Productivity: Adapt Your Strategy to Your Activity

If you go to the gym for strength training, you’ll alternate periods of “pumping the iron” followed by periods of rest: you push a little; you rest a little. That’s a set. You repeat the cycle, and that’s another set. You do a couple of sets and you change exercise. You do the same for the new exercise. Pump. Rest. Pump. Rest. Pump. Rest. That’s your strategy.

One exercise after next, you keep at it until you’re done your workout, at which time you take a longer period rest until your next session.

If you run a marathon, the strategy is a bit different: you run at a steady pace. At times, you speed up a little. At times, you slow down a little. But in essence, your pace is constant, until you complete the race. Then, you rest. Run. Run. Run. Run. That’s your strategy.

If you try to apply the “strength training” strategy to running a marathon, it won’t be effective. Sprint. Stop. Sprint. Stop. Sprint. Stop. Finish last. Not a good strategy for running a marathon—although many of us, who are out of shape, use the sprint-stop strategy and would be happy just to finish the race, never mind the rank. That said, we can agree that it’s not the best strategy to run a marathon.

Conversely, if you try to apply the “marathon running” strategy to your strength training, it won’t be effective either. Pump. Pump. Pump. Pump. Nonstop. Get hurt. Not a good strategy for strength training.

Running a marathon and strength training are two different activities. To be effective in those activities, you must adapt your strategy (your methodology) to the activity.

This same principle applies to your productivity. You must adapt your strategy to your activity.

As a general rule, to be productive, you must alternate work and rest. However, the length of work and the length of rest vary from one activity to the next (and even from one person to the next). Don’t be a prisoner of a single strategy; there’s no single strategy that works in all context.

Performing focused work (i.e. mentally taxing work), such as writing or studying, is similar to strength training. If you want to be productive, you need to alternate between short bursts of intense focus and short periods of rest. Sustaining the period of intense focus for too long is unproductive; you wear yourself off and can’t think straight anymore. Best results are achieved when you alternate between focused work and rest regularly.

However, if all you’re doing is cleaning up your office, you don’t need to take breaks as frequently as when you write. The activity is different; it’s not an activity that demands a lot of focused mental energy. Thus, the strategy must change. You make no gains by stopping regularly. In fact, you can probably clean your office from start to finish in one big sweep (i.e. no breaks at all).

Adapt your strategy to your activity. If your activity is taxing, take more breaks; if it’s relaxing, take less—perhaps none.

About The Author

Vladimir Elie

I help people learn and apply success principles and strategies so that they can get the results they want in life.