thinking of putting off something important, try the productivity sprint method for yourself. You’ll find yourself feeling less distracted and more productive if you force yourself to have distinct times for work and breaks. That’s because you’ll be avoiding the tendency to take a bunch of little social media/water cooler/snack breaks that help you procrastinate and destroy your concentration.
Trust me— sprinting works. It’s just a matter of tuning out the distractions and keeping your eye on the prize.
So, on your marks, get set, go!