“Slow and steady wins the race.”
I had the chance to watch a friend complete her first half marathon last weekend. While I was waiting at mile 10 to cheer her on to the finish, I couldn’t help but notice the running styles of those that went past. At the very front of the pack, there were a few sprinters—you could tell that running was their lifestyle, and they could sprint longer than I would ever hope to be able to jog. For the most part, though, the runners kept a steady pace as they passed me. They weren’t trying to get the race over with, they were trying to pace themselves to be sure their bodies could handle running for that long. After my friend went past (with a cheery “Never do this!” piece of advice), I drove to the finish line to congratulate her when she got there (sounds lazy, I know). Because I drove, though, I was able to see many of the same people cross the finish line that I had watched back at mile 10. And what do you know, they were all still maintaining their steady pace, even across the finish line.
What did I learn from this experience?
There is a difference between training for a marathon and training for a 100-yard dash. If you are running a 100-yard dash, you’re planning to give your all for a short period of time. A marathon requires more planning, more discipline to train your muscles to handle a long, strenuous effort. Let’s be honest—life is more like a marathon. You never really reach the finish line, because there is always more to do beyond one completed goal. This is why you need to pace yourself. If you try to sprint through life, even through projects, you’ll run out of energy and get burnt out. You need to find a pace that works for you. Sometimes this means starting slow and building up to a faster pace, and sometimes you’re already at a fast pace, and you just need to keep it steady.
Maintaining a life-rhythm over an extended period of time increases your productivity levels. We’ve discussed several methods for burst-based productivity on this blog, and setting a steady life-rhythm should not discount those tried-and-true methods. What I mean is that keeping a steady, productive rhythm in your life will help you reach your goals while minimizing stress levels and avoiding that all-too-feared burnout. If you think “I’ll just work 60 hours this week to get ahead,” it’s likely you’ll either continue working too much or you’ll end up not working much the next week. If you maintain a regular schedule and system for completing tasks and projects, you’ll be able to maintain healthy lifestyle and relationships outside of the office.
If you’re allowing your life to gain momentum and move faster and faster, you may lose sight of why you’re doing what you do, and you’ll likely start focusing on the pain and frustration of moving faster than you have strength or ability. When you stop listening to what your body and mind needs, you won’t have fun. And if you don’t have fun, you won’t want to continue doing what you do. Marathon runners don’t sprint for a mile and walk for three, they maintain a steady pace for the whole 26.2 miles. And because they don’t push themselves beyond their capacity at any point along the trail, they know they can finish the race, and they have fun doing it.