Thursday, October 04, 2007

Be productive: stop working

I've been reading a great book called The Power of Full Engagement. These guys worked with top performing athletes, analyzing what makes the best the best, and they came up with a very important conclusion: the best took breaks and re-energized themselves, even if it was a quick pause between serves in tennis. And now they are applying this to the rest of us - what makes us the best performers?

They found that there is something powerful in stopping, getting off the treadmill, taking some deep breaths, walking around, and do anything but think about work. This has an almost magical ability to untie knots in our mental processes and show us new ways to look at a problem. We all know this at some level, but this book has an impact because it's based on solid research -- you just can't argue with it.

I read this book when I was in the middle of a big push at work, and it seemed that the harder I worked, the longer it took to get anything done. I was also exhausted and grumpy, not enjoying life. We all know this mode. My old boss used to call it the "death march."

So I adopted the principles: I made myself not work insane hours, and tried to take more breaks during the day. And I became much happier and much more effective.

Recently I've also been in physical therapy for my lower back, after a very nasty episode where I was in bed and couldn't move for three days. And guess what one of their practices for me is, this time to help me keep track of my physical posture during the work day: take breaks.

Oh, and there is my failing eyesight. One of the key tips to help the eyes not get over-strained -- you guessed it: take breaks.

OK, OK, I get the point. My problem is, I forget to take breaks. I get so completely engrossed in my work, especially when I am coding on some cool feature, that I lose track of time.

I knew they must exist, and sure enough, I found a very nice tool for the Mac called RSIGuard. This tool tracks your mouse and keyboard activity, and then reminds you to take a break. During the break, it shows you little videos of stretches you can do to reinvigorate yourself and avoid physical injury like RSI. You can fine-tune how frequently and for how long you want to take breaks. They also have these nice little "microbreaks" that kind of "wake me up" for a few seconds, and I take a deep breath, adjust my posture, and move on.

So, I highly recommend it. If you are a real bulldog, you can even have it enforce your break by locking up your keyboard and screen. I don't like working that way, I just get pissed off. I like a more gentle approach, and I am a good doggie and take my breaks. And you know what, I really like it.

Off for a cuppa decaf and a walk around the cafe...

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