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…”)

*Here is an article by Tony Schwartz that introduces these concepts. I also recommend his book, The Power of Full Engagement.

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] Interval Training for writers and professionals An interesting post from Rachelle Gardner about increasing productivity by alternating short, high intensity bursts of speed with slower, recovery phases – it’s not just for the gym. 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.” […]

  2. […] Interval Training for Writers and Professionals | Rachelle Gardner. Must read for freelancers! When you are working from home maintaining focus and achieving a high level of productivity gets tricky. Interval Training as applied to work seems like a great idea! Share this:MoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted on July 18, 2012, in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment […]

  3. Sonia G Medeiros on July 26, 2012 at 12:52 AM

    I love this idea! I’ve tried intervals with exercise but never thought to apply them to writing. I’m going to try it right away.

  4. mclicious on July 23, 2012 at 12:04 AM

    I love this! Maybe this type of research will encourage more public schools to go the private school route and incorporate block schedules with breaks into their schedules. I definitely feel that that was one way I succeeded in high school. And I’m definitely going to try and keep this in mind for work and writing.

  5. Industry News-July 22 » RWA-WF on July 22, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    […] Rachelle Gardner suggests writers try interval writing: short but intense bursts of work followed by periods of […]

  6. Catherine Hudson on July 21, 2012 at 11:25 PM

    Oooo! good, I’m already doing this. And, you’ve now given me a nice justification for that tea break with maple-walnut kisses (those are sponge-drop biscuits here in NZ) that my mother and I keep having in the middle of our writing.

  7. Katherine Traylor on July 21, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    I do much shorter intervals. At the beginning of my work period I open all the new blog posts and websites that I want to look at in a massive collection of tabs. Most of them are work-related– writing blogs, marketing tips, etc. Then I write or edit a minimum of a paragraph, skim a blog post, and repeat until I get tired. So far it seems to work for me.

  8. Links of the week #28 « S. J. Maylee on July 21, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    […] Rachelle Gardner : Interval Training for Writers and Professionals […]

  9. Dalya on July 20, 2012 at 9:59 PM

    Wow! This is pretty much exactly how I work! I try to work for 120 minutes and peter out, so I’m going to set my timer for 90 minutes now. 🙂

  10. Friday Features #14 | Yesenia Vargas on July 20, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    […] Interval Training for Writers and Professionals by Rachelle Gardner at Rachelle Gardner […]

  11. Lisa M. Airey on July 19, 2012 at 9:32 PM

    In this do, do, do society, downtime is frowned upon…but downtime is the only way to re-charge the battery… especially when working in a creative field. Healthy breaks avoid the unavoidable “crash and burn” phenomenon. Fabulous insight brought to top-of-mind.

  12. […] Some cool (and unique) writing advice! Art Fuller brings us Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips; J.W. Alden lists 10 Bruce Lee quotes that can improve your writing; Tim Kane shows how Vermeer can help your writing; and Rachelle Gardner details how to use interval training methods in your writing process. […]

  13. Ursula Jordaan on July 18, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    Thank you!!

    I didn’t even realize I was already instinctively doing this!! Goodness, I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t going all out. I can only focus on a short period of time anyway.

    And yes, I’ve used excuses of work, tired…or my favorite, “I’m hungry!”

  14. Linnette on July 18, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    Cool! I’m gearing up to set a schedule for the upcoming school year – trying to balance writing with everything else. I will definitely try implementing this. Thanks, Rachelle!

    • Linnette on July 18, 2012 at 12:35 PM

      PS – Does anyone have difficulty refocusing when you come back to it? This is the reason I push myself once I’m in the zone. One time I quit while I was in the zone because I’d been at it for hours, it was getting late, and I was tired. I ended up struggling to refocus for weeks after that. It was as if I hit the kill switch and it broke off.

  15. Peter DeHaan on July 17, 2012 at 10:52 PM

    I think I instinctively do this at the beginning of my day and then slide away from it as the day progresses. But I think circumstances sometimes push me back into this mode later in the day!

  16. Kim Kasch on July 17, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    I’ve been doing interval training in my running and just ran my first marathon – at 50!!! I even walked away with a medal for my division 😀

    I never thought about it for writing tho’ – now I will – thanks for the tip.

  17. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 17, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    One benefit of ‘interval writing’ could be a better domestic atmosphere.

    If there’s an agreement for uninterrupted 90-min periods, followed by availability, it might cure a lot of the resentment issues that make writing so hard for some.

    (It’s never been a problem for me – I’ve been blessed with a very understanding wife.)

  18. Jim Gilliam on July 17, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    The concept of time is subjective.

    Two young boys are fighting in a vacant lot. The fight is broken up by the grandfather of one of the boys. “Why are you boys fighting? I thought you were best friends.”

    “We are grandpa, but Billy says that the Catholic church is the best and I say no the Protestant church is.”

    The wise old grandfather said, “Why don’t you each attend the other’s church on the next two Sunday’s and learn about the differences and how similar both really are.”

