What Marathon Training Teaches You About Conquering Your To-Do List

Marathon Training Lessons For Productivity

The skills required for successfully training for a marathon in many ways parallel the goal setting and project planning skills required to conquer your to-do list. If you master one, you are much more likely to succeed in the other.

When you start training for your first marathon, it’s a big, scary goal. It’s hard to imagine it being achievable. But you break it down and work on it bit by bit. Before you know it, it’s race day and you are crossing the finish line.

The same is true of any project on your to-do list.

What Marathon Training Teaches About Conquering Your To-do List

Break Down Big Projects Into Small Pieces

I am a big follower of the GTD productivity methodology based on the book Getting Things Done, by David Allen. In GTD, one key to success is breaking down your big projects into smaller, component parts.

‘Birthday Party’ isn’t something that should go on your to-do list. That isn’t a thing you do. Picking a date, creating the invite list, and finding a caterer are the steps you actually do (most of those could still be broken down more, but I won’t go down that rabbit hole here – read the book for more info on breaking down projects).

Marathon training is a prime example of this big project/little pieces idea. You don’t ‘marathon.’ That isn’t the thing that goes on the to-do list. The things you actually do are pick a schedule, pick a race, schedule your runs, and do your weekly training.

Marathon training is done run by run, mile by mile.

Lesson: Big projects need to be broken down into little, doable pieces. Complete each of the little pieces and before you know it, the to-do list project (or the marathon) is done.

Slow and Gradual Progress Moves You To The Goal

Marathon training is a months-long process. When done properly, progress is slow and gradual.

In both marathoning and completing big to-do list projects, it’s easy to overlook the progress you are making. But it’s the slow, incremental growth that leads to big accomplishments.

Lesson: To see progress, occasionally look back and remind yourself of where you started.

At Some Point, You Need to Take Action

Planning, scheduling, and discussing will only get you so far.

I’m a type-A over-planner, so it pains me a little to write this, but it’s true: you can’t think and plan a project to completion, and you can’t schedule your way to marathon success.

Lesson: At some point, you need to do the work. Get out there and run, or actually write the project proposal, create a prototype, or whatever else your project requires.

Success Builds On Itself

If you don’t do today’s work, tomorrow’s work doesn’t go away.

If you bail on your long run this week because you aren’t feeling it, next week’s run will still be there, and it will likely feel harder because you bailed. Similarly, many steps within a project are interrelated and cumulative.

Lesson: After a few victories and accomplishments (even small ones) inertia will start to kick-in. A few wins will provide encouragement to keep going.

Pace Yourself – Little Is Gained By Going Out Too Fast

In marathon training, if you go out too fast in a race or in training, you are likely to be injured and sidelined.

In many projects, going out too fast can lead you to waste time planning your endgame before you make your opening move.

Lesson: Being prepared is a great thing, but working too far in advance can result in a lot of wasted energy on something that may not happen, or that may not happen in a way remotely close to how you think it will go.

Focus on the Process and the Plan, Not the Goal

Setting out the best, coolest goal ever is great. The big goal looks sexy sitting there on your bucket list.

However, the best goal in the world won’t mean anything without a good plan to get you there. The plan will tell you what you need to actually do to reach your goal.

Lesson: Focus on the plan

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Trust Your Plan…

Often in the midst of training, you may not see any progress. You can be tempted to think you aren’t doing enough and may consider doing more. This is often a recipe for injury.

Plan your project (or your training), know the steps you need to accomplish. Consult experts to create a solid plan if you need to. Then act on your plan and trust that it’s doing its thing.

Lesson: Set a few mileposts along the way to make sure you are still on track, but don’t obsesses over the fact that progress may be slow. Trust the plan you set up.

…But Be Willing To Improvise

Even the best plans aren’t always 100% followable.

Life happens. Unexpected work or family events will require you change things up. You’ll need to bail on a run or the person you need to talk to about your project for it to move forward will be out of the office.

Lesson: You may not know the specific issue that will arise, but know that at some point something will happen that will impact your plan. Don’t be thrown for a loop when the unexpected happens. Do the best you can to adjust and keep moving.


Marathon Training Lessons For Productivity


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