Michael Koehler

Exploring the intersection of productivity, technology, and life.

Sprint or Marathon?

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, Relay Race

U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 3rd Class David P. Coleman via Wikimedia Commons

When faced with a lot of work, it is essential to know if you are about to embark on a sprint, or on a marathon.

A sprint is a lot of work, but it is just small enough that if you put everything you’ve got into it you can get it done.  Exhausted at the end, tired, but you got it done.  The fact that you have no energy left is fine; there’s nothing left to do.

But a marathon is completely different.  With a marathon, when you have given all you’ve got, you’ve barely started.  So, if you treated the marathon like it was a sprint, you have a big problem.

Seems simple right?  But we often see people get this wrong.  Imagine you are running a business, and something really big happens that threatens that business.  There have been a lot of examples in the news lately.  The first thing that always happens is that everyone is called in to work on the problem.  All effort is poured into it.  But big problems like these are not usually a sprint, they tend to be marathons of days or weeks or months.  If you want to handle it well, you need to resist the temptation to call all hand’s on deck.  Instead, your first task is to make sure that your best people go get some rest.  In the first several hours, not much can really be done.  Sure, someone has to stay who can be in charge during those first hours, but you don’t need everyone.  Instead you need to be sure that you will have a second shift ready to pick up from the first shift when the first shift can’t keep their eyes open.  In short, if the marathon is going to be a long one, you need to convert it into a relay race.

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Written by mwkoehler

2011/05/03 at 10:22 am

Posted in GTD

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