Volume Over Intensity: An Approach To Maximize Productivity
You work too much, but you’re not alone: everyone in the Western world works too much. We all suffer burnout too often and the consequences that come with it, even though we know better. What gives? How do we solve the problem of producing quality creative work without suffering burnout over long hours?
Fun Fact: I recently burned both my retinas from working too often and too late. It’s been a fun past few weeks officially launching NDO – to say the least – but it taught me a crucial lesson about working less hours consistently instead of pulling the 12 hour days I was on Monday/Tuesday and being a write-off for the rest of the week.
Low-key saved me a lot of time + hassle. ㊙️
Very quickly, I learned sheer intensity is not the way forward.
If you know me, you know I do a few things: Photography at ryanantooa.com, being the Creative Director of this agency, NDO Creative, running the NDO Podcast, eating ramen, etc. All of these (minus the ramen eating unless I’m re-watching Akira) require screen time in excess.
The 12 hours I was working daily when NDO launched as an agency forced my body to naturally say “STOP” the only way it knew how: to affect my vision.
And the worst part about the whole thing isn’t the eye damage: it’s the fact that I was upset over not being able to work as many hours in the week. And that, friends, is the biggest problem in this whole equation: I shouldn’t be working so many hours that my eyes literally can’t do their job.
Enter the Joe Rogan podcast; something I frequently have playing on my second screen as I’m doing design/photography work – particularly an episode featuring Firas Zahabi delving into the idea of “consistency vs. intensity” for athletic training.
The discussion is fixated around the training methodologies of the Western world vs. that of Russian wrestlers, Cuban fighters, and the rest of the world.
The main idea Firas tackles in this episode is this: fighters and athletes in the Western world traditionally prefer intense, long, gruelling training sessions which involve hitting records and pushing the physical limits of the body via maximum weight and resistance – regardless of the pain or strain – only to suffer from injuries and increased recovery time, leading to less training time.
Firas details the training regimen(s) of other fighters, namely Russian wrestlers and Cuban MMA fighters; these fighters tend to train less intensely and for less time, but over a more consistent period.
While Western athletes might train Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Russian wrestlers will train for less time every single day. Since they are able to train daily because of moderate training, they actually put more hours into their craft at the end of the week compared to Western athletes who need time to recover.
Firas quotes: “Let’s say I go to jiu jitsu practice: I do it every single day. 3 rounds, 5x weekly. You go in 2x a week, and you kill yourself for 5 rounds. I have done 15 rounds weekly and you’ve only done 10 – over time, this adds up.
Think about how much I’ve trained over the year vs. you. It’s a volume and consistency game vs. intensity if you’re in it for the long run.
By nature, intensity can ONLY happen once in awhile. By definition, that’s why it’s “intense” training. You can’t do your maximum every day – there’s a cost. Can you sprint every single day? You can’t. Intensity, by nature, entails that you need to take a break after doing the maximum.
So here’s the real question: how does that apply to us as the creative, working class?
Whether you are a photographer editing in Lightroom, a retoucher working in Photoshop, or a designer working with Procreate/Illustrator, you know what it’s like to get lost in your work in a flow state.
You know what it’s like to push your physical and mental limits to to finish a project under a deadline. You also know what burnout is like and the time you lose in the long-run when having to recover from it!
The bottom line is this: Whether you are training as an athlete or a creative person or an entrepreneur, you will benefit from having a routine for your work that favours a diligent, consistent work ethic, vs. intense 10-12 hour periods for 2-3 days of the week that lead to burnout. Simple as that.
Here are a few ways to help achieve more productive time in your day, consistently:
Timeblocking – either the day before or on a weekly basis, use a scheduling app (I use Google Calendar) to block out intervals of time, consistently, for learning, for work, for projects, and self-care. Being able to visually look at a schedule and identify what you have to do, and when, makes things easier to be consistent!
Make time for training and learning daily – there’s working on a business vs. working in a business. How much of your time is non-billable? How much time do you spend to learn more about your craft? Do you know your Illustrator shortkeys? Instead of spending 2 hours one day learning Adobe Illustrator if you’re a graphic designer and none the rest of the week, think about 30-45 minutes daily. At the end of the week, you’ll end up exceeding the 3 hours anyways,
Have a shutoff time – sounds insane coming from a textbook workaholic, right? After suffering burnout and reading “Deep Work” by Cal Newport I was convinced: having a daily shutoff time from screens, email, and work is essential towards recharging your spiritual, mental, and physical batteries to maintain a quality approach to your work.
In reality, less is more. Thinking back to books like “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, it’s not about killing yourself in the gym – or whatever your battleground may be – but showing up and being consistent.