Life is not a sprint… it’s a marathon. This is one of the most frustrating sayings I hear in workshops and keynotes around the country. You may even find yourself saying it from time to time. But you’re wrong. Life is neither of these things. Neither one works.
So what is it?
Life is not a sprint:
This logic I can’t argue with. Anyone who has been under massive pressure with a hundred looming deadlines and plenty at stake can attest to this. We sprint! We spin those legs as fast as we can and then….. we hit the wall. We burn out. We crumble in a heap.
When we try to operate at full capacity for a number of days or weeks at a time, it’s unsustainable. And the analogy is a good one. If I tried to run flat out for as long as I can, that can only last a small amount of time (actually only about 40 metres if we look at Olympic 100m sprinters) and then I either slow down considerably or I fall in a gasping heap on the side of the road.
Life is not a marathon:
I understand what people are trying to say here. Slow down! Go at a pace that’s sustainable. But here’s the problem: that means performing below our capacity for a really long time. It says: settle in to around 70% of your best effort and then just keep that going all day, week or year. That’s what you should do!
If you aspire to perform at your best, then this sounds miserable to you. And it’s a bad recipe for achievement, fulfilment or real progress.
So if life is neither a sprint or a marathon, then what should it be?
It’s not sexy or catchy, but here goes…..
Life is a series of intermittent sprints, interspersed with recovery.
My apologies if your eyes are bleeding from reading that sentence. I told you is wasn’t sexy.
But it’s the truth. And once you understand this, you begin to unlock productivity in a way you didn’t think of.
Humans are designed to work in cycles. Most people know we have Circadian sleep cycles; but most people don’t know that we have the same cycles that operate during the day, called our Ultradian cycles. All of these cycles naturally take us between periods of high arousal and low arousal.
To perform at our best, we need to work the same way. And there are a million hacks we can use to make it happen but ultimately it comes down to intention. Here are two things you need to do if you want to work at your best every day.
1. Build Periods of Focus Into Your Day
Build periods into your day where you work with absolute focus and intensity. This could be actually at work (working on a proposal) or out of work (paying attention to your kids or spouse). Shut out distractions. Concentrate on one task at a time. These periods should be no more than 90 minutes at a time. This is the limit of our attention - after this performance starts to drop off.
Now, you know this isn’t sustainable so you also need to do this:
2. Build Periods of Rest Into Your Day
Sounds good just saying it, right? It takes an enormous amount of resources to work at full capacity. Between your periods of focus, build in moments where you can recover energy as well. This might just be 10 minutes at a time, or it might be a bit longer like over lunch. You’ll find a time frame that works for you.
This is the best way we can work: Intensity, Recovery, Intensity, Recovery. If you just have intensity then you’re about to burn out. If you consistently work somewhere in between, then you’re not having the best day you could.
These two simple things really help us to get more done in less time. And that time saved means we can leave work at a decent hour, or maybe get more of the important stuff done instead of being a slave to ‘busy work’ throughout the day.
** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.