How marathon training and running is helping concentrate at work and increase productivity.
I’ve kinda disappeared a little from the blogosphere, partly due to a lull in inspiration that heartbreak brings, but also due to work getting extremely crazy. The album release, showcases, SXSW trip and video shoots are all sucking away at my free time which means I can’t keep up with my writing. Fortunately I love what I do, so I’m not complaining – and I’ll find a couple of days a week to blog as I write my book.
As my work load increases, I have started wondering how us runner deal with work stress. I was curious to see if there were any lessons I have learn having completed three marathons that could be applied to work. Runners are a dedicated bunch, we push through a lot, and achieve results that often amaze and inspire us. Surely, I thought, I can distil some vital lessons from running to help me out through this crazy work month.
Here are some insights I had while waiting for my haircut this morning.
1. Big Goals – Small Achievements.
I have to put a showcase together on Wednesday for a big client, and it’s a monumental task – fortunately I have an amazing support team that does a lot of it with me, but even over seeing this is a daunting task. Sometimes when I wake up, I just want to bury my head back under the duvet or quit and go work at Starbucks.
When I decided I wanted to run my first marathon in 2010, I didn’t just show up at the start line ready to run 26.2 miles. I’d set a goal of running 26.2 miles but you don’t do it all at once. I broke my training down into runs, that gradually built up over the course of four months so that I was strong enough to run the full distance.
With work when I have a large goal like a show case, I break the tasks down into smaller pieces, like training runs if you will. Booking the venue one day. Designing the invite the next day…. Talking to the band to set them up… Booking hair and make up. All these little tasks add up and eventually an entire showcase is put together.
Marathon training and running has taught me that making big goals is an awesome motivator, but to get there, we have to make small achievements to feel like we’re making progress.
In training for marathons, I’ve learnt about discipline, I did two runs a week, two lots of cross-training and a long run at the weekend. Further more, I warmed up before each run and stretched (badly) after. I knew that if I skipped training runs, I would not be able to achieve my goals.
In work, I have to be disciplined too. As much as I want to wake up and go straight to work, I know I have to take several steps before. I meditate in the morning, I make sure to eat breakfast and have a cup of coffee. If I don’t do these things, I crash and burn after lunch, so I’ve learned that going slow out of the gate is important to me.
Running has taught me the immediate task ahead, is not the only task ahead. We don’t just get up and run, we fuel our bodies, warm up and then run. The same is true for work, respecting my brain and body gives rise to better performance at work
Runners are obsessed with time. We need to know how fast we were, we push ourselves to be faster, we even do speed workouts to get faster. It’s an obsession!
I bring a little of my Runner’s obsession with time into the office as I dabble in the Pomodoro Technique. It’s basically short bursts of concentration that are timed with a kitchen timer for 25minutes. My colleagues are not happy when that bell goes off, let me tell you, but it works!
After each 25 minutes I go take a walk break and recover for 5 minutes, before resetting the timer. Avoiding outside distractions during those 25 minutes is key, and really focussing on one specific task is also important to getting things done. Often in the morning, I set a 25 minute timer and go through my emails, then later on in the afternoon I’ll do the same to deal with all the replies. In between, I could 25minutes to make all the calls I need to work on, or to finish a budget. My time segments are goal specific.
Running has made me realize that time is valuable, that efficiency is key and I look to see where and how I can become the most efficient employee.
Our body is made of 60% water, and our brain it’s self is 80% water and as a marathoner, I know the importance of replacing water that we lose as we sweat on long runs. Coach Scott used to tell us ways to test for dehydration in our pace group:
1. the pinch test- pinch someone skin and if it takes longer than usual to bounce back, they’re in trouble
2. the speech test- we were told to be on the look out for slurred speech and nonsense talk from our running group
Obviously, we all found this highly amusing and would run around pinching each other whenever we heard someone in our pace group say something odd. We’re likely never to get this dehydrated in the office, but did you know that not being properly hydrated severly affects concentration levels? A study at the University Of Connecticut found that even a 1.5% drop in water levels in our body can impact us. In women dehdration was reported to cause headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating and men said they experienced difficulty in performing mental tasks, especially in areas of vigilance and memory, as well as increased levels of anxiety and tension.
Marathon training has taught me the importance of hydration and fuelling my body to optimum results.
I mean I only have to look at my ‘reader’ on WordPress to see that I’m not the only one that runs to eat! Yes- I’m talking to you Miss Peanut Butter, Marathons & Macaroons, Miss Snickers, and Miss Cookie Dough - we all love to eat, and I think running gives us a balance between health and indulgence. I love baking, and chocolate and without running I would be a chunky Brit, and everyone knows you can’t be chunky and live in Los Angeles, so running is my balance.
At work, it’s not as easy as rewarding myself with a Sprinkles every time I finish a budget. That would defeat the purpose. Also we are not dogs, so unfortunately we don’t get to reward ourselves with food.
What I do know is that I need positive reinforcement so when I do my 25minute pomodoro, I go take a walk break, or have a chat with a colleague. There may also be a Starbucks treat once in a while too.
Running has allowed me to be kind to myself, when a task is well done it should not go without reward.
Aside from sore legs, do you bring anything to work that you’ve learned from running?