I just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable vacation. I thought about preparing this blog for my absence but in the midst of every other flavor of craziness I seem to run into daily, I decided against it.
As a full-time freelancer, I work hard each day to not only deliver quality content to my clients, but market myself, handle administrative tasks, answer inquiries, participate in a few professional groups, and oh yeah… cook dinner and spend time with The Cowboy.
It doesn’t leave much for TTR.
What is TTR?
Time To Relax.
The curse of being an addicted reader
I know the pressure you feel because I feel it, too.
You don’t have enough time to do what you need to do and on top of it, you need to keep abreast of your industry news and emerging trends.
Last month, I viewed 4854 items on my browser. This includes social media accounts, email, and search results for client research as well as my own personal research tools, admin tools and study items.
On average, I usually have two browser windows open with an average of 15 tabs open on each one.
I read a lot. And I mean, a lot.
Not only do I have my browsers working like a Kentucky Derby racehorse, I have my desktop Kindle that I open regularly as a resource tool. Or I open my Feed.ly account to skim the latest articles of industry thought leaders. Or I follow links from emails that I receive from trusted industry experts.
You could say I’m an info-holic. But I’m no different from most people who make their living from being connected to the Internet.
My dad, who is 77 years old, often says to me when I share with him something new I’ve discovered, “Where do you find the time to do this?”
I really don’t know.
Because I’m constantly in motion, flowing from one activity to another, it doesn’t hit me how busy I really am until I take a vacation and sleep for at least 9 hours on the first day.
Humans are not created to gogogo
In a recent article in The New York Times, researchers found that those who took frequent vacations were less likely to leave their jobs (certainly a “duh” moment).
In 2006, the accounting firm Ernst & Young did an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.
As athletes understand especially well, the greater the performance demand, the greater the need for renewal. When we’re under pressure, however, most of us experience the opposite impulse: to push harder rather than rest. This may explain why a recent survey by Harris Interactive found that Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.
The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy. (Source: “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive” by Tony Schwartz, The New York Times, February 9, 2013)
When you finally get some TTR, you will find that not only do you have more fun, you gain perspective.
Perspective is so important for our work lives. You can have all the energy you want and dream up new ideas – but if those ideas aren’t the right ideas for the right time, then it’s energy wasted.
Perspective allows us to ask the questions: Am I headed in the right direction? Is this the right solution? Is this the right thing to do?
We don’t get that kind of perspective by running around and putting out fires. We can only get it when we take time to relax.
One of my secrets for productivity
Last year, someone introduced me to the Pomodoro Technique for time management.
This technique involves working for 25 minute intervals, taking a 3-5 minute break, and then working again two more 25 minute/3-5 minute break intervals. After doing this 3 times (in essence, focusing on work for about 90 minutes), you then take a longer 15-30 minute break and then after, do another set of the 25 minute/5-minute break session.
In the NYT article, it was interesting to discover that our bodies naturally move in 90-minute cycles during sleep and during our waking hours:
In the 1950s, the researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, moving from light to deep sleep and back out again. They named this pattern the Basic-Rest Activity Cycle or BRAC. A decade later, Professor Kleitman discovered that this cycle recapitulates itself during our waking lives.
The difference is that during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves — the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.
Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.
Taking frequent breaks during the day can help renew your energy. I know from experience that the act of writing commercial copy is intense. When I set my timer for 25 minutes, I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Often, when a copywriter tackles a huge project such as a white paper, the task can seem daunting (even for those of us who adore the act of writing).
But when any task is broken down into bite-sized pieces, much more gets done. The gnawing sense of anxiety is somehow mollified as the person thinks, this isn’t so bad. I can do just about anything for 25 minutes.
Try it. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much you accomplish in what seems to be a small slice of time.
Give yourself some TTR
If you can’t get away for a week’s worth of vacation time, try giving yourself a few days off after a weekend. Or maybe promise yourself not to do anything work-related on a Saturday or Sunday (I know it can be difficult. I’ve had Monday deadlines before which usually has me working through a weekend).
Even taking “baby steps” and giving yourself an hour a day to take a walk or visit your favorite bookstore and just browse can help you recharge your batteries.
Don’t be surprised if you experience a “flash of genius” during these times of TTR. It’s usually what your brain does when it’s finally given room to breathe. :-)