You Can’t Sprint A Marathon

You will burn your team out if you expect them to hold a breakneck pace all the time. Demanding consistent, consecutive sprints can only get your group so far. Before you know it, you’ll have a death march on your hands. I know some of the hardest working people alive and even they can’t keep it up forever.

As a manager, you need to pick one or the other: train for sprints or train for a marathon. If you want your team to run faster, make room for breathers in between runs. Expect regular half days or days off. Plan retreats. Schedule time for your people to recover. If you want your team to consistently deliver, you must manage a pace that can sustain itself. Steady days. Reasonable expectations. A full night’s sleep.

Neither is right or wrong. Some groups perform better as sprinters, others as marathon runners. It’s important to study your situation, listen to your team and coach accordingly.

Assume Procrastination

In one way or another, everyone procrastinates. In college, I accepted my procrastination after a while and budgeted the final six hours before papers were due to write them. Deadlines won’t go away. So how can we optimize our lives and get more things done?

The first option is to impose earlier deadlines – quicker turnarounds. It makes sense: just get it done earlier. I see two problems with this, however. First, you (and those you impose earlier deadlines on) will call your own bluff. “I know it doesn’t need to be done until next week, so why is my deadline tomorrow?” Second, urgent new accelerated deadlines can interrupt the flow of other work you are making progress on. Constant bombardment of short-term work will push more important long-term projects to the backburner.

The second option is a bit more abstract: connect project milestones sequentially. Most human beings have trouble switching back and forth between projects, so why not line them up one after the other? Move on to the next task when the first is complete? Parents try to teach this at a young age: “Finish your homework first, then you can go play video games.” The benefit to this method lies in a recurring completion gratification. It feels good to get something done. It may start feeling good enough that it also feels good to start something new.

Line up your impending tasks on a to-do list, re-order them as you see fit (or most fulfilling), and let no one interrupt your conquest. Knock them out one by one. And find joy in beating the deadlines.