    The next Sunday Billy takes his little friend to Saint Mary’s for mass. He is so proud. He answers all of his friends questions.

    The next Sunday Billy goes to Christ Church with his friend Johnny. Just like his friend, Johnny is proud to answer all of Billy’s question. His answers are well thought out, assigning meaning to all parts of the protestant service.

    Finally, the Reverend, wearing a dark black suit, in stark contrast to the vestments of the Catholic priest, steps up to the pulpit, takes out his pocket watch, snaps it open, looks at it for a moment and plunks it down on the top of the pulpit.

    Billy tugs on Johnny’s coat sleeve, “What’s that mean Johnny? Huh, huh?”

    Johnny looks at his friend Billy and says, “Not a gosh darn thing.”

    There you have it, time is relevant to the situation. Different situations call for different definitions.

  19. Carrie Lynn Lewis on July 17, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    Wow! Validation!

    I’ve been an artist for well over thirty years and a serious writer for about four years. When I left my last ‘day job’, I had to find a way to make time for both creative endeavors. Turns out, my solution was interval training.

    I move back and forth between the two activities, usually painting until I get tired of standing, then writing until I get tired of sitting. A walk here and there. House work. Yard work. Administrative duties.

    I can push through four or five hours of painting and can also write for four hours straight (or more) but those days are rare.

    The best days are when I do well on both. Those days, I get between one and two hours of solid work done in both areas.

    Who knew?

  20. Marielena on July 17, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    At the risk of being a tad self-serving, here’s my post on our Birth of a Novel blog that also might help writers with a period of rejuvenation.

  21. Joe Pote on July 17, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    I definitely work best in relatively short time periods of highly focused activity.

    Too often, life interrupts, or I find myself in need of information not readily available…which interrupts the whole flow of focused activity.

    And I’m extraodrinarily poor at multi-tasking.

    Oh well… 😉

  22. Stephanie Scott on July 17, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    I like this idea of writing in 90 minute chunks. I need to learn to write in 30 minute chunks to maximize my time. Sometimes I let go of timeframes to write b/c they aren’t enough time, but I think I could still manage to get editing or words in.

  23. Kerry Gans on July 17, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    Ha! At first I did think “No way I can do this with my toddler around!” Then I realized that I actually DO this BECAUSE of my toddler. I get 2 focused periods in my day – during her nap, and after she goes to bed. And they both are about 90 minutes (sometimes a little longer). The rest of my day is broken up with toddler chasing, potty training, and the odd moments when I fit in social media.

    So I already do this! I’m impressed (and kind of shocked).


  24. […] doing things. Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) introduces an interesting wrinkle in her article Interval Training for Writers and Professionals. Yes, this is an idea similar to what serious athletes, professional or amateur, do to improve […]

  25. Sarah Thomas on July 17, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    I’ve naturally done this at work for years. I take an on-line crossword break most afternoons and find it kind of frees up my mind to remember all kinds of things! As for writing–I can’t remember the last time I had MORE than 90 minutes to keep at it!

    Another study shows that working in a somewhat noisy environment also increases productivity. Something else I’ve found to be true for me!

  26. Deanna on July 17, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    This goes right along side what I’ve been curious about – the techniques great coaches use to develop top performers!

  27. David Todd on July 17, 2012 at 12:31 PM

    I’ve never heard the term “interval training” before, but it makes sense. Back when I ran track in high school we did that, but we called it “wind sprints.” And we have that concept in sewage treatment, in laymen’s terms called feed and starve, where the bacteria doing the work are alternately fed then have the food source removed, allowing them to digest what they’ve ingested. Which is probably a whole lot more information than you want to know.

    Of course, all people are made differntly. I’m sure some perform best by following the pattern described in your post, while others probably work best with continuous output.

  28. Audrey Bennett on July 17, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    The powerful component of this prescription is the advice to do something relaxing or rejuvenating every ninety minutes. In my experience, that’s the part I fail to execute. I think I’ll try giving myself permission to recharge today and see what happens!

  29. TNeal on July 17, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    The idea of 90-minute work times resonates with me. I haven’t organized my life around that kind of schedule but I naturally lean in that direction. It sounds like our sleep cycles (and I’m fully in tune with that reality because I’ll wake up look at the clock, go back to sleep, wake up and notice it’s 90 minutes later).

  30. Sally Bradley on July 17, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    Rachelle, I have found this to be very true. When I’m editing for a client, I find that I need to take a break after fifty to sixty minutes. I’ll get something to drink, start some laundry, read a few emails, and in ten minutes I’m fresh again. Another hour, though, and I need to take a few hours off.

    Interestingly enough, my endurance is longer when I’m working on my own book. I can go for ninety minutes or so before needing a break, and I can do two or three of those blocks before needing to call it a morning or afternoon.

