If you run, swim, ski, bike or do almost any other endurance training, you probably understand the concept of sprint intervals. It’s basically this: You turn on the juice for a short period of time, then dial it back, then turn it up again. Exertion, rest, exertion, rest. Gasp, recover, gasp. Got it?
The benefit, of course, is that over time your lungs and muscles get used to working at a higher level of intensity. You build cardiovascular and muscular capacity. But there’s also a hidden benefit: Sprint intervals require you to focus during the periods of intensity. You can’t daydream when you’re going 100 meters all out. Interval training mixes bouts of focus intermixed with rest.
Interval training can also be applied to work, making you more intensely productive and wildly efficient. Consider:
The Pomodoro Technique
In the 1980s, an Italian guy named Francesco Cirillo developed a time management system that centered on 25-minute work intervals separated by short breaks. Cirillo recommended setting a kitchen timer (his was shaped like a tomato, which translates into Italian as “pomodoro”) for 25 minutes and working until the timer went off. Then, after taking a 2-3 minute break, the worker would resume his or her task for 4-5 more rounds before taking a longer 15-30 minute break. Presto! The focus helped him crush tomatoes faster—or something like that!
For some of us, writing is particularly hard. We dread putting together reports or presentations for colleagues. The sprint concept can be applied here as well. Commit to getting 100 words on paper as fast as possible. Set a clock and look up when you’ve got the first batch down. Then, going forward, try to get another 100 words on the screen or page as quickly as you did the first. Like developing an average pace, this technique will help you jumpstart the project and maintain speed as you plow through.
Does your to-do list look like a mountain of must-dos? Make the climb easier by clustering them into groups of 1, 2, and 3 tasks. Start with one single task, maybe something super-easy, and complete it. Once that’s done, figure out 2 additional tasks you can do back to back and schedule a time to do them. Once those are complete, repeat the process and knock off 3 tasks. Then slim down to 2, and finally 1. Once you’re over the hump, you’ll find it easy to complete the final 3 tasks, and when you’re all finished, you’ll have completed 9 tasks. Impressive!