Why You Should Learn to Work in 'Pulses'

15 Feb 2023


The world of work can be taxing, emotionally draining and a great source of burnout. On the flip side, the world of work can also be thoroughly rewarding, satisfying and character-building.

How, then, do you end up on the 'right side' of work?

For me personally, I've found that ending up on the 'right side' - rewarded, satisfied and not too emotionally drained - is a question of how I structure my work to maximise my gains whilst minimising my losses.

Of course this is not to say that I have gotten the balance right all the time. To the contrary, there have been numerous times in my career where I did burn myself out quite badly, sometimes to the extent that I started counting down the days and planning for 'life after' the vocation or project I was involved with. Thankfully, those phases passed and I'm still doing what I was doing before.

What I am saying, however, is that I have developed a system that makes these 'down periods' less frequent.

Here's what I have to say.

My Strategy: Learn to Work in 'Pulses'

Nowadays, I approach my career by working in 'pulses'. There are times where I will be frantically grinding out work to meet deadlines and move projects forward. Here, I'll be immensely focused on what I need to get done and quite easily work 10-12 hour days for a couple of times a week.

Importantly, though, I balance out these moments of frantic work with periods of 'rest'; a few hours, days or even a week where I don't touch work at all and I recover. These moments of 'rest' are enough to provide reprieve from the incessant work I've just ploughed through in that I can recover and reenergise.

In this sense, I structure my work as if they were 'pulses'. For every 'pulse' of hard, strenuous work that I face, I must balance it with a period of rest and rejuvenation. You cannot manage one without the other. It's like yin and yang all over again.

"For every 'pulse' of hard, strenuous work that I face, I must balance it with a period of rest and rejuvenation. You cannot manage one without the other."

So, what does this look like?

'Pulses' in Practice

You can apply my strategy in a few ways.

If you need to work in short bursts, you might apply 'micro pulses' where you balance out a few days of hard work with daily walks, an evening off or a dinner out with friends.

Perhaps you might also need to work for longer periods of time where you're under the pump for multiple weeks on end. In this case, it's important to still have some small breaks throughout the next few weeks, but also to reward yourself with a solid couple of days off when work dries up.

Personally, I've found that I like having one day off during my week, or where that's not possible, going out for long 20-30 minute walks at the end of my day to unwind and recover. You'd be surprised how relaxing a long walk can be.

What's your way of working?

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Johnson Chau
This is exactly how I prepare for difficult exams - I've heard that this is similar to the pomodoro technique where you study for 30mins and take a quick 5min break. Found it quite useful!
Laura S. Wegner
@Eyesakov2123 how did you come up with this brilliant approach?