Finding our 2nd Work Wind

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History’s great runners are famous for finding their “second wind”.   The second wind is commonly understood in running circles as a second burst of sustained energy after an initial sense of overwhelming fatigue   Masterful runner’s such as Steve Prefontaine are known for finding a sudden jolt of energy, often unexpectedly, just as they thought they were running out of gas.  Recently, I’ve identified circumstances in my every day work that have helped me to realize a similar phenomenon in my workday and get more done with less stress.

Our schedules are hectic. Meetings, reports, client engagements, more meetings – repeat.

With each passing week, we do our best to establish a deliberate schedule. However, a variety of normal requirements emanating from clients, co-workers and bosses often drive us off track.  By the time the clock strikes 5pm, we look at our to-do list and we’ve accomplished only a fraction of what we set out to do and feel mentally exhausted.

If you’ve experienced this situation with semi-regularity then welcome to the modern office workplace of 2017.

This is where the second work wind phenomenon can provide value in our lives. The second work wind is a mental muscle that we can build to produce higher quantities of higher quality work. Given the demands of today’s highly competitive workplace in which doing the maximum amount of cognitively difficult work is paramount, finding our second work wind is a necessary skill that helps us accomplish more.

There are a few things that we can do to slow down the day, assess our progress, re-orient ourselves and produce the high quality work that we are truly capable of – even after 4pm. In short, we can find our second work wind if we are mindful of three important things.

  1. Iterative Workday Assessments – I establish my to-do list each day (or the workday prior) using Evernote™. I assess my progress against my to do-list at lunch and late afternoon. Assessing my to-do list in short intervals allows me to adjust my list and work schedule if new assignments or meetings arise. Doing this deliberately by building the iterative workday assessment into your schedule is half the battle and should comprise roughly a 10 minute block. The act of purposefully assessing your progress and checking off items completed will create a sense of conscious and unconscious satisfaction. Most importantly, this is an opportunity at each interval to recreate your to-do list for the day and re-establish what can and should be accomplished. After my 4pm iterative workday assessment, I’ve usually checked 75% of my items off my list and have left myself a few to complete.   I leverage my personal competitiveness to challenge myself to finish the final 25% by way of my late-day, second work wind.
  2. Mental Reset – One trick that I use to find my second work wind is to take 5-15 minutes between 3-5pm to do something wholly unrelated to work. Call a sibling, order a wedding gift for a friend or simply have a snack. Again, being deliberate about stopping and removing ourselves from our work and our direct work environment if possible, allows us to “reset”. I take at least 10 minutes in the 3pm hour (time when I find myself naturally drifting) to reset, reorient and begin anew. This mental reset is critical to finding our second burst of intellectual energy and building the daily stamina required to achieve more.
  3. Cue, Routine, Reward Loop – The final tactic that I use to find my second wind involves building repeatable habits by being cognizant of the “Cue, Routine, Reward Loop” described in Charles Duhig’s NYT Bestseller, “The Power of Habit”. One of the core ideas in this outstanding book on habit formation is that our habits follow a simple three step process: cue, routine, reward. Cues are the events in our environment that alert us to a need, want or sensation. As it applies to our workday, it is typically the sense of feeling overwhelmed and fatigued late in the day. Our routine is the normal response that we have when this cue is initiated. For many of us, our routine at this juncture in the workday is to simply respond to unread emails as our inboxes pile up or go on autopilot and surf the internet or social media feed. The reward is what we seek by performing this routine when we are cued to do so. Rewards can be a simple sense of distraction (social media) or sense of accomplishment (when we accomplish hard things). So if we can break down our late day habits into these three component parts, we can identify the cue, replace bad routines with good routines, and realize the reward that we mentally desire. For me this meant recognizing my 3pm cue of mental exhaustion and recognizing that my routine was to revert to reading unread email instead of executing my to-do list.   Therefore, the solution was to replace my auto-pilot routine (read unread email) with my desired routine (re-orient, rejuvenate and continue to do-list) and realize the reward of accomplishment (new reward) instead of distraction (old reward). This is hard. It involves will power and forces us to override our normal routines and swap out rewards. But if done correctly and practiced over a period of consecutive workdays, I promise that you can recognize the old habits that you are used to falling into and replace them. The new routine  will allow you to be considerably more productive and provide you with the reward that you are seeking – workday accomplishment!

Finding our second work wind is difficult. It involves monitoring ourselves and our schedules with precision.  It means tinkering the normal course of events to create space for a second burst of intellectual energy.  However, when practiced and ingrained into our everyday routines, we find that we accomplish more and feel more satisfied.   And that makes the second work wind as much about everyday happiness as it does about anything related to work.