Productivity, like most every discipline, has its own terminology. And that terminology is constantly changing and evolving. Like my Cobol professor used to say, “They changed the names to confuse the innocent and protect the guilty.”
They also frequently give new, catchy names to things that didn’t use to even have a name.
Like Sprints.
In the 1980s, when I was teaching myself computers and programming, I would frequently by a new book on a particular subject. (This was before the web, kids, we had to get our knowledge from old-style paper books.) Whenever I got a new book, I would lock myself in my office for a minimum of two hours and focus on nothing but that book and the computer.
I had a catchy name for this. I called it, “Learning something new.” The name wasn’t as catchy as I thought it was. Now they call it sprints.
But sprints aren’t just for learning. They are for any task that takes more than a few minutes to complete. And they are an excellent way to make great strides in completing a task.

The Problem

The problem we all face is too much input. We are constantly bombarded by information, interruptions, requests, and worrying about what we have to do next. There are links at the bottom of this article for other pieces I have written on how to focus and get things done, and I’m not contradicting those but this works hand in hand with them.
As the day goes on, the problems compound. We get more distractions and requests for our time until the day gets split up more and we get less done. That leads to stress over not getting things done and our projects and tasks just keep getting punted into tomorrow. And as we get more distracted and stressed, we are also getting tired and losing focus. Which makes the problem worse and the cycle continues as our day deteriorates.

The Solution

The solution, as you may have guessed, are sprints. But what are they and how do you use them?
I’m glad you asked, otherwise this article would be pointless.
I used to be a runner. I ran mostly 10K races with occasional forays into the marathon distance. You would think that the way to train for 10K races is to do 10K runs, and you wouldn’t be completely wrong. But to learn how to run fast, you have to train to run fast. Enter the interval training session.
In this type of workout, you sprint for a short but sustainable period and then rest for a period almost long enough to recover. Rinse and repeat.
Sprints in productivity are very similar. You block off a period; usually sixty minutes at a minimum to two hours at a maximum. You choose one task and you focus on that task for the entire period. No interruptions. No phone calls. No social media. One thing for about 90 minutes.
If you’ve never tried this, you would be shocked at how much work you can get done in 90 uninterrupted minutes. It is both energizing and exhausting. That is why at the end of the period, and it is a very specific period decided on in advance, you stop. You rest. Allow your mind and your feet to wander. Catch up on distractions and relax for a bit.
Then you start the process over again. Maybe on the same project, or maybe on another. It doesn’t matter as long as you stick to the pattern. Of course, having worked in a corporate environment for a while, I know this isn’t doable all day every day.
But at an absolute minimum, carve out a couple of hours early in the day while you are still fresh to do a sprint. Pick your most critical task and the one that will be the most difficult to accomplish or you have put off because you don’t want to do it.
Swallow the frog.
Then, in the afternoon, carve out another period. Maybe this time it’s only an hour, and the task isn’t quite so arduous. But if you can grab a dedicated 2–3 hours a day for just two tasks? The results are miraculous.
Once you get into the rhythm of doing this, several things will happen. First, the habit will become ingrained into your work schedule and your to-do lists will become driven by these sprints. Second, the positive feedback you will be giving yourself for this heightened sense of productivity will lead to doing more sprints and accomplishing more.
And finally, and this may be the most important, you will be training others. I don’t mean training them to do sprints, although, once they see how much you get done, they may emulate you. What I mean is they will get trained to honor your sprints. Those periods are uninterruptable. They are inviolate.
In my last job, we had digital IP telephones. Of course, they had digital screens that provided a lot of information; date and time, who was calling, etc. But they also had customizable do-not-disturb messages. Instead of just saying Busy or DND, you could program them to display a special message to anyone calling your extension.
Mine said, in Surgery. Over time, everyone knew that if they dialed my extension and saw that, to give up and go away. Do not under any circumstances knock on my door or try to enter. Everyone. Boss included. As I told them, if the building is on fire, I’ll find out about it when my door burns through.
If you are getting bogged down in projects and tasks that don’t seem to get anywhere, try sprints. It will take some practice, so work up to it. Start with a 30-minute sprint, but ideally, you want to work up to at least 90 minutes. You will be amazed at your progress.
Now that I have finished this article, it’s time to take a break.