    Right now I’m doing a large edit for a client, and I’m working for two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon, and two hours in the evening. This keeps me feeling my sharpest as I work and lets me get a lot done around the house too. As well as some time to read. 😉

  31. TNeal on July 17, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    I don’t need chaos but I do better in a public place. I am more focused with people around me. Writing at home alone, I tend toward the distracted side of life–oh, laundry, I’m just going to play a few computer games, maybe the dog needs walking, does the car need washing today …

  32. Wendy Paine Miller on July 17, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    I always just thought this meant that I was an intense person–love intensely, work intensely hard, play intensely hard…who knew it had benefits?

    Good stuff.

  33. Alicia Hall on July 17, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    I love this idea! I am already a believer in fitness interval training but had no idea that this would work in my writing life. I can’t wait to implement it into my day.

    I could see however that this would be harder to do if you were working full time and then trying to fit in your 90 minutes after work while juggling family responsibilities. On the other hand, knowing that 90 minutes of uninterrupted work would yield high benefits might be the push you need to get writing every day.

  34. Donna Pyle on July 17, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    I’ve never thought about interval writing, but it certainly makes sense. There are specific times during the day where my work is more efficient and productive than others. When writing in that zone there tends to be less revisions later. It will be interesting to combine interval writing with the Pomodoro technique and see what happens. Thanks so much for this great food for thought.

  35. Gabrielle Meyer, @MeyerGabrielle on July 17, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    This is encouraging! I work on my manuscripts in short intervals throughout the day because I stay home full time with four kiddos. Before they awake, when they are napping and after they’re in bed for the night – that would work out to be three 90 minute intervals! This whole time I’ve been thinking I wasn’t giving my work what it has needed, but maybe, all along, I’m doing the best thing?!?!

    • Meghan Carver on July 17, 2012 at 1:27 PM

      Exactly my thoughts as I read through the comments, Gabrielle! I can usually depend on the munchkins napping for at least 90 minutes in the afternoon. And I’ve noticed that my brain starts to wander after about 90 minutes anyway, wondering how soon I’ll be interrupted, what I should fix for supper, did anybody like my FB status, etc.

    • Jeanne on July 17, 2012 at 4:17 PM

      Good for you, Gabrielle! With kids home for summer, I haven’t figured out how to squeeze writing in during the day. But I get the early morning, thing. I am up way before the sun most mornings, to squeeze in writing time before sun and boys arise. 🙂 Working on the night time writing routine.

  36. Jennifer Major @Jjumping on July 17, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    Okay, in my defense, the ONLY egg timer we have is a ONE MINUTE timer!!! I do not sit there and repeatedly invert the thing to send sand pouring chills up and down my spine.
    The dentist gave it to my 9 year old time his teeth brushing skills.

    And if I had a 90 minute hour glass, I’d get rid of it. We have 3 boys who actually do play soccer in the living room.

    So there…I feel all better now.


    • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 2:12 PM

      Don’t you love it when you meant to post as a reply and it becomes a new post that sits wearing florescent green in a field of charcoal? I’m not saying that’s what occurred. I’m just randomly asking.

      • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 2:21 PM


        You are soooo…anyway. I felt that I should write a stand alone so that SOME people would see my point where it would be seen and not swimming in a sea of gradually shrinking squares.
        But, hey, thanks for pointing out that it could be interpretted as special.

        • Joe Pote on July 17, 2012 at 4:50 PM

          Ya’ll are too funny! 🙂

  37. Lillian Archer on July 17, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    I have always been intimidated by writers who write daily, for several hours a day. I simply cannot do it and produce quality work. I am best when I write for 1-2 hours, then take a break. I come back refreshed and engaged. Finally, scientific proof that I am doing the “write” thing 🙂

  38. Brianna on July 17, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    I really like this concept. I can’t introduce it right now as my work schedule doesn’t leave me time, but as soon as summer camp ends on August 10, I’m in. I’ve requested his book from the library as well.

  39. Connie Almony on July 17, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    I LOOOOVVVEE this analogy. Being summer, I’ve had difficulty getting much writing done since my daughter is home most of the day and my husband always works from home. Both like to chat. Great for the relationships, bad for the story world. However, both can give me short bursts of time where they will leave me alone … when they remember. If I implement them like an interval trainer and schedule them this way, maybe (maybe, maybe) that would work for them as well. We’ll see.

  40. Thoughts on interval writing « Ellen Gregory on July 17, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    […] It’s amazing how fast two weeks can whoosh past. And I’ve just ducked in here to share and comment on this post from literary agent Rachelle Gardner on Interval training for writers. […]

  41. Eric on July 17, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    I have started to think about this a lot. Even more so, I’m starting to figure out my work flow patterns so that I can work more efficiently and accomplish more in less time.

  42. Jeanne on July 17, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    I love the interval concept. I haven’t been diligent about working out, much less physical interval training, but that’s changing, slowly.

    In my writing world, when I’m fast drafting, I usually write a scene, which takes me 60-90 minutes, take a break and come back to write another scene or two later in the day. With the kiddos home for summer, I’m doing my re-writes slowly, usually working for an hour in the morning and wherever else I can squeeze in time. (Think swim lessons). When the school year rolls back around, I think it’ll be easier to work in an interval sort of way.

