I’m a big believer in self-experimentation. I don’t mean like having foreign objects sewn under my skin or seeing how long I can survive without sunlight, I mean experimenting with my behaviours and tracking the results to make improvements in my life.
For example, I’m a huge lover of my Apple Watch and through my crazy obsession with this gadget, I’ve been able to modify several seemingly innocent behaviours that were like wrecking balls to my circadian rhythms. For example I sleep much better if I do my full 10,000 steps per day and I also sleep better if I don’t eat right before bed. It appears that I sleep pretty badly when I drink alcohol too but I think I need to do more research in that particular area (someone pour me a shiraz!). I sound like a robot cyber-nerd but I’m telling you there are brilliant answers to lots of your problems in your behavioural data – it’s just a matter of paying attention to them.
My latest obsession is The Rule of 52 and 17. It’s based on a Japanese theory (I trust pretty much any productivity advice that comes out of Japan – efficiency is almost a cultural expectation over there) that people work much more effectively if they take proper breaks and work in ‘sprints’ rather slogging it out all day in a work marathon.
If there are any desk job workers out there (I’m sure there are plenty of you – my stats peak at 9am and 1pm which is a pretty decent indication) you’ll know how disgusting you can feel at the end of a day of screen time. When I switched from teaching to working for myself full-time last year it was a big adjustment. I used to spend at least 2 days a week teaching in special education schools – walking around, lifting students, doing playground duty, going on excursions – so my body just wasn’t used to sitting around all day. I’d finish an 8 hour day of typing and my body would feel stiff and sore, I’d have a horrible, cloudy, thumping headache and generally, I’d feel like I’d been hit by a bus.
I hated the thought of finishing every day feeling like I’d just woken up from major surgery so I did a little research on remedies for this. The 52 and 17 Rule sounded really random and a bit simplistic but I gave a go and now I’m a total convert – I even do it on the weekends sometimes if I’m cleaning the house or doing chores just to make sure that I’m taking efficient and restorative breaks. Here’s how to not feel like crap at the end of your workday.
The 52 and 17 Working Day
1. Set a timer for 52 minutes and work your little butt off. It often helps to set a goal for completion for this 52 minutes. The only rule is that you can’t procrastinate – you need to work for the full 52 minutes.
2. When your alarm goes off stop.
3. Set a timer for 17 mins and walk away from your work and do something totally unrelated. Not checking Facebook, not answering emails. You can make a cup of tea, go for a walk, read a non-work book or magazine or go and grab a coffee. The only rule is that you can’t do anything work-related for 17 minutes. You can talk to colleagues but not about work stuff (this can be difficult if people don’t know what you’re doing so I generally avoid people on my breaks).
4. When your alarm goes off stop.
5. Repeat steps throughout the day.
Note: I usually finish each break with 30 star jumps before I get back into my 52 minutes of work. It gives me a little jolt of endorphins and keeps me pumping and focussed for the next 52 minutes.
You might like to experiment with what works for you but for most of my 17-minute breaks I take my Kindle out to the couches in the communal area of our office and I read for a full 17 minutes. It’s bliss. I feel rested and recharged and ready to tackle my work with the enthusiasm of someone who just slept for 8 hours straight.