Interval Train Your Brain: How to Improve The Way You Think in Short Bursts

Do you find you are LACKING PRODUCTIVITY while working? INTERVAL TRAINING could be the solution, says performance psychologist and author IAN PRICE


Seventy years ago, German running coach Woldemar Gerschler found a novel way to get the best out of his athletes in training before fatigue set in. Rather than have them run up and down a track continuously, Gerschler mixed bursts of intense activity with periods of rest. His innovation became known as interval training.

Sadly, for modern-day knowledge workers, the way we work is exactly like running up and down a track all day. We work very long hours, continue working over lunch while munching a sandwich at our desk and often look at emails late into the evening. The brain is like a muscle – it too responds to interval training so here are some tips to develop your brain to deliver a cognitive performance of Usain Bolt-like proportions:

1 Use the Pomodoro Technique

This technique, conceived by Francesco Cirillo, is a very simple tool. Using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (“pomodoro” is Italian for tomato), Cirillo found that if he set it for 25 minutes and worked in a focused way on one thing until the bell rang and followed it with a five minute break, he became much more effective. He also found that if he broke up long and complex tasks into several “Pomodoros”, he would get through them much more effectively. I have experimented with Cirillo’s technique and settled on 45 minutes followed by a fifteen-minute break, using the timer on my phone.

2 Take meaningful breaks

Your break is not about catching up on email. It’s to recharge the brain so resist the temptation to spend 15 minutes on social media. Follow the advice of Dan Pink in his book When – get outside and take somebody with you.

3 Switch off distractions

Turn off email and all social media alerts. Be focused. This means bringing your full attention to one task at a time. We are wired to succumb to distractions but resist the urge to multitask. When training for the decathlon, Daley Thompson did not throw a javelin while attempting a high jump.

4 Be unavailable

Whatever your job, your performance will benefit from focusing on important tasks. This means not being immediately available for trivial ones – maybe unpalatable in some organisations. So employ filters if you can, such as colleagues that can take calls. Have an autoreply on your email to manage expectations.


Ian Price is a performance psychologist and author of Head Start: Build a Resilient Mindset so You Can Achieve Your Goals published by Pearson and available on Amazon.

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