Rhythms of productivity

June 28, 2021

I like to alternate periods of intense work with times of immersive play.

As I’m writing, I’m on the tail end of a scuba diving trip to the Caribbean island of Bonaire. For the past week or so, I’ve been diving every day, exploring the underwater world here as much as I could.

Here’s an impression:

There’s been a lot to see, a lot to enjoy. And a lot to learn too, actually; I recently purchased all my own scuba gear and it was my first time diving independently, so I improved lots of diving skills.

Next month, I’ll be heading to Turkey for a sailing trip and to spend time with my girlfriend’s family. In all, I’ll spend two months or so mostly away from my business.

During this time, I’m hardly thinking about work. It has been great to decompress. (The compression came from 1.5 years of working on various projects without any vacation at all.) I feel incredibly lucky: not everyone can go on a holiday right now, especially not with the pandemic still raging in many parts of the world.

I’m not trying to brag. My point is that I don’t like to half-ass work or to half-ass my vacation. If I were a bit more of a stereotypical millennial, I’d tell you to “work hard and play hard”. But I cringe just writing that.

This is my favorite rhythm of productivity (or perhaps my “optimal” rhythm, to use the jargon): focus on some big work projects, then take plenty of time completely off work. I like to take several long vacations per year. I realize it’s a luxury position, although I did start my own business precisely to be able to do that. It was very intentional; I know I am both happy and productive when I make take plenty of long trips.

I should clarify something here. It’s not that I don’t work at all on trips. But I give myself permission not to, so I only work when I feel like it. That permission makes all the difference.

You could image other productivity rhythms. Many people work from nine to five, Monday through Friday, and don’t think about work at all outside of those hours. That just doesn’t work for me. I usually cannot stay engaged with work for eight or nine hours straight anyway and I also can’t disengage in the evenings if I’m in the middle of a big project (like my new course Big-Picture Productivity).

Or you might try to balance work and play each week, perhaps by time blocking your entire week. Tuesday afternoons are always for tennis, say, while Wednesdays are for work meetings and Thursdays and for deep work.

Yet another rhythm is to nominally work nine to five, but in reality to constantly communicate with coworkers even outside “office hours”. Perhaps this would even go with work communication during vacations. As you might imagine, this rhythm also doesn’t work for me.

What is your favorite productivity rhythm?

As you figure it out, consider these questions:

  • How often would you ideally take vacations?
  • How long would your ideal vacations be?
  • How immersed would you ideally be in your work?
  • Do you prefer 100% focus for weeks, followed by 100% relaxation, or defined work hours each day?
  • When do you next plan to take a proper break?
  • Are you rested enough to be fully immersed in your work right now?

Think about those. In the meantime, greetings from sunny Bonaire!

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