At the advice of this superhuman friend of mine, I started doing Tabata workouts.
I’d been struggling to lose weight for the past two years, both in terms of motivation as well as trying to find the time to work out after I had my baby. I ran sporadically 30-60 minutes a day and lost a significant amount of weight last year, but I’d hit a plateau. So over a dinner reunion with an old friend who happens to be a certified fitness coach, a world-class dragon boating champion, a medical student and an incredible powerhouse of energy (that’s the superhuman part), I posed the question: What is the most efficient way to lose weight?
Definitely not running, she said. Try Tabata instead.
So I went home and hunted down some Tabata circuits from Pinterest.
They were hard, monstrously, heart pumpingly hard but the thrill I got after doing them, the sense of accomplishment was phenomenal. Kind of like when I tried Insanity to lose weight before my wedding. It works, but only if you give it all you’ve got.
Anyway, while working out, I got this huge brain-wave that had me itching to finish the workout so I could run to the notepad, the sweat still dripping off my nose, to pen down the epiphany that just rocked my grey matter:
There are so many parallels between working out and increasing your productivity.
• Singular focus
• Decluttering of the mind
In order for your workout to be effective and to prevent injury, you need to have the skills and knowledge to plan out an effective workout. Now, I’m no purist, planning can be as simple as picking a pre-designed workup dvd or video program. In that case, Shaun T or Jillian Michaels will have already done most of the planning for you. What’s important is for you to give it some thought and plan the kind of work (or workout) that you intend to do and the results that you expect to get.
Similarly, you need a road map to your end goals in work as well.If you want to work productively and see results, you will need to plan, gather resources and learn the skills necessary to succeed in your task.
Intense workouts require discipline. You need to be able to roll your sleeves up and focus. When I started my workout, I had a lot of reserve energy and motivation to bludgeon through the difficult moves, but as the workout progressed, the only way I was able to go on was by powering through with sheer force of will.
I am not saying that your work should always be dependent on whether or not your will power is strong that day. After all, if you don’t love the work you do, you will end up burning out at some point by forcing yourself to do it day in and day out.
More often than not, however, there will be days where you have to force yourself to sit down and work when you don’t feel like it – that is where discipline comes in. Contrary to what most people think, discipline is not the same as torturing yourself to finish a project when you really don’t want to. Its more about building a habit or practice over time, where regardless of the external and internal factors affecting you, you are able to sit down and give your work the attention it deserves on a regular basis.
Effective workouts, like productive work, requires you to focus solely on what you are trying to accomplish. You can’t succeed if your attention is flying in all directions and you’re trying to accomplish several things at once. Self help gurus like Leo Babauta talk about focusing on one thing at a time. We nod our heads to concepts like these but then go right back to checking our iPhones, answering emails and watching youtube videos simultaneously.
Step back and focus on one task at a time. Say you’re doing a squat challenge. In order to do it properly, you have to be in the present – to tighten and engage your core, to breathe evenly, to keep your back straight, shoulders down and to slowly lower yourself into a squat without losing your balance or damaging your knees by extending them beyond your toes. If you’re wholly present within you’re body while you’re doing this squat, you don’t have much mental space left over to think about other things, do you? If a simple squat is more effective because if such singular focus, imagine the difference focusing can make to your work projects.
Some tasks require social participation and interaction. This is not necessarily true for working out or working productively. It sounds counter intuitive (group work, and group workouts are so much more fun right?), but really, it isn’t.
Collaboration may be fun, but in order for the system to work, at some point, you will have to go inside yourself and on your own to complete the core requirements to accomplish your goal. Even in group workouts, we are seldom interacting with others during the more intense bits. Instead, we are focused internally on ourselves. This also means that we are no where near our gadgets, tablets or social media accounts.
Being alone forces you to mentally check off your priorities and focus on what’s important to you at this moment, free form external pressures and influences. Being alone can make you incredibly productive. Being alone, you also don’t have any distractions. Many of us relish working in groups, especially if we are working form home and do not get a lot of human interaction through out the day. It is important to remember that there is a balance between working with others and working alone, and working alone in solitude is not just important, it is essential to stepping away from mediocrity and doing extraordinary work.
Working out both promotes and stems from a decluttered mind. Like an endless loop. We already talked about how important it is to have a clean mental slate in order to function at the optimal level. The beauty of it is, once you declutter your mind and start to work in solitude – once you get into the “flow” of your work (or workout), your monkey mind automatically settles down and switches to a thought process that helps you calm down and focus deeply.
The following three things follow when you declutter your mind:
You are not a slave to random thoughts.
The car needs a wash, garbage needs to be put out, you forgot to pay the telephone bills. These thoughts slowly slip off your radar as you do deeper into an intense workout or focus on your work. The deeper you get into the ‘zone’, the less frequent these random thoughts become. If it worries you so much write it down and go back to working – you can always deal with non-urgent things an hour later when you’re done your work.
You don’t get bogged down by worries and negativity.
When I’m upset of angry, I sit down to work. No you didn’t read that wrong. Working as an anger management strategy works incredibly well because when I get into the flow, I automatically check-out of every day life and into a cleaner, more positive, worry-free mental space.
Try it, concentrate hard when you sit down to work today. Overtime, it will become a habit. Negativity feeds off our brooding and focusing on our problems. Getting into a working rhythm can help you manage your emotions and liberate you from the stress and worry that hounds you. That’s how people get addicted to working out. It gives you such a huge mental break from your daily worries and hassles. You worry less when you’re taking active steps towards solving a problem. It empowers you and puts you in the position of a leader, rather than a victim.
It gives you clarity of mind.
The focus and freedom that comes from working or exercising are a corollary to maintaining a clear mind. When you sit down to work with a clear mind you tackle it, finish faster and often eliminate the entire cycle of worry and negativity that comes from procrastinating about a job.
Exercising it before during or after work can be very conducive to a productive work session. These two activities are mutually compatible in the context of getting things done. More than its physical benefits, those of you that need to get a lot of work done in a short period of time will appreciate this technique for its ability to (ironically) tackle several problems at the same time – procrastination, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, lack of focus, worry, stress negativity as well as not getting things done on time.
[message_box title=”Try this exercise:” color=”beige”]I’m a big fan of the focus booster app. No, I don’t get paid by them. It has a timer that counts 25 minutes ON and 5 minutes OFF. When its ON – work hard and blaze through the project you’re working on. When the timer turns to the blue OFF section, put everything down and do a few pushups, burpees or anything other physical activity (Try Tabata!). The Focus-booster app is based on the proven and popular pomodoro technique which is really effective because your mind stays fresh and active while you work in short, sharp bursts and maintain regular breaks.
Try it the next time you are looking to ramp up your productivity. See what a huge difference it makes in the quality and quantaty of your work. And – Tell us about it in the comments below!