Your athletic and work life might seem like different worlds but the skills and mindset needed to develop as an athlete can really help work and career success too. These 9 athletic lessons to improve your career will boost productivity and focus
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#1: Set goals to get out of bed
Without a clear goal every day, getting out of bed is harder.
On a training morning for example, 'I'm training with Iain, he will be there at 0730, I need to get out of bed’ is a much stronger motivator for getting up than, ‘I should train today’.
After all, when we wake up, our brains naturally ask why, and what for?
In the case of training a clear goal, particularly one visualised positively in advance, leads to a clear action – getting up, training and feeling good.
Meanwhile, we'll happily use something as vague as 'I need to be in the office at 9am' as our work morning 'goal'. Without any action attached to it however, the subconscious suggestion here is that there's nothing important to do, so in reality, why rush out of bed.
Instead try swapping 'I need to be in the office at 9am' for 'I need to be in the office at 9am to do (insert task here) so I can (insert goal here)' and feel the difference this focused intention makes. By creating a goal and a timeline from the moment you wake, you can get motivated.
#2: You can’t PB every day
You’d never try or expect to smash a personal best every day in training, so why arrive at work each morning with a ‘to-do’ list that matches the most productive day you’ve ever had?
It doesn’t make sense, and you’re only setting yourself up to fail, but we're all guilty of this one.
On the track or in the boardroom, knowing when to work hard and when to back off increases productivity and results over the long run
It’s like taking your best time over any distance and expecting to match or smash it every day with no consideration for how you feel, how rested - or tired - you are, and what you’ve been doing beforehand.
Like training, periodising work on both a micro and macro level will boost productivity.
Chances are, your work is seasonal in some way. Thus, aim to get more volume in – work with more intensity – when demand requires but make sure you back off – whether that’s leaving the office on-time, taking a holiday or reducing output slightly – at times when the demand isn’t there.
Constantly striving for your best, every single day, is a one way path to burnout.
#3: Treat work like a race
Unless you’re at the sharpest end of the field, most races are undertaken like a time trial and the fastest way from A to B is to pace your effort as evenly as possible.
You don’t run a marathon, race an Ironman or complete a big climb on the bike with a load of high intensity intervals thrown in (unless it's a training session). You aim for steady state. A pace you know you can just about maintain the full distance. Shoot for the same thing at work.
Avoid distractions that disrupt your flow and steer you off-course. It’s easy to go from productive to time-wasting when you’re not focused on maintaining that steady, consistent effort, but it’s key to maximising your work capacity.
Pace yourself. This isn’t a sprint
#4: Don’t forget the breaks
While this slightly flies in the face of #3, don’t forget to take a break too.
Just as you’d slow or pause for a brief moment at aid stations mid-race to refuel, you also need to break at the desk. Working flat-out for eight hours is not productive.
Stay efficient – too much time on a break and you become that trail runner who spends 10-minutes at each aid station on an ultra while the rest of the field passes them – but do take a moment to break, refresh, refuel and get the blood flowing.
#5: Get your nutrition right
Of course we’d say this, but it’s very evident that both athletic and work output (not to mention health) are hugely influenced by the food you eat.
Avoid highly processed, sugary foods which cause your blood sugar to spike and trigger insulin secretion. It’s terrible for longterm health and all it delivers short term is the classic sugar-crash. You'll be left gagging for another sugar hit for fear of falling asleep at your desk.
Instead, focus on nutrient dense foods for optimal performance. Not only will you feel better, shed fat and develop lean muscle more readily, but you’ll focus better and improve productivity at work.
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#6: Define the end
A race has a definite end. You're not done until you reach it and will push through yourself to get there.
You've started, so you must finish – proof if ever it was needed that simply starting is one of the best ways to get finished. A race end may just be an arbitrary line, but we’ll kill ourselves to get there.
Work needs a similar end, a defined goal and visualised outcome to get you there. Only when you’ve defined your end point can you get there. Imagine an ultramarathon without a finish line. It would be a nightmare and most wouldn't touch it. Yet we’ll happily work like that all day long...
#7: And break it down
We break endurance events down into manageable chunks. No one thinks of the whole 100 miles during an ultramarathon in the same way you don’t ponder the marathon run at the start of an Ironman.
How would you eat an elephant? Well, hopefully you never have to, but if you did you’d have to tackle it one bite at a time
Work must be the same otherwise tasks and projects simply become too overwhelming and we end up heading for distractions to avoid confronting it.
Break the task down into stages, just like a race.
In writing, for example, instead of thinking ‘geez, I’ve got this huge piece to submit today and only eight hours to write it’, focus on the first hour scrawling down big ideas before taking a break. Then get back to it, dialling in your thoughts further before anther break.
Focus on the next step. Take it, and step by step the rest will follow.
#8: Work with people you like
We can’t all choose who we work with, but surrounding yourself with a group of motivating, inspiring people in your work and social life will increase productivity (not to mention enjoyment) at work.
The same goes for training. Train with likeminded individuals who push you and you’ll get a lot more from your training and racing.
It’s not always possible but, when possible, collaborate with people you like at work
#9: Finally, man up
Sometimes there are no kind words, pieces of advice or research that can help. You’ve just got to dig in and tough it out. As Winston Churchill put it, "if you're going through hell, keep going".
This is just as true when you're in the midst of that huge work project that going to pieces as the deadline looms ever closer as it is when you're at mile 18 in the marathon and feeling like you want to curl up and die.
All the theory in the world is great, but without getting out there and doing the work it’s as useless as a bike with no wheels.