Discovering the 12-Hour Day

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I was talking to a friend who works in high-risk labor and delivery at a hospital. She is a single mom with three daughters and instead of a 40-hour work week, she works 6, 24-hour shifts a month. It’s an efficient concentration of time. When she is at work, she is completely at work, and when she is at home, she is completely at home.

Her job is intense. She handles labor and delivery cases that no one else will take: the mother in labor at 25 weeks gestation who arrives in a helicopter with diabetes and preeclampsia. She makes life and death decisions. She is very good at what she does. I do not envy her work— I am grateful there is someone there to do it—but her schedule, I realized was something I DID envy. I love that feeling of being totally present and absorbed in a job, focused in the moment. I crave that kind of concentration.

I often feel pulled in many directions at once. With a chopped-up day it is hard to fit in the big chunks. It feels like such a luxury to go back and rework something, to click through links and follow a train of thought to its natural conclusion, to research a new idea or experiment with a new technique. Until I realized: I can take charge of my schedule!

12hr DayAn all-nighter has little appeal for me, but a 12-hour day, now THAT has potential. I set aside a day that had no appointments or commitments and blocked off 8am to 8pm. I informed everyone that I would not be available from 8am to 8pm. Sort of like going on a trip, but then not going. No meals to prepare, no one expecting me, no phone calls to make or return. Twelve hours of uninterrupted time to get things done.

And I got a lot done. But the surprise was not how much I could accomplish, it was how good it felt. It is a completely different way of working that gets me into a completely different—and much needed—head space where I have time to explore, to try, to fail, to try again. I cannot tell you how satisfying this is. Except to say that it feels like a vacation. It is refreshing!

Now I regularly plan 12-hour days. The deep dive feels so good. Getting out by going through. As a regular practice I have found it invaluable. The two kinds of work—one in short chunks that require quick action and decisions and one in long stretches that allow concentration and exploration—complement each other. Each is indispensible. And each becomes more powerful and effective with the other.

The best part? Even if I only have 45 minutes, I can now imitate that 12-hour head space, drop into that mindset of concentration and exploration for whatever amount of time I have available. The more I visit that space, the more familiar it becomes.

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