• Eugene McGarrell

How to stay organized at work

What running marathons has taught me about life at work

Last summer I ran and completed my 7th marathon on the Gold Coast. It wasn’t my fastest time 3hr :38 min or my slowest time 4hr : 11min so I am neither delighted or disappointed at crossing the line at 3hr : 52min.

I am a late starter to a sport that I have learned to love and hate. I started in my mid 40s as a response to a mid-life “crisis” or “renaissance” to my weight gain and declining level of fitness. Now at the age of 57 I am planning to run several more marathons before I finally retire when the physio tells me my knees can take no more.

But what do I think about when I am running? What keeps me occupied? I refuse to listen to music because it is a time when I can genuinely be in my own space. A time to meditate and to mindfully focus on my breath, the weather conditions and my running style. That’s the time when ideas and solutions to problems I have been worried about emerge.

Long distance running has been a good metaphor for life for me. So, I thought I might share some of the lessons I have learned over the many kilometres of exertion.

Preparation is everything

The main game is the marathon but 95% of the work happens in the month preceding the race. Turning up on the start line without executing a disciplined routine will have you in trouble before you reach the half way mark.

How often do we attend meetings, meet with our bosses and present to audiences at work when we are under prepared? For me I would have to answer, “more often than not”. In our busy schedules it’s not unusual for many of us to be jumping from one meeting to the next. But how can we realistically perform at work if we are not focused and prepared. Focused on the outcome we need and prepared to be agile in the moment to achieve that outcome.

Don’t run the hill twice

Many routes have at least one hill I dread. It’s steep and long. The hill tests my resilience and gives me feedback on how well I am doing. But when I start thinking about that hill beforehand I can feel the energy drain from me. I basically run the hill twice.

I have learned to stay mindful on the here and now and to only worry about the hill until I start the ascent. This has taught me not to worry about problems unless I am able to solve the problem. When problems emerged in the middle of the night I would regularly ruminate for hours, failing to sleep well and going to work exhausted and less likely to tackle the issue.

Learning to let go of the upcoming hill has also given me the tools to let go of the problems I can’t solve until tomorrow. I don’t solve the problem twice.

Set the goal but focus on the next step

Setting a goal to run 42 km brings a mix of emotions. Excitement is followed closely by anxiety. The anxiety tells me to “not bother” and the excitement tells me to “buy those new running shoes”. But focussing on the 42 km can be daunting.

Setting lofty goals at work sets of anxiety and excitement as well. Should I be so ambitious? Should I keep my head down? Or should I set myself up to potentially and publicly fail?

Once I have decided to run a marathon I let people know. I raise their expectations so that I can’t talk myself out of it when the cold and dark morning arrives and I must pull myself from my warm cosy bed at 5am. It also sets me up to fail publicly if I get injured or fail to get fit enough.

So, I cut every step into achievable chunks. Get up, get changed, walk out of the house, start running, focus on each step, focus on my breath, keep running and meditate. By the time I know it the run is done and I feel great. Setting ambitious goals at work helps me to define what I need to do today. It’s exciting and anxiety provoking but focusing on my next action keeps me grounded.

So what next? Another marathon of course. This time I am targeting a 3 hr:35 min time at the Sydney Marathon in September. So now you know you can keep me honest and I had better get on and plan my regime.

#organization #goodworkhabits

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