As a writer, I’m guilty of burying myself in my computer for hours at a time. I experience the blessing and the curse of always being able to work on projects, whether personal or professional. But despite my ability to work whenever and wherever an idea strikes, I often find myself distracted and unproductive, wishing I could write more efficiently and creatively.
I recently decided to dedicate some time and research to alleviating this feeling. And after weeding through a multitude of articles titled, “How to Be A More Productive Writer,” there was one tip that stood out to me: stop sitting + start moving. I’ve heard that before… that sitting is killing us. And then I found the studies that show we sit 15+ hours a day, and the long-term effects include increased risk of weight gain, heart disease, certain cancers, and an earlier death. Even scarier, sitting is like smoking in that the effects cannot be reversed. Despite the extensive research—just to name a few—our society continues to sit far too much. And I’m 100% guilty.
When I left corporate America to start Keyhole Marketing, I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about this anymore. I wouldn’t be cooped up inside an office at a desk staring at a computer screen all day. But I was wrong. These days, instead of an office, I find myself cooped up in coffee shops all day. Or I’ll finish a lunch meeting, then stay at the restaurant and crank out a few hours of work, realizing four hours later that I haven’t moved a muscle.
It’s time to take the first step toward change.
So now I’ve made a personal commitment to move more, and I’m inviting you to take this journey with me (or at least hear me out). Here’s what I’ve found so far:
Whether you work from home or in an office, I urge you to take a look at your schedule and see how you can make small changes to add more time (and more movement) to your day.
I found this experiment called the biological prime time, which is the time of day you are most productive. Sam Carpenter coined this term in his book, Work the System, and challenges his readers to keep track of their energy, focus and motivation levels for 21 days, between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. (Find more specifics on the exercise here.)
At the end of three weeks, you’ll see when your productivity is at it’s highest throughout the day, and then you can use that info to focus on your writing during highest productivity times. Then take advantage of the times when your energy, focus and motivation levels are low and use this time to take a (guilt-free) break.
I’m still working on my three-week experiment, but I’ve found that I’m most productive in the morning, after I drop my son off for school. This is when I tune out all distractions and focus on my writing. Then I take a guilt-free break during times when my energy is lower, and move (more on what I do down below), because I now know I’m not going to be most productive during these times anyway.
I know firsthand how difficult it can be to knock out a big writing assignment in one fell swoop, especially with the never-ending distractions of email, Facebook, coworkers, etc. Sometimes the idea of even starting a big piece of writing feels too daunting, so I continually put it off.
One of my new favorite techniques is to work in sprints, taking frequent breaks. This idea has an actual name—The Pomodoro Technique—and it suggests that for larger tasks, or a series of tasks, break the work down into timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This practice will train your brain to focus for short periods of time, while improving your attention span, concentration and creativity.
There are varying opinions as to how long these timed intervals and breaks should be—anywhere from 25 minutes of work + 5 minutes of break, to 90 minutes of work + 20 minutes of break. My personal favorite is the 52 minutes of work + 17 minutes of break rule, mainly because it’s random and keeps things interesting.
Now that you have a better schedule in place and more time in your day, here are some of my favorite ways to stop sitting and start moving:
During one of your 17-minute breaks, take a walk outside and call someone who you are grateful for before going back to work. You’ll come back to your computer feeling energized from the walk and refreshed after talking to someone you love.
For me, the great outdoors is a safe haven and stimulates my brain in ways a computer or office never will. When I’m feeling stuck on a project or completely uninspired, I’ll work from a local park during my prime productivity time. The added bonus of no wi-fi allows for less distractions and more efficiency.
Another trick is to borrow a chapter out of The Artist’s’ Way, and take yourself on an artist date. On work-from-home days, stray away from the typical coffee shop atmosphere, and instead work from your local art museum. Post up in the cafe, then explore a new floor of the museum on each of your scheduled breaks. Your legs (and your right brain) will thank you once you return to your computer. Where do you find inspiration? I challenge you to find a way to weave whatever it is into your work schedule and see what happens.
We couldn’t finish this post without including a few of our favorite office hacks. While we’ve all heard these tips before, it never hurts to have a friendly reminder:
Small choices make big changes. Since starting this challenge, I’ve found that I’ve been able to find more time in a my day and then use that time to get off my ass (guilt free) and do something good for my body and mind.
We must no longer deny that sitting is slowly hurting our bodies, and instead take advantage of this reason to get up and move, and ultimately improve our writing skills.
Now – get off your ass and go do something!