I just ran my first marathon – the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. I ran to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and trained with my local Team in Training group. If you have never done an endurance event or set out to do something inconceivably challenging, DO IT. There is nothing more rewarding.
I learned a lot about what it takes to finish a marathon. I experienced firsthand that running a marathon requires you to use your brain as much as your legs. Many of the lessons that I learned can also be applied to business. The following five tips can improve your results at work and make the difference between doing just okay and achieving something great.
1. Know the course – I had a plan before I started. San Francisco is very hilly. Experienced marathoners had told me that this particular race is difficult. So I checked out the course map. I noted that the flattest part was at the beginning and the biggest hills were between mile 6 – 10. I knew that I would burn out later if I started by running fast and tried to conquer the hills like a hero while I had a ton of energy.
Before you start a major project or strive for a big goal, have a plan and stick to it. Don’t just jump in and hope to figure it out along the way. It will be a lot harder to finish. Try to identify the biggest challenges ahead of time. Set milestones and find the early wins that remind you of your amazing progress.
2. Listen to your coaches – 6 miles was the longest run I had ever done before starting my training to run 26.2 miles. I needed to rely on folks who had run a marathon before and who had successfully trained beginners like me. I diligently followed my Team in Training coaches and their training regimen. Track practice, stretches, strengthening drills, long weekend runs, and most importantly what I was going to feel on race day. They promised that they would get me across the finish line. And they did.
In business, you have coaches too. Mentors who have been there and done that can teach and support you personally. Industry experts who know can give you step-by-step guidance and sometimes the real secrets to their success. Your boss (even the worst ones) pretty much spells out what it takes to succeed. Listen to what they say and execute.
3. Run a good line – What’s harder than running 26.2 miles? Running 29 miles! Over the course of a marathon, you can easily run an extra 2 or 3 miles if you are not careful. You take a lot of extra steps that aren’t getting you any closer to the finish line if you blindly follow the center line, take the outside edge on turns, or, worst of all, constantly zigzag to get ahead of slower runners are. Look ahead and find the straightest path to getting there. Then run that line.
At work, you can easily derail your hard work if you are not focused on the task in front of you. You don’t get extra credit for multi-tasking or getting things done that are not part of the bigger goal. Sure you’re working hard and think you’re producing, but you are not getting any closer to completing your bigger, more rewarding objective. Get the immediate task done. Follow your project plan one step at a time. Focus on accomplishing the results you want… the finish line.
4. You have a fuel tank – Two things my Team in Training coaches kept on saying were 1) keep fueled up and hydrated and 2) do not start out fast. I had a limited tank that fueled my engine (my muscles). I could not afford to let my fuel tank near empty or push too hard, too early. Otherwise, my body would shut down later in the race and I wouldn’t finish. So I ate my two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before the race, swallowed a Gu calorie pack every 4 miles, drank a little water and/or an electrolyte drink at every station, and kept my steady pace throughout the marathon.
We all have fuel tanks at work too. You don’t want to burn out or become inefficient because you’ve had enough. Recharge your creativity and productivity by working all the time or staying up all night. Keep your tasks reasonable throughout a project. Do not wait until you are on deadline to get started. Or visa versa, do not spend all of your energy for a big effort when you are the most enthusiastic at the beginning.
5. It is okay to walk – My goal was to cross the finish line, not to break the world record. Most runners become walkers at some point in the course of a marathon. At mile 21 I had a teeth-clenching pain shooting in my back and right knee with every step. I was hurting bad. I still had five miles to go. Lots of steps to go. I decided to do intervals of walking the rest of the way. I did not get discouraged one bit that I wasn’t running like an Olympian. Guess what? I still came in 11th in my age group. Woo hoo!
This is the hardest thing most everyone faces because we are proud of our work. One of the easiest ways to derail your hard work is if you feel bad when you hit a snag. Or worse give up. Some unplanned problem (maybe a lot of them) will happen. Don’t become discouraged, minimize the value of your objective or quit altogether. Face the issue. Do what you need to do to address it. Keep going until you are done. Be proud.
BONUS TIP: You did it! Celebrate your great accomplishment. You just did something that was hard or maybe something others said was impossible. Make sure to reward yourself and feel great about what you have done. Sure the Tiffany’s silver medal at the finish line was awesome. But I could hardly wait to order a huge steak, extra fries, and a chocolate sundae from my hotel’s room service and kickback with an afternoon of football on the TV.
I was successful in accomplishing something that seemed inconceivable just six months ago by diligently following these tips. Just imagine how successful you can be if you apply these tips to your next big project or to your everyday work routine.
If you have ever run a marathon or plan to tackle an endurance event for a great cause, let me know I’d love to hear about it and support you.