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The Net Benefit of Intervals

I’ve always favored steady state work. Slow and easy may not win the race, but it keeps you in it for the long haul. The drawback is that your body and mind get used to this pace, creating a sense of apathy and inertia. Sometimes you simply don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere very quickly.

Intervals are a great way to change things up. In rowing, this might mean doing ten 500 meter pieces with a minute off in between, rather than rowing 5000 meters in a steady state set. You end up doing more overall with the same distance as your mind and body commit to working harder for a shorter distance, knowing it will be over soon enough and you’ll have a bit of rest. I can shave two full minutes off the same distance in this way, while getting my heart rate up to places I couldn’t sustain for a longer distance. I’ve begun to mix in more and more interval training to see how my body (and mind) react. I’m far from the peak fitness days of college rowing, but workouts like this bring me a lot closer to those glory days. More importantly, they set me up for greater success with my fitness goals looking forward.

The principle of intervals works equally well in our work. Rather than slog through a steady state of distracted work, I’ll put on my noise cancelling headphones, play the same Mark Knopfler instrumental song on repeat and power through a specific task until it’s done. This works equally well for writing as it does for finishing an expense report or developing a pivot table for trend analysis. It’s just you and the work, with a defined end point that’s close enough that you know you can get there without checking the phone ten times to see what’s happening in the world. As with the rowing, when you finish a day full of these intervals of focused work, you find that you’ve done far more than the norm.

Our lives may feel like steady state as we plod along, one day to the next, doing the best we can in a distracting world. Breaking things down to intervals—this day, this hour, these next five minutes, creates the focus and urgency to get things done. Even if we aren’t enjoying this particular interval, we know it will be over soon enough. And just look what we might accomplish when we add it all together.

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