Working until you run out of steam

These days I work quite productively—more so than when I worked in corporate. Why is that?

Mostly, it’s because I work until I run out of steam. 

(And then I take a break.)

Initially, when I’m in the zone, my work happens with little effort. But sooner or later I run out of steam. Sometimes this happens after 30 minutes; other times, after a few hours. But it happens eventually, every single time. 

When I run out of steam, it becomes increasingly difficult to think clearly. At that point, I know I need a break. Depending on how difficult thinking clearly has gotten, I will take a shorter break or a longer break. This means I don’t predetermine when I’ll take a break.

Taking breaks at set times can be a decent way to stay fresh. But if you have the awareness to know what your mental state is in the moment, you will be more productive if you take breaks when you need them and continue to work when you don’t.

(But beware: many people underestimate how many breaks they need and how long those breaks should be. The lawyer who has been working until 9 a.m. and says he’s still super fresh at 10 p.m. is probably not very self-aware.)

I encourage you to try this practice. Start by paying attention to how clear your thinking is.

Can you plan effectively? Are you keen to get started? Can you work with focus? Then you’re good to go.

But do you feel overwhelmed? Are you having trouble prioritizing tasks? Do simple tasks feel difficult? Then you’ve run out of steam.

Stop working when you run out of steam, then take a break. Get back to work when you feel rested. Then note what happens to your productivity. Did it help?

Self-regulating your work hours is a skill. It takes practice. But if you invest in the skill, your investment will pay itself back, because you’ll get more done in less time while you feel better.


— Peter

P.S. If you’d like to work more productively, let’s talk. My coaching program might be right for you.

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