    Thanks for sharing this today, Rachelle, and for the link to the article. Very helpful!

  43. Lindsay Harrel on July 17, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    These are definitely great thoughts. I’ve found that I can’t just sit and work for hours upon hours straight. I need to take little breaks, like you said. Sometimes, the breakthrough I need comes through when I’m chatting with a friend or even napping. I come back refreshed and ready to go at it again.

  44. Diane Yuhas on July 17, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    I believe I’ve instinctively worked this way at home for quite some time. Before I quit my job to care full-time for my mother, I was an RN in an emergency department. I worked full-speed the entire 12 hours, simply going from task to task only to end up utterly exhausted at the end of the day. Not much room for creativity, but now that I’m home, I like to break up times of high intensity with times of relaxation and rest. I accomplish quite a bit this way and the creative juices flow smoothly.

  45. Brian Henwood on July 17, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    It is interesting to me how many of you use the word work when talking about writing.
    The time I spend on my novel is my relax time. It’s how I unwind, gives me a chance to create, to forget about the real world. It’s where I go to unplug.
    Even when I am unable to be by the computer, I spend a little time now and then and map out what my characters will do (or what I will to do them). I think that’s why it has never felt like work to me. By the time I make it to my Mac, I cannot wait to start writing. I have to get it all down before I forget some little detail or nuance. When I have to start stewing on what happens next, it’s time to get up and do something else until I have a few more chapters “written.”

    • Stephanie Scott on July 17, 2012 at 2:19 PM

      It depends what phase of writing I’m in. I’m doing line edits now and it feels like work. Although, I wouldn’t do any of it if I didn’t love it.

  46. Cherry Odelberg on July 17, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    Yes, I am somewhat instinctively working in this direction already.

    • Cherry Odelberg on July 17, 2012 at 10:15 AM

      A few years back, when my youngest child was in high school, I had opportunity to focus my days on a manuscript for five months. It was wonderful. I would rise and go straight to the computer; hit a block and go take a shower, returning with refreshed inspiration. After an hour or so, I took a three mile walk, once again returning to the manuscript with fresh ideas. In a perfect world, that would be the schedule. No more of this slavery to the phone and internet, skipping writing days to work real jobs, or feeling guilty about doing the things where you feel God’s pleasure.

      • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 2:07 PM

        It works out well to take those breaks. The oddity of my day job and writing is that they are two worlds for me. I will go visit a nursing home, then come home and write. Then I go on another visit and repeat. It works out well because I can only handle so much visiting and so much writing. I never thought about what I was doing before, but it makes sense based on the 90 minute intervals.

  47. Jim Gilliam on July 17, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    You cannot regiment creativity!

    Write everyday by all means, but you cannot be a slave to the 90-minute egg timer (love that one Jennifer). When I was in the Army, the efficiency experts [let’s breakdown the word expert: Ex = has been, and Pert = a notion (a theory or belief). So, someone, at some point, had an idea. Whether it works or not remains to be seen.], anyway the idea was that every clinic patient was allotted 15-minutes of the provider’s time. Medicine just doesn’t conform to this model. My patients received as much of my time as they needed. If you came in for a refill of your prescription, you get five minutes, the time it takes to write out the darn thing. If you’re bleeding and need sutures, it’ll probably take longer than 15-minutes. The same thing with writing. If I get an idea I start writing. Sometimes I’m on the computer for 5-minutes and sometimes 3-hours later I come up for air–more often than not.

    The only thing scheduled about my writing is, that I write every day.

  48. Ann Bracken on July 17, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    I think this is a very good idea. Inspiration often hits when I’m not in front of the computer and my mind is focused on something completely different. I then have to run to my computer and write it all down.

    Also, I love doing writing challenges with friends on gchat or skype. We set a time (usually an hour), say go, and write like crazy. After the time is up we report how many words we’ve written and some share. These short bursts are extremely productive.

  49. Susan Bourgeois on July 17, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    I workout this way and I write this way also.

    It makes sense for me to work this way.

    I work in quiet with no noise from the world of electronics.

    I’ll write or research for a couple of hours and take a break to walk/jog or perform basic household tasks.

    I do find the time spent away from my writing allows me time to expand areas of my writing in ways that enhance the story.

    I’m more motivated than ever since I recently saw Nicolas Sparks’ interview with Anderson Cooper.

    I delved further and read much of his writing history.

    I was amazed to read that he wrote his breakout novel “Notebook” in six month’s time! He stated that he wrote after his two young children were sleeping and from 9:00 to 12:00 each night, three nights a week.

    In six months time, he completed the novel and sent it off.

    From what I’ve read, the manuscript was only later discovered when it was pulled from the agent’s slush pile.

    I think he received a $1,000,000 advance from that story and the rest is history.

    I think that might be a great example of interval writing.

    It works for me! I’m motivated more than ever to complete my novel in six month’s time.

  50. Jennifer@SurprisingJoy on July 17, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    This was a very helpful post. Thank you!

