How to Get Stuff Done

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The thing I like about running [read: jogging slowly] is that everyone on the trail with you has the same goal and the same problems that you do. Finish without puking, cramping or asphyxiating. Finishing is relative to each individual. Maybe it’s just a mile, a hundred yard sprint or the last 0.2 miles after 26 before it. The real beauty in this system is what you get to think about while you’re running. All else being equal, you’re now free to let your mind wander; or just wonder.

Today (Sunday) was one of those days for me. I put on my shoes and got back on the proverbial saddle. With a sizable storm front on the way, I knew I had to get to the trail and just run without worry, else I might get caught in the rain. When I was running regularly I started by using time based milestones. Run four minutes, walk two. Run five, walk two – or some combination of that. It got me moving but not with satisfying results. During the run, I’d constantly look at my watch as I searched for the last few seconds that signaled my stopping point. During the walking phase, I’d dread the last few seconds of the slower pace before I had to suck it up and hustle.

Somewhere along the way I switched to a mile-marker based goal. I’d run say 3/4 of a mile and then walk the last quarter. The runs felt faster and less like a forced chore. To those of you that run regularly, it may come as no surprise that my speed and times improved remarkably. I think it’s a mentally tougher way to run until you get used to the pace and your stride. Time then becomes not a measure, but a marker. I can pick a shuffling speed and know with a fair amount of accuracy what my mile time is when I pass a distance marker. It’s a lot better way to gauge where you’re at because despite how long you’ve run, you still have to make the loop back to where you parked your truck.

I think this anecdote can be applied to how we work as well. Americans, in general, are well known for working late hours to get things done. However worker bees joke about our nature to just punch the clock and leave when time dictates, rather than the completion of a milestone task. Sure, sometimes our real life sets the clock for us – leave at 5pm to pick up the kids, go to the ballet, you name it. This doesn’t mean that we can’t let our work throughout the day be task driven rather than time driven. Email? Answer ten of them (also, prioritize your emails by urgency and importance). Need to rip 100 board feet of hard maple? Finish it, then take a break when you’re done. Your sense of accomplishment will soar and you won’t have the hurdle of motivating yourself to start back up after you’ve cooled off halfway through.

Another fantastic benefit, especially when you start out and everything you do is a learning experience, is that you are better able to track how long tasks take to accomplish. When you set out to run for 10 minutes, you may have an inkling that you’d like to travel one mile. As you approach the ten minute mark you’ll find yourself constantly looking at your watch and searching for the mile marker. Your mind shifts your pace to squeeze in that mile before time runs out. No, not the worst thing in the world to push yourself, but not a great way to figure out your natural stride. Business is often an endurance race, not a sprint, and you need to know how much you can get done without burning out in a fiery tempest.

I think that this line of thinking was inspired by a book I’m currently reading written by Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk. The book is a bit “fluffy” but does paint a picture of the hard work necessary to get an enterprise off the ground. Elon seems to work until the job is done, yes, often to the point of sacrificing family and friends, yet he changed the banking industry, sends rockets to space and brought cool electric cars to market. Despite your feelings on it, I urge you to try this tactic for a week or so and see how your productivity changes. If you’re feeling really frisky, check out the book, available from Amazon.

Lastly, don’t forget that your franchise, Texas state quarterly sales and use and personal income taxes are due within the next few weeks!!

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