High Intensity Interval Productivity

Nov 11, 2014 | Better Writing

A few months ago a client of mine introduced me to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) in the form of The Seven Minute Workout. Now it’s part of my regular exercise routine. I like it because it packs a lot of exercise benefit into a tight timeframe.

HIIT is a lot like the productivity routines I’ve developed over the years. In fact, I’ve started thinking of those routines as High Intensity Interval Productivity or HIIP for short.

The basic principles

The basic principles of the exercise routine and the productivity routines are the same. You will get better results if you alternate periods of intense effort with periods of less intense activity.

Some examples of HIIP

David Whelan wrote about something similar in his Forbes piece, “With A $3 Egg Timer You Can Change The World.” Many writers will recognize the Pomodoro Technique as a form of HIIP. Both of the techniques use a timer to regulate the amount of time for intense work periods and for recovery.

HIIP tools

To make this work you need a timer. The timer can be fancy and look like a tomato or simple and inexpensive. If you’ve got a smartphone, it came with a timer. If none of those work for you there are apps and programs and web sites that stand ready to help.

Two kinds of cycles

I’ve tracked my productivity for decades. I’ve also read a lot about what science and various practitioners have said about productivity.

I’ve played with these ideas for years, trying out ideas and figuring out what works for me. I’ve spent time modifying my practice to make it better. I’ve discovered that there are two kinds of work I can drive using my timers.

Simple tasks

Simple tasks, like phone calls and answering email and most research can happen in twenty minute bursts. Work on one thing for twenty minutes and when the timer alerts you, switch to something else. I think you’ll find that switching activity every twenty minutes keeps you interested and helps maintain work energy, at least that’s how it works for me.

My writing cycle

I’ve discovered that twenty minutes is not enough time for me to do significant writing work, so I’ve developed a longer cycle for writing or project work.

I write until I start to lose energy. Then I set up the start of my next writing session. This seems to happen naturally at around an hour of intense work. I don’t use a timer for this, but when I stop, I set the timer for twenty minutes and do something else.

Something else can be another kind of work like reading or answering email or filing. Or it can be a complete break like taking a walk or doing some yard work. You can find out more about this kind of cycle by learning more about ultradian rhythms. Check out The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz for more.

Learn what works for you

One thing I’ve learned working with clients is that there is no one best way. What works for me may or may not work for you. So, try different things until you identify what works best for you. Then keep refining it.

Many things I’ve done have worked splendidly until circumstances changed. When that happens to you, use what you’ve learned to make an intelligent choice about what to try next.