  51. Stephen H. King on July 17, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    Reading of the concept of mental interval training reminded me of the stories I heard of Thomas Edison: “He doesn’t sleep very much at all, he just naps a lot.” He and others of the most creative minds in our history have been nappers because they understood the utility of breaking up the work effort into shorter, more intense, bits of energy.

    It also, by the way, brings to mind a truism about my occupation. Accreditation standards actually define an hour as fifty minutes. Why? Because they understand the importance of a break every hour, because no matter how interesting you make the topic, no matter how advanced the adult’s intellect or how sincere the passion, you only have the adult’s attention for fifty minutes at a time. Why, then, should we expect ourselves to do that which isn’t expected of the brightest college students?


    • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 2:00 PM

      The great ones were nappers. I am so going to use this. I’m going to put a sign over my couch that says, “Quiet, great one in process.”

      • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 2:17 PM

        Aww, your wife will love that. Every time she rests from loving and caring for her family, you’re going to let everyone know how great she is!

        • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 2:22 PM

          Nice job, Jennifer. 🙂

          • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on July 17, 2012 at 10:59 PM

            Thanks, it only took a second to be THAT brilliant.

          • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 11:57 PM

            Sorry, It was an off day with the open heart surgery. My brother is well and the bi-pass a success. TY for your prayers.

          • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on July 18, 2012 at 7:15 AM

            I meant it took ME a second…annnnnnyway.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 17, 2012 at 2:08 PM

      Thomas Edison is a good example, but I’ve heard that napping rather than sleeping can prevent one from getting enough REM sleep, which does lead to problems.

      I lived that way for years due to PTSD, until I got a service dog. She walks post in the house – all night – so I can rest. But every so often I have to leave her alone during the day to get some uninterrupted sleep, otherwise she gets fractious. And a fractious Heeler is indeed a sight to behold (and of which one is well-advised to remain clear.

      Interestingly, she’s broken in an assistant, all on her own, and they split watches.

      • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 2:25 PM

        Awww. That is so sweet.

      • Stephen H. King on July 17, 2012 at 3:13 PM

        (caveat: NOT a sleep expert here)

        I think the issue is whether you enter REM sleep, not whether or not you call it a nap. I was having severe problems entering REM sleep at night till I got on sleep apnea treatment, myself.

        There’s a (not quite scholarly) article about napping and REM here:

        As to what it takes to enter REM, I dunno. I see 15-20 minutes some times, and I see most of the night other times. Clearly, though, the creative minds who thrived on napping had it down.

  52. Julia Munroe Martin on July 17, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    I used to sit uninterrupted at the computer for up to eight hours, and it was really taking a physical and mental toll. And what you’ve described is very similar to what I started to do in the past couple of months. I turn off the wifi to write uninterrupted until I finish my day’s writing goal (1K-2K a day) — which takes about two hours — then I exercise for about the same. Then I go back and either write more, edit, or read. Then an afternoon walk or other exercise session. Social networking is reserved for special half hour increments, if that. It’s worked really well and I feel much better about everything I do and a lot more relaxed.

  53. Silvia on July 17, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    I’m one of those who tends to stay at the computer for up to 7/8 hours…but I do get pauses (watch youtube, do research instead of writing), so I guess I take my pauses in between bursts of writing.

    However, I will need soon to impose breaks where I actually get up and do more active tasks, because thanks to a long time ago trauma and subsequent misguided care, my back now can’t tolerate sitting (degenerative disc disease plus MS, I’m so lucky, lol).

    So, an hour sitting, fifteen minutes physical activity. I find it hard going and distracting, but the beauty of the human being is its adaptability.

  54. CG Blake on July 17, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    This piece makes a lot of sense to me. Often my first 90 minutes are the most productive. And let’s face it: almost everybody can find 90 minutes a day to write. Thanks, Rachelle.

  55. Sundi Jo on July 17, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    I think I could do it. It’s just getting me there. Once I start writing it’s hard to get me stopped. It’s just focusing on making it happen first. I’m getting better.

  56. Sue Harrison on July 17, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    Thank you, Rachelle! This is the way I’ve always worked. Now I don’t have to feel guilty about it. (As I always have!)

  57. Jackie Layton on July 17, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks for sharing this.

    I’m all for naps, so maybe I can take a quick nap between my paying job and writing. Ha!

    I noticed that a lot of people commented on how summer has changed their writing schedule. My youngest is home on college break, and I find myself wanting to spend as much time as possible with him when he’s at the house.

    Thanks again Rachelle for sharing this.

    • Ann Bracken on July 17, 2012 at 9:49 AM

      I love naps! They are the best change of scenery.

    • Jeanne on July 17, 2012 at 10:31 AM

      Naps are my friend! Sometimes, my body demands that I spend some head-on-pillow time, even if it’s onlyo 15 minutes. I always awaken rejuvenated and ready to go again. 🙂

      • Jackie Layton on July 17, 2012 at 6:39 PM

        You know, sometimes a 15 minute nap will do more good than a 2 hour nap.

