The fitness world has "something" on us. A secret weapon us intellectuals have completely missed. Recovery. An intentional, required, period of rest between intense workouts.
A Look at Physical Activity
I remember seven years ago, signing up to the company five aside team.
Pumped and excited, I was about to properly play football for the first time since school. The whistle blew, I played for about half an hour, and then I hobbled off, injured. That was the end of my five-a-side career (well, at least for the time being).
I thought great, what will I do?
So I hit the gym. Then immediately pulled a muscle in my arm. Bam. Down a leg and an arm for a few weeks, in a matter of days.
Sure, these weren't the worst injuries in the world. An inconvienence at best. But the reality is, I still had to recover from them. I had to spend time on the side line before I could get back to any sort of training.
At Byozo, we use phyisical activity as an anology for creating impact all the time. With physical activity, it's clear how to make waves of progress. Good nurtrition, progressive overload, incremental impact—you get the picture.
But with mental activity, it's less clear. We have "productivity experts" telling us the key to success is to wake up earlier, or do more work.
What They Have, That we Don't
What does the fitness industry have that we don't? An emphasis on recovery.
Searching for "fitness recovery" on Google returns 288 million results. "Mental recovery" returns as many, but nearly all of these results are discussing recovery from mental health issues, rather than large amounts of mental activity. While it's great to see these resources, it's at a completely different end of the spectrum.
Turns out, the process of giving your mind time to rest isn't one that's talked about as much as it should be.
For years I plied my trade as a Designer and Software Engineer. Jobs heavy on mental exercise. Where the tax on your brain is consistently high. Several times I've danced a dangerous dance with burn out. Once I had to stop a job hunt, mid conversation with prospective employers, as it all became too much.
But what if that didn't have to be this way? What if you could create a situation where you could perform at a higher standard for longer, without fearing burnout?
Learning from the Fitness Industry
What stood out to me is the fitness industries concept of programming, where you set your workouts ahead of time. Deciding on the individual exercises, their length, frequency, volume and recovery time. All to maximise the chance of getting the results you want, in a manner which is both efficient and helps you avoid injury.
Any good programme won't force you to lift heavier and heavier weights in the same exercise until you blow out. So why do the same with your brain? Alongside the basic activities for a good life (sleep, nutrition, health, stress reduction), Brett Jones at Strong First, talks at length about cultivating recovery through proper programming.
What I propose, is the introduction of programming to your mental workout.
The Software Industry is Trying
Ironically, the software industry has already dabbled in the idea of programming (wow, such pun). Software companies across the world follow the scrum framework, which has a concept of sprints. A sprint being, a short, time-boxed period (usually two weeks) where an scrum team works to complete a predefined set of work. A sprint is, in effect, an attempt at programming in the fitness sense.
The trouble here is, countless scrum teams run sprints all day, every day. It's not a sprint. It's a marathon. And can you imagine running a marathon at a 100m pace?
Basecamp take a different approach. Instead, they cap project lengths to six weeks, and introduce a break between them. This enables their staff to get into the meat of the project at hand, while having time to recover in between. This means they can perform at a higher standard for longer. It's important to note here too, that the only thing that scales within the project's time frame is the scope. And that, only ever scales down. There's no working long hours to ensure the project completes on time.
Sprints can work this way too. Instead of sprinting 5 days week, every week, it's 3 days a week with 2 days of recovery.
Putting it Into Practice
Think about the last time you were struggling to make an impact, or when you were coming to the end of a project, and time was disappearing in front of you.
Maybe you've spent a good week, banging your head against the wall, designing the last couple of screens for your side project.
Perhaps you've been in meetings all day, strategising how best to aquire new users for your new startup.
If this sounds familiar, then it's time to look at changing your programme.
Identifying the Problem
With the Byozo method, we talk about focusing on one important task, and persisting with it until it's complete, or you've run out of time in the day.
In picking this task, you're deciding on what to do, but also how you're going to tax your brain. Let's consider some real world examples:
Action) A day full of meetings
Result) You're exhausted from interacting with people
Action) A day full of design work
Result) Your creative thinking is worn
Action) A day full of programming
Result) Your logical thinking is worn
Programming for Success
Now, if you're anything like me, you've always a million things to do.
Yes, you should only be doing the tasks which make a noticable impact, but you are also human, which means sometimes this is hard. Instead, we can use these must-be-done, smaller tasks to our advantage. We can build them into our programme.
When we hit a wall with the more meaty tasks, then we're able to move our focus elsewhere, and still be (and feel as if we're) making progress.
Looking back at the examples, we can think of ways to break up the bigger tasks which challenge us in a different way:
Find yourself a quiet spot, read some fiction and get some me time
Document your design decisions, and start flexing your logical muscles
Do some admin, hit the gym or do some creative writing
Now you may respond "but I don't have time", or ask the question "when". The simpliest answer is vague, but true. When it feels right.
With the Byozo methodology, we say "Remain persistent until that focus is complete... if it's not complete, or you run out of time, then come back to it."
Running out of time, is more like running out of steam.
When you've hit a brick wall with the problem in front of you, whether that's at 10am or 4pm, it's time to move your focus on something else. You can come back to it when you're fresh.
I recall the number of times doing something that isn't actively trying to solve a problem has led me to the solution. It's been far, far too many. The act of programming like this, makes it deliberate.
If you recall the idea of a 3 day sprint, you can use the remaining 2 days to work on something different. That "something different" will help you be at your best for the sprint itself.
Give your mind and body time to breathe. It'll stop you from suffocating.