Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to Use Intervals to Increase Productivity and Reduce Stress

Relaxation and effort are relative terms- but have you ever thought of them as "net" terms?

During a long spur of exerted effort, one might perceive the entire long, marathon-like ordeal as extremely stressful and difficult. Although mental endurance and attention span do develop just like physical endurance and strength, rarely do long winding episodes of effort result in the optimal efficiency.

During long internals, the "net" amount of stress completely overrides the amount of relaxation we feel after getting through the ordeal, as the relaxation is often interrupted with more stress regarding our doubts about the efficiency of the job we managed to plow through with less-than-optimal energy and focus. 
With shorter intervals, our "net" amount of stress is much less. Our net amount of relaxation increases- we can more easily and readily exercise the required concentration to do our jobs effectively.

In order to optimize our efforts, we must compartmentalize and organize our efforts in a streamlined manner.

When you eat too much, you get a stomach ache, you feel horrible and you interrupt your natural digestion. This is the same thing as taking in too much information or exerting too much effort- you can't process what you are doing as efficiently as if you exerted the effort and took in the information in smaller portions. You can get a stomach ache from eating your entire day's worth of food in one sitting, so we don't do that. We time our meals throughout the day in intervals that are convenient for our processing.

Everyone has a different metabolism, so work with yours. Work with your productivity metabolism by using intervals to help you get more quality work done with less stress.

In order to compartmentalize your periods of effort, you need to organize and prioritize what you need to do. Start by making a list of what you would like to accomplish. Then make subcategories of those items- write down the major components of the job. What factors are crucial for the job to be done well? Keep those in mind as you prioritize these items according to your schedule- how much time do you think these jobs will take? 

Now the question arises- how long will these tasks actually take and how can I organize that expected time period to optimize my productivity?

Now you have you consider the nature of the crucial, important aspects required to make sure you do that job well. How much mental engagement do they require? How much focus do they require? 

Prioritize these sub-tasks of your jobs. The ones that do not require much mental engagement go in the bottom pile, and the tasks that require lots of mental engagement go on to the top pile.

Now, you can set up your intervals. You will want to exert lots of focused effort in shorter periods relative to your rest period at first, until you build up lots of mental endurance or until you are really, really interested in what you are doing. 

For example, you are completing a computer programming task.

The top priority tasks could include laying down the groundwork and setting objectives. Then the rest period could involve researching and reading about various ways to fulfill those objectives. Then you go back to your active period- writing the code into your program. Then you would start your next passive interval- copy and pasting different versions and playing them in order to figure out which version you prefer.

This is extremely useful during studying.
If you have lots of reading material to get through, your active phases could involve speed reading and constructing questions. Then your passive periods involve you re-leafing through the material and constructing answers to those questions. You do this until your questions are all answered. Then you start the cycle again. Your active phases would include you creating ways to conceptualize and integrate the questions and answers into your long term memory, whilst your passive phases could include you allowing your imagination to bring up different scenarios with which you could further extend your analogies.

This interval technique depends on relative active and passive phases- choose which aspects of your job require the most focus and concentration and delegate these as your active intervals. Your passive intervals include the tasks which require less focus and allow you to broaden your vision and gather supplementary information or fulfill supporting tasks.

These can be based on time periods- for example, 15 minutes of active phase followed by 20 minutes of passive phase. Once you develop your endurance, you can change the ratios so that your active phases are longer than your resting phases. Adjust the ratios to your capabilities and the needs of your project.

These intervals can also be based on quantity- organize your work into sections and adjust according to your needs.

By using intervals, you can keep your stress levels down and work in an organized and relaxed manner. Organization and time management can do wonders for your productivity and stress levels- intervals are just one intuitive way to utilize your time and attention.