Unlock an Extra 4 Hours of Daily Productivity: The Power of Combining Movement and Mental Tasks
I'm a strong advocate of single focus.
I've been rather observant that trying to multitask different mental tasks has too many adverse side effects.
E.g. listening in a meeting and answering emails in parallel ...
- ... is leading me to an increased stress level. I feel drained after those instances.
- ... restricts my genuine listening: in principle, I only pay attention to trigger words.
- ... makes answering emails limited because my thoughts can no longer be worked out consistently. Thus, the mails won't have adequate quality.
- ... lead to participants in the meeting noticing my mental absence and they get annoyed about it.
My preference for single-focus also manifests itself in some core principles I've shared recently:
However: Does this mean that we should not multitask as a matter of principle? No! There is a special combination of activities where multi-tasking can even has advantages!
The combination of movement and mental tasks extends your day dramatically.
When I show my daily time allocation, I am often asked how I exercise for 3-4 hours daily. The answer: multitasking! But the beneficial and value-creating kind.
Engaging in concurrent exercise and mental tasks enhances focus, in contrast to multitasking solely with cognitive endeavors, which leads to distraction.
As every human does, I would only have a maximum of 12 hours of productive time in a day. In my case, it's 8 hours of paid work (corporate job) and 4 hours of private work (writing, studying, reading, ...). If I implemented it this way, there would be no time for sports and healthy movement.
The trick is to find elements in paid and private work that don't have to be done at a desk and combine them with movement or exercise (walking or sports). You can also see the application of this principle in my favourite daily routine:
I schedule meetings that are just talking into my walking times. I have created two timeboxes where I put them daily: 11:30 am to 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
Besides meetings, I also tend to parallelize these kind activities with movement:
- Idea generation and brainstorming tasks, where I only need to jot down bullet points, which is doable underway.
- Complex problem-solving that requires intense concentration and creating a core concept/idea
- For learning, I use non-fiction audiobooks
- Entertainment in the form of podcasts
Through this beneficial multi-tasking, my day increased by 3-4 hours each day. It's like I am on a 28h schedule, which makes my output seem outstanding to others.
Unleash the Power of Movement: Boost Concentration and Clear Thinking!
Now you may think that this parallelization will be quite stressful and the quality of mental tasks will suffer - but precisely the opposite is true.
I don't know about you, but when I'm sitting at my desk at home, doing some tasks, my monkey brain is like a firework with hot new ideas of what I could do ever other minute or so (except when I'm in flow).
On the walk, however, when my subconscious is busy with the automatic movements I'm performing, I can focus wonderfully on the task at hand without any internal distractions:
- In meetings, I can fully concentrate on the conversation and said words. My understanding of the other person and my contributions to the conversation are much more impactful than when I'm at my desk.
- While walking, I can keep complex chains of thoughts in my head better. It's hard to describe, but the "clarity" and "volume" he focusable thoughts increases.
- Moving improves my lateral thinking by reducing distracting thoughts and fostering unexpected but useful ideas, unlike when I am sitting at my desk, where I also have such impulses, but they tend to be unrelated and offtopic; thus distracting.
And last but not least, I burn around 75 calories per 10 minutes of walking and enjoy the cardiovascular benefits while working.
The concept of using exercise to think has well-known role models
Many famous figures throughout history have used the benefits of walking to boost their creativity and problem-solving skills. For example, the famous author and poet, Ernest Hemingway, was known for his daily walks in which he would come up with new story ideas and plot twists. Similarly, the inventor and businessman, Steve Jobs, regularly went on walks during his brainstorming sessions.
Even the father of modern science, Sir Isaac Newton, is said to have come up with his groundbreaking theories while walking. Similarly, the composer Ludwig van Beethoven was known to take long walks in nature to help him find inspiration for his music.
These examples are a testament to the power of walking as a tool for fostering creativity and innovative thinking. So next time you're stuck on a problem or need a creative spark, take a walk and see what ideas come to mind.
In conclusion, while traditional multitasking can lead to increased stress levels, decreased focus and quality of work, and frustration from colleagues, combining exercise and mental tasks has been shown to have the opposite effect.
By scheduling meetings and other mental tasks during time spent walking or engaged in other physical activities, I have been able to extend my productive day by several hours and boost my focus. This technique also results in improved lateral thinking, fewer distracting thoughts, and the added benefit of burning calories and improving cardiovascular health.
In order to maximize productivity, I suggest finding elements in work and private projects that can be done while moving and combining them with exercise or physical activity. By doing so, you can improve their focus, clear thinking and overall productivity.
Try it out for yourself and extend your day!
It doesn't have to be 4 hours. Just find a common task worth 30 minutes you think you can do while running, biking, or taking a walk.
Feel free to add your tips and thoughts to this page's comment section, Twitter or LinkedIn!
-- Martin from Deliberate-Diligence.com