How to Optimize Your Operating Rhythm

Posted 04.07.2014

From the department of real life experience, here’s a quick post on how to optimize your operating rhythm. As I work on a new book while maintaining a pretty full plate of work with clients, I’ve found that tuning into my operating rhythm is vital to getting anything done.

What, you might ask, is an operating rhythm? I’m sure there are lots of definitions out there. Mine is paying attention to what kind of work matches up best with what times of the day and week. The other big thing I need to pay attention to is when I need breaks. All work and no play not only makes me dull, it makes the work a whole lot harder than it should be.

So, with that little bit of preamble, here are five operating principles for optimizing your operating rhythm. They work for me and just might work for you too.

Know Your Body Clock: Pay attention to what kind of work your body and brain want to do at different times of the day. Are you more creative in the mornings? Then do your writing, planning and creating then. Need some stimulation in the afternoon? Pick a task that involves moving around. That can even include the dreaded conference call. Put a headset on and walk around the room while you listen and talk. You’ll be more present and productive.

Know Your Work Clock: There are quick tasks that you can click through in 15 or 30 minutes and there are more thought intensive projects that require 15 or 20 minutes just to get your brain in gear and then start flowing. Don’t expect yourself to be able to make meaningful progress on those thought intensive tasks when you haven’t really scheduled blocks of time for them.

Know Your Attention Span: There’s research that shows the average person can stay on task for 45 to 90 minutes before their attention and performance starts to diminish. Notice when your mind starts to wander or you start feeling restless. When that happens, step away from your desk to get some water, breathe, stretch or maybe all three together. Don’t take a break by surfing the web. You’ll still be surfing 15 minutes later and feel bad about that.

Know When to Say When: Sometimes its just not happening. Instead of sitting there trying to grind it out and, in the end, churning out a subpar product, give it a rest. Go find something else to do. That something else might be a mini break or longer to do something physical, clear your head and think about something else or nothing at all. Have faith; you’ll be a lot more productive when you come back to it.

Be Gentle with Yourself: Don’t beat yourself up when it’s not going great. We’re called human beings and not human doings for a reason. Sometimes, the best course of action is to just be rather than constantly do.

What about you? What operating principles have you learned about your operating rhythm?