Are you a runner? Have you ever got into running, and we mean more than a sprint to catch the bus or frantic dash because you’re running late for an appointment? If you run at all then you may relate to this and appreciate some of the lessons from running we can apply to our working lives.
If you avoid running, or the last time you ran was at school sports day, then we hope this still offers some helpful reflections for working from home.
This is the first in a fun series that relates work to different activities. We hope, whether you participate in these activities or not, they provide a few insights and fun perspectives on working from home – as a business owner or employee.
It is a marathon not a sprint…
How often have you heard the phrase: It’s a marathon, not a sprint?
Just as training for a marathon takes weeks or months of consistent practise, the same applies when growing your business or progressing at work. When you work from home, you are master of your time and often, your schedule. You need to find a pace you can maintain comfortably. We hear too often about cases of burnout as we are prone to working longer hours at home, or feel a need to prove ourselves without the office presenteeism.
If you set off too quickly, take on too much, and try to be all things to all people, you will struggle and lose stamina and motivation.
Persistence and the long game is important. Don’t burn yourself out straight away.
Looking at it through the marathon lens, you can learn a lot during the journey. You learn what you enjoy, what you are best at, and what your customers want. You learn valuable lessons about the relationships you deal with regularly such as your boss, colleagues, and clients. So take the time to understand these things before thinking you need to rush off and launch everything perfectly in the first month. You can process and learn from feedback as you go.
…But remember sprint sessions can benefit you
Any long distance runner does not drum out 20 miles every time they train. They intermix with interval sessions, hill runs, and shorter sprint sessions. These short, sharper bursts help towards their longer distance times.
When you work for yourself, remember to mix things up. Shorter ‘sprints’ can help the long game of your career and business growth. Develop an awareness of when you are best suited to have a sprint work session. (Morning is when a lot of people feel most alert and energised.)
Working in a ‘sprint’ is an actual term, often used in agile working. Very simply, a team will agree what they will accomplish during a defined period of time (the sprint). They look at what needs to be done, agree on what ‘done’ will look like, and establish the capacity of the team to confirm an agreed outcome.
It can be a useful way of working when you work from home and have less direct contact with a manager, or have more autonomy over your time. It encourages you to give yourself mini deadlines, assess your priorities regularly, and have a real focus on completing a piece of work.
Week to week, have your short sharp bursts of focused time where you achieve a lot. Give yourself a short deadline to sharpen your resolve and motivation to get it done. As part of the bigger marathon journey, these sprint sessions will help you make leaps in progress.
Don’t compare yourself to others
The first time I ever ran a half marathon I set off too quickly because I was gauging my run against those around me in the pack. I only realised later that these were front of the pack runners, who were on track to run sub 90-minute times. For a while I kept up, but needless to say, I dropped back a few kilometres into the race and it derailed my race plan. I finished reasonably but ultimately a little slower than I hoped because I fatigued too soon.
It was a lesson to me to know my plan, my vision, and not get swayed by what other people around me were doing. Everyone has their own journey to take, their own specialisms, their own goals and motivations. It is why the only person you should compare yourself to is you.
As a runner, if someone whizzes past you in the park, focus on beating your personal best, not that of someone with ten years more experience, a dedicated running coach, twenty more races under their belt, or just having a really good day!
Just as we see what other people are doing on LinkedIn or social media, we never know all the circumstances that have led them to where they are. Working alone at home means we need to be proactive about not listening to the negative self-talk that can occasionally rear its head. We can learn from our own experiences, and focus on improving ourselves, rather than get distracted or feel less worthy by someone seemingly doing ‘better’.
Read the brilliant interview with life coach Simon Alexander Ong on maintaining a positive mindset even in challenging times.
It features in volume 2 of The Homeworker print editions.
You are doing better than you think
Often, when you take a step back and look at the overall picture, you realise you are doing better than you think.
It is important to put things into perspective.
During the aforementioned half marathon, I got to a point where I felt so tired my legs were screaming at me to stop, and I had given up hope of achieving a sub 2-hour time, let along the 1h 45 I was hoping for. I crossed (staggered) over the finish line with a respectable 1h 50, not bad for a first attempt, and a lot faster than I thought I had run.
Sometimes, in the moment, things appear to be going terribly. We focus on one bad day, a slow quarter, or a rejection of some kind. This is why we always need to stop and look at the whole picture to see how well things have gone. That one bad day was part of a much better week. The one rejection led to a different opportunity. The slow quarter was relatively good in the context of economic uncertainty. You are often doing better than you think.
