The road to success is a lot like a marathon. You have to train hard, plan a route and set a pace that will take you where you want to go.
For example, if you run as fast as you can for the first mile of a marathon, you may be in the lead but you will soon be passed by runners going at a sustainable pace. You never want to run out of energy. For most people, the goal of a marathon is not to lead, but to finish the entire 26 miles.
Having completed 10 marathons, I know that success and life are similar to marathons. You need to find a pace that works for you and not a breakneck pace that will result in failure and burnout. Once you find a pace that works, you can carry your action plan to a successful conclusion.
Or as Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you could wind up someplace else.”
Setting a healthy pace at work is important to prevent physical exhaustion and strain, mental fatigue, stress and workplace injuries.
I understand that working at a regular pace can’t always be achieved. There will be busy times and slow times, but in general, if you aren’t working at a healthy pace, you need to examine why. Not properly prioritizing your work; competing demands, constraints or deadlines; not thinking projects through; or employer-driven goals, productivity demands and high-pressure environments are all toxic practices that can undo the best intentions.
Knowing how much you can reasonably handle should be the driver for setting your plan in motion. That doesn’t translate to being lazy or afraid to say no. On the contrary, it demonstrates your commitment to success long-term.
Every long-term plan should have short-term steps, which is why Robert Schuller said, “Yard by yard, life is hard; but inch by inch, it’s a cinch.”
Here are some tips to help you set a healthy pace for yourself and improve your productivity, morale and motivation:
• Take regular breaks. I’m a firm believer in getting up and moving around, taking a quick respite from your thoughts to allow you to better focus on the task at hand. For longer breaks, if you can afford the time, go for a walk or hit a few golf balls to recharge your batteries. Be physically active. Sometimes you need both a mental and physical break.
• Change tasks often. I’ve found that if I jump to different tasks for a while, it refreshes me and allows me to refocus. Just be careful not to let the other tasks distract you from completing your original project.
• Listen to your body. For example, if your neck or shoulders are getting sore from staring at a computer, get up and stretch. Do some exercises.
• Maintain a work/life balance. Your free time should be just that. Use this time to relax and help you return to work feeling energized. Set boundaries for phone calls and email responses.
• Plan your assignments. Divide your assignments into small, tangible steps. It’s hard to complete large assignments in one session. Again, set a reliable pace to prevent burnout.
• Set reachable goals with deadlines. After all, if you don’t set goals to determine where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? You can’t hit the target if you don’t take aim.
• Pump up the fun. So many companies today are adding fun things in the office: pool, ping pong, cornhole (bags), putting and so on. A change to bright colors might help too. One company I heard about added an espresso machine and has 3 p.m. latte chats.
If all this fails, talk to your supervisor or manager who can offer suggestions on remaining productive or consider getting a mentor to help you reach your short- and long-term goals. Often an objective assessment will uncover problem areas and potential pathways to improvement. It also demonstrates your willingness to take action.
We all remember Aesop’s fable about the Tortoise and the Hare. Forward progress, even at a slower pace than you had hoped for, is still the goal. Take the time to do it right, so you don’t have to take the time to do it over.
Mackay’s Moral: You don’t have to go fast; you just have to go.