The problem with thinking of life as a marathon is that we're literally running to our deathbeds. I'm just trying to get to next week.
Marathons are unforgiving and unrelenting. It's a culminating event, not intended for the faint of heart or the untrained rookie. When you start those 26.2 miles, the finish line is so far away as to be unfathomable. Similarly, our long-term life goals tend to be fuzzy and abstract. And, how do we measure progress, improve, or recover if we never stop running?
A better life metaphor is a series of sprints.
We do sprints all the time. This is my latest iteration:
- Mon-Fri: Launch executive training program for the day job.
- Sat-Sun: Lead Army Reservists.
- Mon-Fri: Launch executive training program.
- Every day: Keep sick baby and dad alive as wife makes her first extended work trip since baby was born.
- Publish a newsletter!
If you’re reading this, good news, I probably made it.
Sprints can be as short as getting the kids packed and off to grandma’s house before work or as long as the span of a career.
Life, like sprints, is about iterations; we adapt and evolve each time. It's important to recognize those moments when one sprint is complete before we run in another direction. Personal examples include leaving the active-duty military or the last day of each school year as a public educator. These transitions provide opportunities to be intentional with the next direction of our life takes.
Sprinting makes change easier. We can complete a sprint from Day One without any training. It might not be a hint of our full potential, but we can celebrate our win, build momentum, and improve or change course on the next iteration.
For example, the first time I ever ran a mile in less than 8:30 was to get into basic training (albeit with an angry drill sergeant behind me). After the military whipped me into shape, I was a high-performing Soldier running two miles in 13 minutes.
When I left the military, my priorities shifted and I swore off running forever (it lasted a year). With my prior experience, I gradually advanced from running local 5k’s to 314 miles across Tennessee as my goals and relationship with running community evolved over the next several years.
Coming full circle, I currently find myself as a time-strapped parent just maintaining enough fitness to keep up with my daughter as she grows older. But I’ve celebrated the sprints along the way.
This is how you can become a better sprinter in your own life:
- Figure out where you're sprinting to. What's the distance and where's the finish line? This means have a clear goal; I will publish this article by next Tuesday or I will gain 1,000 subscribers to my newsletter by the end of the year.
- Experiment with smaller sprints and more iterations. This allows us to find our peak settings. Tim Ferris provides one example: "Don’t look at a diet change or a new exercise as something you need to commit to for six months, much less the rest of your life. Look at it as a test drive of one to two weeks."
- Measure your progress for motivation and improvement. When I ran a virtual 1000k (635 miles), I fell WAY behind and had 31 days to complete 220 miles. Crossing numbers off a whiteboard was the secret sauce that got me across the finish line.
- Is this a sprint you're likely to do again? Put systems in place to improve efficiency. This is David Perell’s productivity system (with my emphasis on #3):
- 1) I plan my week in Notion, and set key themes for the week.
- 2) I manage all my ideas in Evernote.
- 3) I turn every repeatable task into a process.
- 4) I use a Kanban board to manage my videos, podcasts, and workshops.
Finally, the most overlooked part of each sprint is allowing ourselves to celebrate AND recover at the end of each sprint. This is my greatest struggle.
I might celebrate a small victory, surviving a day or a week, with a soft serve vanilla ice cream and rainbow sprinkles. At the end of a major project, there’s nothing like celebrating over a meal with your team, family, or friends. Savor the moment, bask in the success, and let the next challenge wait until TOMORROW.
Now step up to the starting line and get ready, the whistle's about to blow.