Learning to run (again) and it's teaching me so much about work
Four great work practices to take from running
You know that smile, you’ve seen it many times. Something good is coming! A wrinkled old note passes from mums hand to your sweaty hand, sweating from the anticipation, the excitement, here we go …. you take the note, thank her and begin to run.
Running as fast as those trainers can take you, thinking the whole way to the shop, which candy you’ll buy.
For most of us at some stage in our lives we were runners!! Running to the shop to buy that candy, running to school trying not to be late, running with your best friend straight through that puddle! Why?
Because you loved it, it was fun. You were born to run.
Fast forward 10, 20 or 30 years. Pick the applicable number. The majority of us, at some stage along the way stop. Why? I lost interest, my knees hurt, I don’t have time, etc. The list of reasons is endless. I actually don’t know why I stopped but I did.
Last year I started to run again and I’m loving it (but it didn't start that way!) The great thing about running is it gives me time to think (see 4 below). With that I’ve been reflecting on how much running can relate to great work practices, in a strange way, it actually goes hand in hand.
Sharing my observations, hopefully there is something useful in here for you, so let's jump in.
Four things I learnt along the journey
1) Set your goals
Most companies today use Objective and Key Results (OKRs) , we do at GitHub and did when I was at Microsoft. Setting an objective (you can think of it as your goal) and then key results to get there, is how you manage any team or business. You need an objective to know the end goal and key results to measure progress along the way.
Your objective needs to inspire, it needs to inspire you and in work it needs to inspire a team e.g. landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth. Imagine when President John F Kennedy set that objective for NASA in 1961. Its inspiring and critically its a yes or no answer, you either met the objective or you didn’t. As we all know on the 20th of July 1969 Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, can we say they ran?
This year for running, I have taken an objective to run 750 miles. For me that's a lot, it inspires me to go out and get after it. I have KRs set on how much I should be running each month and another KR on a half marathon each quarter.
The KRs allow me to track my progress, and most importantly, they allow me to “tick the box” when I hit it. There is something within our subconscious, that feeling of been able to say I did it, you need that, your team needs that, it's how you show progress.
Finally your objective needs to be public, if it's in a company everyone should have access to it and the associated KRs. If its a personal one, tell people what it is, by listing my objective of 750 miles here, I’m telling you and that helps my subconscious hold me accountable!!
2) Repetition —
Everyone seems to have heard of the so-called 10,000-hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.
I’m not saying you need 10,000 hours under your belt to be a runner, but you need repetition, you need to grind it out. When you start you might not be able to go a mile and it will most likely hurt at some point! But through repetition, through multiple runs, your stamina increases, your muscles get used to it. Before you know it, a mile feels like a piece of a cake.
It's the exact same in business. When you take on that new activity / task, it's going to be hard, in fact it might even feel a little scary and that's ok (running a mile felt scary to me at one point)! The more times you do it, the better you will become and the easier it gets. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
You need to go through the grind for it to become a skill you can rely on.
3) Find your Tribe
When I started running I did it on my own and kept my times and distances to myself. My internal dialogue was telling me I was rubbish and thus don’t let anyone else know! Internal dialogue; you don’t need people knowing how bad you are.
Reflecting on that now, it's so silly. Now I’m on Strava and in a number of groups with friends and people I don’t even know. It inspires me to run more when I see what others are running. Also through friends who run, they have helped me get better with advice etc. The only person who cares what or how you are running is you!
Think how much this relates to work. How many times have you taken something on and not asked for help? Shit I dont want these people knowing I don’t know what I’m doing!!!
Its a fixed mindset and it won't help you get better. Seek out your people, find that person who knows how to do this well. Ask for help, learn from others, you will grow so much faster. I guarantee you they will be happy to teach you.
4) Take a break
Running is a great distraction (we all need that in the current world) and a great way to get time to think.
In business we often get caught up in days that are back to back meetings. You need to make time to think. I don’t know you, but I can tell you, your job is not to sit on Zoom or Teams calls all day.
If you run, book time in your calendar to do it, make the time, it's an appointment just like a work meeting.
Whatever your thing is, yoga, meditation, knitting, etc, book the time! This gives you an opportunity to think, it gives you space, it allows your brain time to problem solve. I’m lucky living in the Pacific Northwest that this is a view I often see on my run, it's hard not to take inspiration from that.
“If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them.”
― Christopher McDougal
One thing I have noticed is people worry about booking time during their “working day”. For most of us the 9–5 is gone, we work hours that work for us / your team, especially when you’re part of a Global team or dealing with managing a family at home through COVID.
You’re booking time to keep yourself healthy and allowing yourself time to think. I have always been very open with my boss(s) on this and you should too. Let them know when you are doing it. They should be thankful to have a healthy employee that is taking good self care, it helps the company!!
I hope some of above resonated with you. There is so much you can take from an activity like running into business.
My biggest hope, if you’re not running, just maybe, I inspired you to run again. It will be a grind at first but eventually it becomes a habit you’ll love, you might even have some fun with it!
If you’re a runner or just getting started join Strava (if not already), I would love to follow you, here’s where to find me.
Lastly, I know as I'm writing this many people in the world are facing a lockdown that means they can barely leave their house, let alone take a long run. Or you’re trying to homeschool kiddos and work. I get it and I’m reminded of this quote —
“It is said that the darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.” Thomas Fuller
Stay safe, be kind to yourself and thanks for reading