Productivity (Part 1 of 3): The Sprinter’s Mentality

Can working with the mentality of a sprinter increase your productivity, improve your overall mental skill, and even cure ADHD? Short answer: yes. This is the first of my three-part series on Productivity.


First, what is sprinting? For our purposes, sprinting is briefly running as fast as physically possible. It’s maximal effort for a brief time. This is exactly how The Sprinter’s Mentality works. You stay completely focused and devote all your mental energy to a task for a period of time, rest and relax, and repeat as needed.


This is actually how humans evolved to behave. Humans were idle and at rest most of the time, with brief all-out, maximal effort, like when running away from wild animals or fighting off other people. So, it’s natural for people to work intensely and have periodic breaks to recharge.


The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is a popular way of implementing The Sprinter’s Mentality. It was created in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, a time management and organizational productivity expert, author of several productivity books, and founder of the Cirillo Consulting company.


Here’s how Cirillo’s technique works:

  1. Choose a specific task to work on that requires your full, undivided attention.
  2. Work on that task for 25 minutes. Use a timer to keep track of time. Don’t get distracted. ONLY work on that task for 25 minutes.
  3. After the 25 minutes is up, take a break for 5 minutes. During this time, completely relax and don’t use electronics. Don’t check email or social media. Grab some water, take a brief walk, etc.
  4. Repeat this cycle (called a Pomodoro) three more times. After 4 total cycles, take a longer 20-30 minute break.


The goal is to keep working on one specific task for the whole 25 minutes. Don’t switch to any other task, and don’t work on multiple tasks at once.


Effective multi-tasking is a myth. To paraphrase Sun Tzu: “he who tries to accomplish everything, accomplishes nothing”.


You also shouldn’t switch to other tasks until you finish the one you’re currently on. See the “Mind Training and Other Benefits” section for why.


If someone needs to talk to you, ask them if they can wait until your 25 minute work session is done. From my experience, there are very few situations that are so urgent that they can’t wait a few minutes.


If you complete your task in the middle of a 25 minute session, you can, and should, move onto a different task.


There are other variations of the Pomodoro technique that play around with the work and rest times, but they basically do the same thing: cycle between intense, focused work and complete rest. You’re maintaining a high level of productivity, and the regular breaks keeps your energy and motivation up.


You can use the timer on your phone, but there are free Pomodoro apps out there. Here’s the one I use:



When To Use The Sprinter’s Mentality

In my working hard vs. working smart blog post, I said that The Sprinter’s Mentality works ideally for learning activities. This can include doing homework, studying, research, or practicing a skill like playing the guitar. It also works very well with problem solving/troubleshooting activities.


My opinion’s changed. The Sprinter’s Mentality can be effectively used for most activities that require concentration. The type of activity doesn’t actually matter too much.


The Sprinter’s Mentality works best for those times you just can’t seem to focus.


We’ve all had times like that, when you literally can’t sit still or focus on something for longer than 15 minutes. People with ADHD stand to reap massive benefits from The Sprinter’s Mentality. See the “Mind Training and Other Benefits” section for more on this. It also helps avoid burnout and feelings of being overworked.


There are downsides of The Sprinter’s Mentality. Most people aren’t really used to it. The bad habits that school and society in general instilled in us make it seem counter-intuitive to take breaks. We’ve basically been trained, intentionally or not, to sit down and work on one or more tasks without rest until something forces us to stop, like another obligation or the day coming to an end. There’s going to be an adjustment period before you get the hang of The Sprinter’s Mentality and get the most out of it.


Another big downside is that it can actually sometimes be restrictive and impede productivity. There are times when you literally can’t sit still and focus on a task, but there are also times when you’re “in the zone”. Those times when you’re so focused and mentally engaged on a task, that it feels effortless and you notice nothing else around you. The Sprinter’s Mentality doesn’t allow you to work on a task for long enough to enter “the zone”, and even if you can, it’ll pull you right out of it once a rest session begins. But, this can be a benefit.


Which leads me to…


Mind Training and Other Benefits

Long-term, consistent use of The Sprinter’s Mentality for work, personal hobbies, and/or other projects can actually be a method of mind training, and has other benefits.


Mind Training: Practice Focus and Attention

We live in a very fast-paced, social media-driven, instant gratification society. There are countless hours of video on YouTube that can keep you distracted and entertained for entire days. Thanks to this rapid, never-ending bombardment of digital stimuli, the average first-worlder has a non-existent attention span. Even if relatively few people are officially diagnosed with ADHD, I’d bet that the majority of children AND adults in western society have ADHD-like symptoms from all that endless digital stimuli.


The Sprinter’s Mentality effectively counteracts this attention span-killing ADHD lifestyle since you’re regularly practicing absolute, unflinching focus by working on a single task. The ability to completely focus on one thing at a time is paramount to accomplishing anything in life, and I consider it almost crippling to go without it. The Sprinter’s Mentality is a drug-free solution to ADHD and other similar conditions, and a form of mind training.


Mind Training: Practice Entering The Zone

Sometimes it’s called being in the zone. Other times it’s called being in flow, or flow state. Either way, it means being in a state of intense, but effortless concentration. Many professionals in high performance professions, like athletes, musicians, and composers, refer to being in this kind of state.


Psychologists consider regularly being in the zone a key factor in overall long-term happiness and satisfaction with life, so it’s definitely worth learning how to enter the zone as often as possible.


The Sprinter’s Mentality doesn’t let you work long enough to enter the zone, and if you can, it’ll take you right out of it once the rest session starts. The benefit of this is that you practice entering the zone.


In the above section, I talk about how The Sprinter’s Mentality helps train your ability to focus. After long-term, consistent use, it becomes possible to enter the zone during a 25 minute work session. Repeatedly entering the zone and being taken out of it like this day after day, month after month, will train your ability to enter the zone.


Other Benefits

Long-term, consistent use of the Pomodoro technique and Sprinter’s Mentality techniques can also improve your overall productivity long-term. It can help you figure out the length of time and the effort to complete certain tasks. This helps you accurately plan your day and form To-Do lists moving forward.


Final Words

All right! That’s the end of Part 1 of 3.


The Pomodoro technique is a great way of implementing The Sprinter’s Mentality. I use the free “Focus Keeper” app to use the Pomodoro technique. The Sprinter’s Mentality works best for those times when you can’t seem to focus or sit still for longer than a few minutes.


And, the Sprinter’s Mentality is also a good form of mind training; it can help with ADHD-like symptoms and even teach you to regularly enter “the zone,” which has been proven to make you happier and more satisfied with life.


Part 2 coming in the next few days.


All the best,


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