The other day I got more work done in a day than I had in a very long time.
I spent most of the day not working.
I’m lucky to take advantage of a beautiful pool and a small gym with a view, on the 37th floor of my apartment block here in Bangkok.
I went up there, did my customary ‘do the most with the least, as quickly as possible’ twenty-minute workout, had a dip in the fresh water, and went back to my apartment.
Not a few minutes later, I was at my desk cranking out letters on my laptop for a new article. I worked solidly for 45 minutes. Then I squinted up at the Bangkok skyline, leaned back, sighed out a breath, and carried on for another hour.
After this, I fell into the sofa for a mid-afternoon power sleep.
This cycle of exercise, work and rest repeats itself frequently in my calendar as I strive to squeeze the most out of each day.
Making the most of the day, no longer means hunching over my desk pretending to work for twelve hours or more, at least for the most part.
It’s taken me many years to truly grasp how movement (exercise, walking etc), intense work, and recovery work together. There is an important harmony that is hidden between these three that I’ve often neglected to connect.
I always viewed work as a standalone series of tasks. The more hard work done in the day the better. Forget rest. Rest is for ‘lamoes’. Right?
But the more I saw the results of how I worked when I’d been moving, and the more I learned about it, the more clearly the patterns would reveal themselves.
I love to work and I love to create. As I often say, the need to do and create more in order to stand out is now more important than ever too.
I want and need to make more, but I now understand that to create the most at my best, I simply cannot spend all day doing it. I need to move. I need to do the work. And not just that. I need to recover too.
I find my work sluggish when I haven’t been moving. When my blood and oxygen isn’t pumping, neither is my brain, and creativity is diminished.
Work is also often slow when I drag it out. There’s no urgency. That’s where procrastination sets in.
Many of the great thinkers like Aristotle, Thoreau, and Wordsworth were known for going on long daily walks, often seeing it as a vital part of their creative life.
Dickens, who was extremely prolific, was known to walk between 20 and 30 miles on most days, and said himself that if he couldn’t walk “far and fast”, he would “explode and perish.”
I certainly work more effectively when my body is buzzing at a higher frequency from movement, whether it’s a walk, some press ups, a gym session, even a shower.
When my brain is activated, I will work more intensely. I will aim to do so in less time, with fewer distractions, and with a clear cutoff point.
The recovery phase after this intense, focused work is vital too, because that’s where real growth happens.
It’s been well documented that our mental and physical growth actually happens following intensity, when we give the body space to adapt to change.
For example, after we lift heavy weights with good form, the muscles grow when we’re recovering in the days following the lifting. This applies to developing skills and growing resilience in work too.
If you really use these ideas, your skills will develop more quickly, by acknowledging the need to be intense, without distraction, but then to ease off.
My approach to work is now to view movement (and good health in general), focused work, and recovery as intertwined, and I hope that other artists and thinkers pick up on this too.
Becoming less sedentary and bringing movement, intensity and rest into our routines will help all of us keep up the pace in a fast, modern world.
Those of us who don’t prioritise these things, will be at a huge disadvantage as we move forward, in my view.
It’s easy to worry that you’ll lose valuable working time doing this, but I’ve found that I actually get more done in the day, even if I’m spending much less time actually working.
I may not complete one full loop like this on a given day. Some days I’ll just want to stretch out a work session without moving much, and that’s ok.
I also might not progress in exactly the order of:
- and recover.
They can be done in any order.
But I know that I work best when I’ve been moving; I’m most efficient when I work in intense bursts, and I grow the most when I give myself a break.