June 12, 2014
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Near the end of Brigid Schulte's Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time (about which I blogged last month) the author talks about "pulsing." The idea is that humans are designed to work in intense and punctuated bursts.  Schulte contrasts this model with the 10-hour-day, work-harder work-longer grind that the ideal worker of the 21st century is supposed to emulate.

What a relief! 

I've been a closet pulser for years.  I always described it as "getting bored easily," but I can't seem to work at one thing--particularly a writing project--for much more than an hour at a time,.  I'm much better off with a 2-hour window of time to get something done rather than a 5-hour window.  My peers often lament not having long stretches of time to get some "real writing done", and I nod knowingly, because that's what you're supposed to do.  I'm faking, though--in my heart I know I work best in concentrated bursts, and that I inevitably fritter away long blocks of time when I do have them.  I always chalked it up to lack of focus, but I guess I work best in pulses.

Schulte also shares that Anders Ericsson's study of young violinists--the basis for the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be expert at something--actually had as much to say about quality of practice as quantity. 

Ericsson's study found that not only did the best violinists practice more, they also practiced more deliberates: They practiced first thing in the morning, when they were freshest, they practiced intensely without interruption in typically no more than ninety-minute increments for no more than four hours a day.  And, most important...the top violinists rested more.  They slept longer at night and they napped more in the day. 

The law firm world wasn't as compatible to pulsing as the academic one, but I would slog away at something for hours, then finally leave my desk late at night only to have a breakthrough when on the way home.  American culture increasingly values always being available, always being on--but maybe that's not the way towards better quality output--not to mention life.

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