There are lots of things we can learn from other people and other disciplines and sectors. Me, I’ve taken the run-walk-run strategy and applied it to work. Yep – that’s the pomodoro technique. Followed the timer STRICTLY. I learnt:
- The app matters.
- My endurance increased.
- My satisfaction increased.
- Stop-start was initially difficult but now easy.
- Flexible break activities are important to the break → work transition.
Good day there, bakers, writers, and rock stars! Richard Huysmans here again. Today, I’m talking about applying the run-walk-run strategy to work. So, for those of you who don’t know I’m in the 4th decade of my life. And obviously beyond Covid making things crazy for me, I’m finding things more difficult in my 40s than I did in my 20s and 30s particularly running.
So, I looked for a strategy that I thought would be useful to help me build my running, but also help me maintain the speed and pace that I was after, as well as look after my body. The strategy that I found which looks to be developed by a guy called Jeff Galloway. If it’s not developed by him, certainly he’s made it popular and made what seems to be a large amount of money off that is the run-walk-run strategy. It’s as simple as it sounds. You run then you walk then you run again. In general, Jeff’s approach is to aim for your quickest mile pace that you can do without being overly exerted. Without being overly tired at the end of that mile, and that’s the kind of time that you’re going for that pace. Then you walk for a little bit. Then you run again. For me how that comes out, I don’t track miles. I track kilometers. So, for me how that works out generally speaking is I run for 4 and a half minutes, then I walk for half a minute. It’s been really good. There’s not a lot of evidence from a research perspective around this strategy, but from anecdotes and the small amount of research that’s out there, it improves your short distance running time. It improves your long-distance running time. It reduces discomfort. it increases pleasure. Increases calories burnt. It does but it doesn’t reduce the stress on the cardiovascular system. But I guess from my perspective, I’m after a little bit of that stress to improve my cardiovascular output.
So, the way that I think this is applicable to research and particularly to our work lives. Essentially is in the way that we apply the pomodoro technique. So, a lot of people myself included loosely apply pomodoro. So, you’ll set a timer for 20 or 25 minutes, and then you’ll work until the timer goes off. If you’re in flow then you’ll make a decision to continue working, and then you’ll stop working. You’ll set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes to have a break. If you’re in the middle of something that you don’t want to stop like you know, it could be as inane as hanging out the washing or doing the ironing or cooking a meal. Then instead of stopping and continuing with work, you’ll continue on your break. So, what I decided to do was to be really strict in the same way that I’m strict with the run-walk-run strategy and see the impact that had on my work.
So, I downloaded an app called Pomodoro Timer and that has been awesome to make this all work for me. The app automatically you can set the times for your pomodoros, and then your breaks. You can set long breaks and short breaks. So, I set all of that up. You can also set the whole thing to work so that it automatically goes from pomodoro to short break and back to pomodoro again in those kinds of cycles without have to touch the app. There’s just a chime that goes off on your phone or in your headphones if that’s what you’re listening to. So, that was really important to get this to work, and then basically when the chime goes off, I make the decision to be really strict and to stop whatever it is that I’m doing, and switch to either the rest or the pomodoro.
So, what I learned. Strictly doing that was really hard at first. Like my earlier experiences of pomodoro I was tempted to keep working when I was in the zone. And to keep resting when I was in the middle of hanging out or bringing the washing whatever it might be. However, the automatic progression from one to the other made it really easy to be really strict, because I didn’t have to fiddle with my phone. There was no excuse to go, I can set up a new timer. It was kind of like, “Oh damn! I’m going to have to reset the app in order to get this going”. So, that was really useful. I changed the way I took breaks. So, I took breaks and started to give myself permission not to finish something that I might have started in the break. So, whether that be hanging out the washing or cooking a meal. Obviously, you don’t want to leave the stove on or whatever it might be in that respect. But I would start stuff that I knew I could interrupt, and more and more I’m doing small exercises in that 5-minute break. So, whatever stretching my back and shoulders, push-ups, sit-ups, planking, doing a dish. Whatever it might be doing that kind of stuff, and that’s been really useful in those breaks because it kind of makes the work just a bit more physical.
As a side note, my app for my activity tracker is saying that I’m less sedentary during the day. As a result, even though my amount of time sitting is in theory almost no different. Obviously, I’ve got those 5-minute breaks in there. It didn’t change. I didn’t change my work tasks to fit into 25-minute lots, but I did stop work whenever the timer went off, and I learned quickly strategies to help me get back into the flow. To be honest, I didn’t feel like taking the 5-minute break interrupted my flow. In fact, it probably made me more rejuvenated when I came back into things. It made it really easy just to push on and get things done. I’ve learned a lot about how long different tasks take. So, because I’m timing everything essentially in 25-minute, and 30-minute increments. I’m really learning how long it takes to do stuff, and therefore I’m becoming much better at planning how long things take such as doing this blog. Two hours of pomodoros or 4 cycles of pomodoros in this case is much less draining than 100 minutes of continuous work. I feel really satisfied at the end of the day when I’ve done that much work in a way that I wasn’t satisfied previously. Several days in a row of doing pomodoros in this manner is not as draining as several days in a row of just doing you know hour or two-hour sessions of work at once. I enjoy my days more often than not.
So, those are some of the things that I’ve learned from applying this run-walk-run strategy really strictly to the way that I work. Now, I encourage you to do the same. Don’t make excuses like I work in a wet lab, and I’ve got timers and things that go off. There’s lots of ways you can make this work in your lab, in your group, in your research. So, give it a crack. Treat it like a research experiment. See what happens when you implement it, and how it impacts your productivity. Do enough experiments to come up with some reasonable data. Don’t do it once and say that you’ve done it and it doesn’t work. Try it again. Different situations. Different scenarios. I definitely think this is a technique worth implementing if you’re writing your thesis or writing an article or if any time you’re sitting down and writing. This is definitely a technique worth implementing.