Interval Training for Writers and Professionals
In the last few years, exercise research has brought out the effectiveness of interval training for increasing speed and fitness, building endurance, burning fat, and losing weight. I’ve integrated interval training into my exercise routine, and when I’m diligently doing it, the difference in my fitness level is noticeable and significant.
Interval training means alternating short, high intensity bursts of speed with slower, recovery phases in a single workout. For example, in a run you might sprint all-out for thirty seconds, then slow jog for two minutes, and repeat for the duration of your workout time. It’s based on the physical realities of lactic acid, oxygen debt, muscle fatigue and recovery time, which I won’t go into here.
But interval training can help us with our professional lives as well.
In his book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Tony Schwartz explains the growing body of research suggesting we’re most productive when we move between periods of high focus and rest, and he writes:
“Instead we live in a gray zone, constantly juggling activities, but rarely fully engaging in any of them or fully disengaging from any of them. The consequence is that we settle for a pale version of the possible.”
Research compiled and analyzed by Schwartz and others has identified:
- 90 minutes as the optimum high-focus work time; and
- a maximum of three 90-minute focused periods a day provides for the most productivity.
Rejuvenation periods, which could include exercise, napping, or other non-work related activities, are important in that they provide the opportunity for “creative breakthroughs, a broader perspective, the opportunity to think more reflectively and long term, and sufficient time to metabolize experiences.”
One of the secrets to making “interval training” successful is to truly go as hard as you can during those focused periods. In exercise, this means going all-out, exercising as intensely as the body possibly can. In our work and writing, this means truly FOCUSING — getting alone in a quiet space without interruptions (goodbye Internet, social media, phone calls and text messages) and concentrating for 90 minutes.
So, what do we need to do to maximize our creativity and productivity?
- First, jettison the belief that “the more hours we put in, the better.”
- Next, schedule our work time (or writing time) so that we’re alternating periods of high-intensity focus with periods of rejuvenation.
Are you already instinctively working like this? If not, can you figure out a way to begin?
(And how many of you immediately found your mind cluttered with several reasons why you can’t do it? “My day job… my kids… my schedule…”)