HIIT But Make it Professional: How Deep Work Can Benefit Creatives

Many personal trainers swear by HIIT workouts. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. What trainers suggest when working out with HIIT is too work very intensely – with very short or no breaks – for a shorter amount of time but in a way that uses that time effectively. 

For example, say you go to the gym and complete a 30 minute HIIT workout. You’re running fast on the treadmill for 10 minutes then you move onto the bike for an intense uphill climb for another 10 minutes, you then head to the mat and do jumping squats, lunges and sit ups for the final 10 minutes. Then, let’s say, on another day, you go to the gym with a friend for an hour. You chat while walking uphill on the treadmill, you do a few sit ups then have a chat again, then you finish with 10 minutes of medium intensity spinning and stroll for a smoothie at that place you like next door. While the first day at the gym took you half the time, you probably had a way more effective workout than on the second day where you weren’t deeply focused. These same principles can apply to the way we work. 

Say you do the same for freelancing. You head to your nearest Pret but get distracted by the crying baby next to you or the cute barista and the noise and general atmosphere fail to inspire you so you take Instagram breaks every half hour. That isn’t deep work. However, if you sat down to commit to four very deeply concentrated hours with maybe just a 45 minute lunch break and two 10 minute tea breaks, you’d probably get a lot more done. Here is how best to implement deep work into your freelance routine. 

Make it a Ritual

Try to implement deep work into your routine at least two or three times a week. Find a spot you like – it helps to be around other people who are working: one study suggests that mental effort is contagious so maybe a coworking space is a good idea. Ritualizing your deep work is important for two reasons. First of all, doing the same thing at the same time in the same place will act as a trigger to your brain that it’s time to buckle down and focus. Positive psychology experts note that rituals “shape the way our brains are feeling, thinking, and acting,” and signal that it’s time for a specific mindset or activity.

What’s more, research shows that we all have only a finite amount of energy, and making decisions is exhausting. As a freelancer, that’s probably no news to you. It’s called “ego depletion.” Even making small decisions, such as choosing where and when you’ll work, takes willpower. If you choose the same spot and time every time, you can eliminate decision-making and save your focus for where it’s needed.

Decide When you will Deep Work

In the same way that doing an hour’s HIIT workout everyday would be unhealthy and unrealistic, the same goes for deep work. Deep work is intense so should be kept within a window. Furthermore its the concentration that makes it worthwhile and if you’re deep working for over 4-5 hours it’s no longer going to be deep because you won’t be focused. If you’re just starting out we recommend setting two or three sessions a week that are each four hours long. Block off those hours in your calendar, and then schedule your shallow work—checking email, making phone calls, reading the news—around that. 4-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss only checks his email twice a day during designated times and has popularised the idea that you can boost your productivity quite dramatically by not being available 24 hours a day.

Block off your distractions

From Candy Crush to your TV to even very tempting snacks that may slow down your workload, remove any distractions from your focus area. Put your phone on aeroplane mode and keep it in the kitchen during these times. Why rely on willpower alone? It’s a finite resource, and you are up against a real addiction. Regain control over your behaviour by using an app and website blocker such as Freedom. It allows you to block whatever apps or sites you choose both on your phone and computer.

Patience is a Virtue

Deep work is challenging – the same way a HIIT workout is. If you’re not used to working out with HIIT, they say the best way to approach it is to start with 15 minutes of HIIT only three times a week. The same goes for deep work. Your mind is rewiring and you need to give it the space to do so.

Being patient also means embracing boredom. Next time you’re standing in line at the grocery store, resist the urge to whip out your phone. Instead, be there in the moment, and let your mind wander. You don’t need to be stimulated all the time. There’s actually a well-established scientific link between boredom and creativity, and every time you resist the urge to check your email, you give your brain the chance to rest and reset.

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