Know your weak spots
Several years a go, I ran City 2 Surf, a renowned race from Sydney’s CBD to Bondi Beach in Australia. It is only 14km but takes an undulating route, which includes the notorious ‘heartbreak hill’ (the Boston marathon equivalent!). This 2km stretch with an average 4% grade comes in at the half way point, having already conquered a few ascents and knowing there are a few more to come!
It was my nemesis. Hill running was not my strong point. I had to spend time practising running up the hill, rather than running the distance.
Working alone at home means we may not have our weaknesses made apparent to us as frequently. (Or they may become apparent very quickly as we are having to rely more on ourselves). We have to develop self-awareness and an understanding of where we need extra support or to improve our skills. We will also see what tasks might be sensible to outsource.
It is easy and comfortable to keep doing what we know – and there is something to be said for not overcomplicating something. However, it is when we concentrate on doing what we find hard that we make breakthroughs.
We not only learn something new and develop new skills, but in doing so we improve our confidence. We learn more about ourselves and the sense of accomplishment is enormous!
Beware the things that spike you
Running can make you feel amazing once you get into your stride, but those first few miles (or metres) can feel like a slog. You have to be careful of not overdoing it. You have to build up your distances and your speed, and try to avoid injury.
Just as you need to watch out for obstacles in the road, blisters and pain points when running, there are challenges to face in business. It might be something serious such as an illness or toxic work environment, but it may just be noticing the first signs of stress, or dealing with an awkward customer.
Competitors, negative feedback, a missed deadline… we all have bad days at the office. It’s important to do what you can to minimise the threats. With running, I might make sure my trainers fit well and I plan my route to stay safe. In work, it is due diligence, building resilience, managing time, and also making sure you’re well equipped physically and mentally to perform.
Use the music
I have to listen to music when I run. I’ve tried podcasts and audio books but for me, a strong beat and uplifting tune is what keeps me going. Partly it prevents boredom (sometimes running just feels hard), but the beat can determine my pace. A faster track inevitably helps me run a little faster too.
There are also times when I want to use my run just to escape the desk, and then the music is about letting my mind wander, process and dream. In that case, I may choose different music.
When working from home, you can also use music to powerful effect. Music can uplift you, it can empower you, it can help you feel energised. It is scientifically proven to stimulate parts of your brain that enable focus. Experiment and have fun.
Why not try out one of our WFH playlists in the Subscribers Lounge? We include tracks for rest and meditation, focus, creativity, and fun.
Use the crowd
If you have ever taken part in a running event, no matter how small, you will probably have experienced the power of the crowd. They are your cheer squad. They shout those words of encouragement when you need them most. The applause is an extra energy source.
Don’t forget to seek that same support for your work and business. Support and encouragement can come from various sources. You can find it in a business partner, an assistant, or trusted mentor. You might find it with likeminded people in a networking group or community.
A supportive family or partner can give you encouragement after a hard day. Even if you work alone, you are not alone. Remember to ask for help, find your crowd, and let them help you to the finish line.
You can rest but do not quit
Just as with running, there are days at work that are tough and require a little extra mental resilience.
We understand the need to rest well to keep ourselves healthy, but we also need the resilience and mental fortitude to push through when things are hard.
I have always found with running, the moment I stop, getting going again is so much harder. Slowing down is ok, but just don’t stop. With work, we all need moments of slowing down, pausing and even disconnecting. But when you decide to quit, it is very hard to regain the motivation.
If you are thinking about quitting, it is useful to ask yourself why. Is it because you are going through a tough period, are you mentally exhausted, do you need a proper break? Or, are you ready to change direction and try something new?
Sometimes, the reasons we want to quit might be temporary and when we find the resilience to keep going, we eventually find we can overcome the challenge or the situation becomes more sustainable. The practise becomes habit – and it is coming through the hard parts that we learn, adapt, and find we can go further and faster next time.
Don’t forget to look back at how far you’ve come
It is really important to keep celebrating and acknowledge your achievements. It is the small accomplishments that add up to those big ones. During the day-to-day, week-to-week grind, stopping to acknowledge positive feedback or a met deadline can feel insignificant. However, it is a powerful way to keep yourself motivated.
One long journey starts with one small step so make sure those small steps don’t go unnoticed. Keep your momentum strong and spirits high by looking back now and again to witness how far you’ve come from where you started.
There may always be another hill to climb but when you reach each milestone, remember to congratulate yourself. If not, you never get to appreciate the view.
About the author
Louise is an award-winning journalist and speaker who focuses on working from home, remote work and wellbeing. She is the founder of The Homeworker, which is dedicated to helping you thrive when you work from home. The Homeworker publishes articles that are designed to keep you healthy, happy, fulfilled, and more productive in work and life.