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Get Out of Your Zone to Stay in Your Zone

You might think that the title makes absolutely no sense, but bear with me.

It is fair to say that our brains are pretty amazing, but they have limits to their performance. Most productivity techniques such as the Pomodoro method advocate chunking our days into periods of 30-40 minute activity. The change of activity always brings a boost in focus, but for me, not enough attention is paid to what we should be doing between those chunks of activity and exactly how long a break we should have.

That is the key to staying in your zone when you need to be in your zone.

I am always guilty of keeping pushing myself, but here are a few ideas for escaping your zone for a little while. I wish I could heed them a little more often:

Go for a ten-minute walk outside, and take a new route every day. Our brains need stimulation. When they are doing the same-same things every day, even if we can’t class those things as work, they will just slip into the same monotonous groove. This can’t be classed as giving them a break. The benefits of physical activity are proven, but if you take a subtly different route every day, you never know what you might see to stimulate your next burst of activity. Imagination works best when random stimulants are introduced into the mix.

Close you eyes at your desk, put your headphones on and listen to a couple of your favourite tunes. We think that the expectation is that we work for every minute of the day. When we are nearing exhaustion from the constant pressure, it is actually presenteeism that poses the bigger problem. The body is there, but the mind is somewhere off with the fairies. I wish that we could have the confidence in our abilities to simply switch off and go into our own little world like this a few times a day. No one should disturb us and our batteries are allowed to recharge.

Go and coach one of your colleagues about something completely different. Taking a break doesn’t mean that you mind should be resting. It is often enough to shift your focus externally and listen to someone else’s problems. Putting yourself in someone else’s shows is a great way of stepping out of your shoes. The buzz that you get from having helped is a great way to give you the momentum that you need to start your next undertaking.

Go and eat a juicy pear. Slowly. It is pretty hard to work when you are doing something that makes work physically difficult. If you eat the pear at your desk, then you risk getting the juices all over your MacBook. If you eat it near any of your colleagues, you risk getting the juices over them. Of course, this is a silly example, but there are plenty of activities that you can do which stop you from working for a little while.

Take regular breaks and come back fighting. That is the route to a productive day.