        I think my grandmother called a short nap like that “twenty winks.”

  58. Jennifer Major @Jjumping on July 17, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    I’ve discovered that my creative brain works best in the morning, when it is quiet. Since school is out, so is my quiet time, which then has to wait until after the 9 year old is in bed. I WORK , then walk around, do some housework, WORK, have a spot of tea, WORK…you get the drift. If the kids are being kids, then hello ipod. There’s no point sitting at the computer if the distractions are so bad you’re laughing at Phineas and Ferb and asking the kids what Doofenschmirtz is doing.

    • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:55 PM

      During distracted time I just keep a laptop or notepad close by for random hamster movement in the brain.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 17, 2012 at 2:03 PM

        PJ, you said something really important there, about keeping a notebook handy.

        When I was studying for my PhD qualifying exam, I did just that – running through equation derivations in a notebook wherever I was. Really surprised some people when I did it in a grocery store line. (It was before I was married, and I thought it might also serve as a great pickup mechanism…alas, it just marked me as a terminal dweeb.)

        • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 2:14 PM

          Andrew! You are hilarious!!
          I have to tell you, using the term “equation derivations” may not exactly have been what the single ladies would have swooned over. But I bet if you had said “somatic embryogenesis” you couldda had a chance. I know one guy who it worked for.

        • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 2:20 PM

          Ah yes, I still keep most of my dweeb memorabilia in a shoe box. (Rubik’s cube, D and D cards, original Atari joystick, and self-repaired glasses.) It would be a joke if it were not true.

          • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 2:22 PM

            High road. I am on it. Alone. For now.

          • Stephen H. King on July 17, 2012 at 3:15 PM

            “dweeb memorabilia” – I think I’m insulted, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to nap on it.

      • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 2:08 PM

        “random hamster movements” BAHAHAHA!!! Very good, I’m stealing that.
        I’ve kept a notebook within reach for 7 months now. What a lifesaver.

  59. Ernie Zelinski on July 17, 2012 at 5:10 AM

    These two quotations relate:

    “Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous. That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor.”
    — Paul Hawken

    “The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.”
    — Henry David Thoreau

    Also, remember these important words from one of my favorite writers:

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job working on the right project than a great job working on the wrong project.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    • Jackie Layton on July 17, 2012 at 7:35 AM

      Those are some great quotes.

    • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:51 PM

      Great quotes, Ernie. Thanks for posting these.

  60. John Sauvé-Rodd (London UK) on July 17, 2012 at 4:35 AM

    Looking at the Schwartz article I am reminded forcibly that America is very different to the UK. People not taking all their annual vacation? Are you kidding?

    I have this to add to the discussion which I hope is helpful.

    1 I worked in West Berlin in 69-70 for a German firm while at university; the Germans were known to us British to be very hard workers; I found it not to be so, and they rarely worked overtime and never weekends; but they were (and still are) very efficient in how they worked. That is powerful insight.

    2 As for us, we authors, I am quite new to it but I know that the D-word is crucial (for me), and D=discipline. Writing is work. Whether you call it hard work or not is up to you, but The Book will only be finished by ME writing one word after another. Schwartz’s insight is that 3x90m with breaks and changes of scene optimizes working efficiency. It seems both disciplined and effective: in his own book writing he says cut the time to finish in half, so it appears to work.

    It was fashionable to say once ‘work smarter, not harder’; it looks like Tony Schwartz has rediscovered that wisdom. And put some numbers to it, and I like numbers. I mean, you can build a balanced life around 3×90 minutes. But I can already see from the comments that his method is not for everyone.

  61. George Patrick Dovel on July 17, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    Breaking the day into short periods of focused intensity in the Scriptorium of Obliviousness deep beneath the Earth’s crust is definitely the more effective method for me.

    Also, I find that giving the Muses screamingly close deadlines discourages them from flopping down on the sofa with a bag of Cheetos and a promise that they’ll get going any minute now.

  62. EnnisP on July 17, 2012 at 3:39 AM

    Aside from the exact details – so many minutes on, so many off – these findings endorse the principle of the Sabbath which leads one to think that Sabbath rest is as much practical as it is spiritual.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 17, 2012 at 4:12 AM

      I would agree with that wholeheartedly, especially since the sabbath was made for us, and not vice versa.

      To my reading, this does give some leeway to sabbath activities, beyond what a strict interpretation of Mosaic tradition would allow. I have PTSD, and for me a quiet, contemplative sabbath is an open door to disaster.

      like to think that for those of my ilk, Jesus will look at our intentions measured against his hopes for us, rather than against those who are able to more correctly observe the Lord’s Day.

      Time will tell.

  63. Mercey Valley on July 17, 2012 at 3:16 AM

    This a VERY cool way to work, because at the back of your mind you know time is of the essence and it needs to spent productively and fluidly for maximum benefit. In my writing experience some of my best has come from ‘intense’ slots instead of full-day writes. The sense of urgency makes the words punchy and less drifty.

