Saturday, August 09, 2008

Work Patterns: Bursts versus Flow

I've never found that my most productive work periods are limited to the standard eight and five work day.

As a result, I work at odd hours and on a project by project basis. Probably 96 percent of my evenings involve some sort of work. Early morning is another productive time period.

If a brick wall is hit on one project, I move to another. Staring at the wall usually doesn't revive my focus but leaping into a different area eventually renews enough interest that focusing on the first project is again possible.

As mentioned in other posts, intense, productive work tends to come in bursts rather than in one, continuous flow. This means that the day is often devoted either to working in bursts, recovering from the bursts, or preparing for them. This approach is possible due to the nature of my work. In another line - factory work comes to mind - it would not be possible.

I wonder though, if the "working in bursts" pattern isn't natural for most individuals. Does this match your natural schedule (versus the required one)?

6 Comments:

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Cultural Offering said...

Bursts. After lunch is the hardest time for me to actually focus on a project so I answer emails, return calls, make lists or organize at that time.

 
At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Wally Bock said...

I think it is a natural pattern, Michael. There's plenty of research on work/recovery cycles, even including the time they take for most individuals (90 – 120 minutes of work, followed by a break). We also know about the circadian rhythms. Two excellent and accessible books on this are Ernest Rossi's The Twenty Minute Break and Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz book, The Power of Full Engagement.

The money quote from this post, for sure, is "If a brick wall is hit on one project, I move to another. Staring at the wall usually doesn't revive my focus but leaping into a different area eventually renews enough interest that focusing on the first project is again possible."

 
At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember the biorhythms craze? My mornings are are best used for people interactions, but the real work gets done between 2 and 5 pm. I'd say I have a real good 3 hour burst where 80% of the work gets done and most of the good ideas flow (this is much more important than emails/memos/reports.)

 
At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Eric Terpstra said...

I've recently been working from home and have realized that my most productive work time is from 8-11... both AM and PM. Afternoons are for non-computer activities like calls, coffee, household chores, organizing, etc... otherwise I risk staring at the proverbial brick wall.

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger Michael Wade said...

Anonymous and Eric,

The bio point is a good one. I once thought it was weird but there is something to it.

I also move tasks around to fit the proper "burst" times. Housekeeping items can go in the non-effective moments.

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger Michael Wade said...

Cultural Offering,

There may be something to the idea of an afternoon nap. Most people tell me that is their least productive time. I know it's mine.

Wally,

Thanks for the book recommendations! I'll check them out.

 

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