Is focus a marathon or a sprint? What drives better productivity?

I recently came across an article in Fast Company: To have a Productive Day, Make Work of a Series of Sprints. The article, which was originally published several years ago, is a short but powerful read. It really made an impact on me and I want to share it with all of you.

After reading this article, I realized that I’m a sprinter. It portrays exactly how I work. I work better in short bursts. If I’m being honest, I used to feel guilty about that. I thought maybe I’m easily distracted, maybe I don’t like what I do, or maybe I’m bored. This article made me see my actions in a different light and embrace how I work. It made me realize that’s how I’m wired and it actually makes me more productive in the long run (pun intended). 

My name is Al Chiaradonna, and I’m a work sprinter.
I love to get up in the morning, do a burst of email cleansing and day planning. And when I take a close look at how I organize and operate my day, most of my activities are planned for under an hour. In all aspects of my life (at home, work and in my community), I work hard in short bursts and then take a break. I work on something at my desk for 45 minutes, and then I head to the café. I walk to the ATM with a co-worker. I read a short article. I write in my journal. I break up the activity. And you know what? I feel really energized. At home, I may draft a blog and then go wash dishes to clear my mind. Or, I turn on music and sing to annoy my kids. Each activity is different but all of it builds my energy to higher levels.

My big aha! moment
This reflection made me realize that without intentionally trying, each and every aspect of my life is subconsciously organized around bursts. This learning fascinates me and has me thinking about how to approach the planning of sprints deliberately. Imagine the productivity possibilities (I can actually hear my family and colleagues eye rolling as they read this).

The article also refers to a book called Flow by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The book provides a polished understanding of what’s happening when we’re doing our best work. The concept is that people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity and a total involvement with life during flow. I loved this idea the first time I heard it. I started to research it, and bought the book but never finished it. After being reminded by this article, I’m going to go back to it. In the coming months, look for my write-up on the book because it’s clear to me these sprints give me flow—and now I can truly appreciate it.

Now that my blog burst is complete, I’m off to listen to an ESPN podcast while I get some donuts and coffee for the family (all this sprinting makes me crave sugar).

How about you: Are you a sprinter or a marathoner?