    A teacher once told me that short breaks are needed for ideal concentration, and she set the clock at half hourly intervals. This is waaaaaay too quick unless you’re listening to a seminar.

    90min writes, consistently? Yes please 🙂 It’s kind of like snacking between meals. Do it right, and the whole body benefits.

  64. J.M. Bray on July 17, 2012 at 3:13 AM

    In my everyday work, I do exactly this, but the interval is about an hour. I don’t necessarily get up and DO something but I shift my focus to something completely different and stress relieving. I also “mull” my thoughts. Yep…let them sit in a pot with a bunch of spices and slowly heat up. They only need an occasional stir, then *bling* something great comes to the top.

    When I am writing I admit to getting lost in the creative flow, where I’ll look up and hours have passed. I’m pretty sure my muse is a guy named Jim, who fires up a jackhammer then tries to crack my skull from the inside if I don’t get the words out.

    Maybe some mulling will settle him down.

  65. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 17, 2012 at 2:46 AM

    Hey, doesn’t the ‘interval training’ paradigm kind of Mess with the Muse? It seems that it can be hard to catch creativity in a bottle made of minutes, especially on a first draft.

    Doesn’t apply to mine – my Muse is something like Lucille Ball on uppers. She just flat-out wouldn’t stand for it.

    • Iola on July 17, 2012 at 3:03 AM

      Sometimes you get into what psychologists call ‘flow’, when you are operating out of time – you know the feeling, when you look up and see that three hours have passed without you noticing. So when the muse hits and you are in ‘flow’, there’s no need to stop just because your 90 minutes are up.

      But those days when writing ten words seems an effort, try the interval approach. Go all out for 90 minutes (or 60 or 10), then stop and don’t feel guilty about stopping.

      • Mercey Valley on July 17, 2012 at 3:19 AM

        Definitely agree!

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 17, 2012 at 3:57 AM

        That makes sense, tho’ I can see where following the flow too rigidly could lead to low output/

        Is there a model for a middle ground, in which the flow is recognized by extending the time, but the interval training model is used to establish a lower bound on effort?

        (I mean, is that middle ground formally recognized – people do it, of course! But I was wondering if it had a name.)

      • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 8:07 AM

        Exactly!! My husband’s job requires alot of riting and he’ll call at dinner time and say “I’m in a flow” and I totally get it now. And if stare out the window of my office (cleverly disguised as our dining room) and he comes to bug me/chat , all I have to say is “In a flo” and he smiles and walks away.

      • Cherry Odelberg on July 17, 2012 at 10:18 AM

        I think “in a flow,” used to be referred to as, “in the Spirit.”
        Yes, great times when one is writing, in a flow, in the Spirit or with inspiration.

        • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on July 17, 2012 at 11:25 AM

          Or, as a hockey mom, a “flow” is when the boys grow their hair long and use too much product and when they take off their helmets, their hair “flows”.

          Arntcha glad I shared that?


        • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:46 PM

          I prefer “in the spirit” to “in the flow” because the latter reminds me of all the coffee I had to get charged up and…

          • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 2:03 PM

            Ahahahahaha!! Ew. TMI. Where’s B?

  66. BK Jackson (@BKJacksonAZ) on July 17, 2012 at 1:55 AM

    Thanks for the book rec. I’d like to give it a shot. It certainly can’t hurt.

  67. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 17, 2012 at 1:47 AM

    It doesn’t work for me – I do my best work in chaotic conditions, with multiple overlapping demands on my time. Put me in a quiet room for 90 minutes and I don’t focus – I go brain-dead.

    I suspect that forcing the necessity of focus by working in a less-than-optimal environment provides the challenge I need to do well. When everything’s arranged neatly for efficient work, it’s way boring, and I tank.

    Drives my wife crazy. She wanted me to have an office where I could concentrate. I write in my sheet-metal-shop-cum-kennel (there are nine dogs within 10 feet as I write this…3 Pits, 2 Aussies, 2 heelers, 3 hounds…oh, that’s 10…).

    Does this resonate with anyone?

    (Ross is doing well! Thanks for the prayers!)

    • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 8:03 AM

      Okay, this is where we differ. I would go categorically INSANE if I didn’t have at least some quiet. Although,something tells me that having 10 of those furry friends in a room would be great. Especially for conversations.
      My husband SWEARS ourdog can hum “Oh Canada”. Your dogs could probably weld!

      • Sue Harrison on July 17, 2012 at 10:26 AM

        Jennifer, I’m with you. Peace and quiet. My schnauzer knows to be quiet. Although a few years ago we went through a time when he would bark at the door – his “someone-is-coming” bark – just to get me out of the office.

    • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:43 PM

      Dude, it’s the video game while watching TV homework sessions that made you this way. I was raised near the beach, so I have to throw water in my face every half hour.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on July 17, 2012 at 2:13 PM

        Dude, like, awesome, dude! It’s like, you know, you were, like watching me grow up! It’s like, you know, tubular, dude!

