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The Productive Sprint

How much real work, the kind that is aligned with your company goals and generates results, do you do each day? Are you trying to get work done in one minute sprints?

When people who don't run for exercise want to start running, they often start with the alternating one minute run, one minute walk routine.

That's a good way to start running when you're out of shape. Unfortunately, that's also the work model many people use: one minute of email followed by one minute of getting something done, repeated constantly throughout the day.

According to Cal Newport, author of A World Without Email, the most productive among us only spend about an hour and a half in productive work each day, at most, and mostly much less. And that's accomplished by adding up numerous smaller sprints throughout the day. We lack productive blocks of time to focus, without distraction or interruption.

That's not productive work. That's us being constantly interrupted by our technology, which initially was supposed to make us more productive. Technology has made us more accessible and responsive, but definitely not more productive.

What if you shut off the distractions (email, phone, notifications, your watch reminding you to breathe) for 30 or 45 minutes at a time, a few times a day, to focus on your top priorities? This should not be a crazy idea. This should be the minimum.

Next time you catch yourself in a one minute work sprint, slow down, check your goals, and carve out more time to make progress on your most important goal. There will be less adrenaline and cortisol involved, and the results will be worth it.


  • This is excellent advice. Often we think that if we keep working we are being productive, when actually our productivity is diminishing the longer the time we are engaged. We would be more productive if we worked for 50-minute increments and then took a ten minute break to recharge our battery, then back at it. Of course if we are constantly distracted by our electronic devices our productivity is minimal to begin with.

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