What Marathon Training Has Taught Me About Productivity

marathon productivity

I am, by nature, a planner and an organizer. There are few things I love more than a good to-do list and a great pen to check items off that list. I have a fairly elaborate daily planner and process that lays out each day.

My system has evolved largely because I have learned to work with my tendency to procrastinate. Most of these lessons were not learned from the business world, but largely from my favorite past time: running marathons – 20+ to date.

The Marathon Training Process

When I started training for my first marathon so many years ago, I found a training program that seemed to make sense and I followed it religiously. Not because I was a planner, but because I was new to running and I had no idea what I was doing. I found an 18-week training plan, put each run in the calendar and followed it to the letter.

Just like that, a new hobby was born. I have followed basically the same program for every marathon since (Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 program, if you are in the market for a program, I swear by it).

I have come to realize that marathon training suits my personality. I like the training cycle and how, starting on day 1, I know exactly what my workout should be every day for the next 18 weeks. The plan is all laid out. You need to do the work today in order to do the work tomorrow. If you don’t do today’s work, tomorrow’s work doesn’t go away- it just gets harder.

Going for a run on any given day is no longer optional.

The Lesson

This was the big aha moment for me connecting marathon training to productivity: I can’t give myself the option of deciding what I feel like doing on any given day.

I shouldn’t ask myself what I want to do. ‘Wanting to’ is irrelevant.

Plan it ahead of time and do what’s on the list.

You Rarely Want To

Most of my procrastination is caused by my ‘not feeling like’ doing what I know I should do. The problem is, even for my favorite hobbies, I will rarely feel like it. I want to sit on the couch and watch Netflix, but that likely isn’t going to make my priorities list.

Do I feel like getting up really early on a Saturday to do a 20-mile long run? No, at least I never have so far. When the alarm goes off, I want to roll over and go back to sleep.

But it’s not optional. What I feel like doing doesn’t matter. I have a goal. I have a plan. The plan includes all of the little steps I have to take to finish the goal. I’m just following the plan.

I’ve found that work and personal projects work the same way. Do I feel like sitting down and writing a chapter of my book today? Do I feel like working on that report or preparing that speech? Likely not, but even asking the question is a recipe for procrastination.

Set the goal, set the deadline and work backwards with the to-dos.

Do It Anyway

Don’t wait until you feel like it. Do it anyway.

Don’t make it optional.

Do it because you know your goal and doing it will get you to the goal.

Every night I look at my plans and my projects and I lay out my to-do list for the next day. It’s planned out ahead of time when tomorrow is filled with nothing but promise and the potential for success.

Will I feel like doing those particular to-dos tomorrow? Doesn’t matter. Those are the steps I have to take (and the miles I have to run) to cross the finish line, both the literal and the figurative variety.


What have you learned from marathon training?


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