When A “Business Sprint” Isn’t Sustainable

28 Mar

In business, just like in running, you don’t have to sprint to finish the race.

I used to think that sprinters were the “real runners” and the rest of us were wannabes. I’d see them powering past, feet barely touching the ground, and compare with my own forward ploddings.  It didn’t seem like the same sport.  They looked like runners.  And they got places faster.

But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that endurance counts.  Endurance gets you to the same finish line eventually.  Some of us warm up slower.  When I ran my 36 miler in February, mile 36 was faster than mile 21 which was faster than mile 9.  They were all faster than mile 1.  It takes me 3-4 miles to hit my stride, to settle into my pace and for my brain to switch into “running” mode.  At about the point where a regular 5K ends, I hit my sweet spot and am ready to run.

Not every business project involves sprinting.  A fair number of them involve a lot of forward plodding.  Sometimes you have to trust that you will hit the sweet spot, where you will finally get into the groove of things, and in the meantime, you just propel yourself forward in as painless a manner as you can manage.

Not everyone who appears to be sprinting, actually is.

I’ve learned this the hard way.  I’ve tried to pace myself competitively with another runner…who it turned out was running a much shorter race.  No wonder he was a Speedy Sam!  I’ve tried to catch up with another runner on a trail before – until, completely out of breath and growing very frustrated with myself as he gained ground, I crested a hill and saw him far below me…on a mountain bike.

Some people are built to sprint. Some projects involve deadlines requiring a sprint.  Some people are genuine go-getters, peppy people. But also, sometimes people appear to be sprinting when they aren’t.  We’ve all seen it – the false enthusiasm in the conference room when the boss is around followed by a meandering plod back to their cubicle where they attempt to do as little as possible. A steady forward pace is much better than quick sprints followed by long breaks to ‘catch their breath’.

No matter how you get there, it’s the same finish line you’re crossing.

Some will get there faster.  Some will get there slower.  Some will finish in a blur. Others will remember every little detail, every little uphill, every little pebble in their shoe.  But it’s the same finish line – the same achievement – for everyone.

Plan your projects wisely.  Consider efficiency (how to make the most forward progress in a sustainable manner) and your energy level (are there certain patches you can sprint) and enjoyment (how can you finish and still be excited and keyed up for the next race).

Then start putting one foot in front of the other.  Propel yourself forward.  Always forward.  Stay fueled, stay focused, stay faithful.

You will finish. Even if sprinting isn’t sustainable.
But if you do sprint, wave to me as you pass.

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