        Now to recant my brain…

  68. P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:37 AM

    This makes a lot of sense, Rachelle. I often focus heavily on what I want to get done then hit a wall. No matter what I do, I can’t force myself back into the groove. Perhaps an egg timer should be my best buddy?
    I’ll give this a shot and see how it goes. The nice thing about being on this end of the publishing world is: I have tons of time to experiment. 😉

    • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 8:00 AM

      Seriously, if I had an egg timer, I’d spend waaaay too much time watching the sand fall.
      “Ohhhh, pretty”. Remember, I am from Vancouver.

      • Jeanne on July 17, 2012 at 10:25 AM

        Soooo, maybe the solution is a digital timer? 🙂

        • Jennifer Major on July 17, 2012 at 10:28 AM

          But where’s the fun in that?
          Nice to see you back Jeanne, I missed you. I should have told you that yesterday, but I was watching my egg timer and got too entranced.

          • Jeanne on July 17, 2012 at 11:16 AM

            Yep, a 3700 mile road trip took me off the internet path for a couple of weeks. 🙂 You’re right, a digital timer isn’t as fun, but, SQUIRREL! 🙂

            It’s good to be back.

        • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on July 17, 2012 at 11:23 AM

          Where did you go? The whole family or did you do what I’m going to do and abandon your children to the care and feeding of their father?

          You had me laughing at SQUIRREL!!

          • Jeanne on July 17, 2012 at 4:10 PM

            The whole family went. It was a great memory building trip. I confess, I’m glad to be getting back into “reality,” especially now that the laundry is clean again. 🙂 My honey would take the kids, but I wouldn’t ask it of him for two weeks! Maybe one day, though, I’ll get a mini-writing retreat for all my hard work as a wife and mom. 🙂

      • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:37 PM

        What’s funny is, I just meant to say cooking timer. 90 minute eggs sound interesting, though. Spongy rock anyone?

    • Sandra Ardoin on July 17, 2012 at 9:39 AM

      Actually, I do use the egg timer. I also have to use earplugs to keep from focusing on the tick-tick. 🙂 I set it for anywhere from 30-45 minutes. When the time is over, I get up and do something else for a few minutes. I do this mainly because I’ll sit in the chair for two or three hours otherwise. Not good.

  69. Olivia Newport on July 17, 2012 at 1:30 AM

    I do tend to work this way. About every 90 minutes I have to get up for about 10 minutes of movement. And after a couple of those cycles, I need some serious movement, like go out and walk for 20 minutes or take a mid-day exercise class. Productivity and focus definitely go up when I am listening to my my body.

  70. Natalie on July 17, 2012 at 1:26 AM

    I kind-of do this, but not because of mental focus. I have a history of RSI, so I make sure that every hour or so I take a break and move around, have a cup of tea and read, load the dishwasher etc. Something other than sitting at my computer tapping away. In my case, social media or computer games do not count as they do not get me away from the repetitive strain of typing and clicking.

    Mentally, I don’t yet have 90 minutes of focus anyway. My youngest started kindergarten this year giving me a lot more time than I used to have, but I find that my mind starts to wander after about 30-40 mins and it is a struggle to continue to engage with my work. I guess I am accustomed to the attention span of a toddler!

    • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:33 AM

      I’m A.D.D. so 90 minutes sounds good to me. For the last 89 minutes I was working on the third book in the Angel Blood series. This is my last heavy focus of the day. Isn’t it interesting that church services often start at 10:30 and end at 12? I wonder if…whoa, there’s a cat fight outside. See you later.

      • John Sauvé-Rodd (London UK) on July 17, 2012 at 4:12 AM

        I looked up Angel Blood (Google) and got two books by different authors but not yours. Tell more please.

        • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 5:58 AM

          Those were Angels’ Blood. Mine is Angel Blood Family Secrets. I didn’t advertise it as I hoped the traditional route would pan out. Here’s the trailer for it on my blog:

          Thanks for asking. 🙂

          • John Sauvé-Rodd (London UK) on July 17, 2012 at 7:17 AM

            Thanks. I’m at our house in rural France now with the puniest broadband speeds so I can’t see movies, but I am giving it a go with a d/l tool.

            Later that same epoch: seen it; there’s a huge market isn’t there for magic/fantasy/alien beings? But your trailer doesn’t tell me enough I felt to get to a buy/non thank you decision.

        • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on July 17, 2012 at 7:23 AM

          John, you’re in for a great read!!

        • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:11 PM

          Thank you for your honesty, John. I’ll definitely weigh your words.

      • Stephen H. King on July 17, 2012 at 9:20 AM

        “Isn’t it interesting that church services often start at 10:30 and end at 12?” – Some do, indeed, but I was raised Methodist, where service starts on the hour and if the preacher isn’t done by the next hour then he’s cutting into our fellowship (aka pigging out together) time. One hour, man. That’s it. 🙂

        • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:30 PM

          Prayer and feasting, brother, prayer and feasting.

    • P. J. Casselman on July 17, 2012 at 1:14 PM

      Natalie, I’m sorry I seem to have posted a response under your name and it went off on a sidebar.