In my last post, I discussed my decision to work with a running coach. Recently I ran a 14K race and it had inspired me to get back into long distance running. As I thought more about long distance running in my life, I began to ponder what aspects of it paralleled my working life.
Part of a productive lifestyle is the ability to work relaxedly,
effectively, and graciously for extended periods of uninterrupted time
And hence, the idea of endurance working was born. The idea is simple – how can we work effectively for increasingly longer periods of time without growing weary, just as endurance athletes work physically for extended periods of time. Is it possible to increase our capacity to work longer and smarter and faster? I believe the answer is yes, we most certainly can.
The main idea behind endurance working, is sustaining longer and longer periods of deep, productive work. The idea of deep focused work is advocated by Cal Newport. But I will take Cal’s ideas and run with it (no pun intended). The goal of endurance work is not to apply a brute force, finite supply of will power to work tasks hour after hour but – paradoxically – working longer with less effort. Just as an elite marathon runner has trained his body to run further and faster while simultaneously requiring less effort, the idea of endurance working is to require less will power to work better, smarter, faster, and longer.
Endurance work requires training, conditioning, and scheduling.
Just like an iron man goes into regular, intense training, an endurance worker must also go into deep and specific training. If one expects to wake up tomorrow and complete the Tour de France with no training, he or she won’t make it very far. To enhance endurance work, training and conditioning are required. Enhancing concentration and focus for extended periods of time is a skill that can be improved. Some of the tools, techniques, and exercises that help condition an endurance worker are meditation and concentration exercises, behavior modifications (turn off your cell phone), and inspirational literature about productivity and time management skills.
A typical weekly running schedule for one training for a marathon usually involves one or two light runs, one or two medium runs, and one long run per week. Each week, the distance is increased a bit for each of the runs, so that over two or three months one has built up to marathon distance run (26.2 miles).
A similar logic can be applied to someone training to increase her or his endurance work capabilities. Perhaps two days a week would be devoted to light endurance work – maybe one focused hour of work for that day. Another two days would be devoted to medium work sessions – two or three uninterrupted hours. Finally, one day a week would be reserved for a long work session, perhaps starting off with a four hour work session on a weekend morning, and gradually increasing that length of endurance work each week.
Endurance work sessions requires small, reachable work goals
When running long distances, breaking down the long total distance into smaller, manageable tasks makes the goal more attainable. It is the same with endurance working. Instead of focusing on working hard for an eight hour session, I simply focus on working hard for the next 40, 60, or 90 minutes. I personally like the 90 minute time block, as it gives me enough time to make solid progress but not too much time where I lose sight of my next work task.
Suppose you are new to endurance working and a six hour work day over four 90 minutes sessions is intimidating. Start small. Suppose you want to have a three hour endurance work session. Consider four thirty minute work sessions with planned productive breaks in the middle.
Endurance work requires pacing
The most important aspect of endurance is pacing and self-monitoring. In an endurance work session, it is critical to monitor energy levels and shift work efforts accordingly. For example, in any given work day, I work hard and deeply in 90 minute intervals, with a 30 minute ‘break’ in between. Usually the 90 minute intervals are mentally taxing, and so I pace myself throughout the day. The 30 minute ‘breaks’ aren’t actual breaks, but shifts to less cognitively demanding efforts like administrative tasks.
Planned productive breaks are a great way to pace yourself throughout the day. Think of a 30 minute planned productive break as a way to have a stretch session in the middle of a long marathon road race. After pushing the mind to its limits, it needs a breather and recharge.
Endurance work is NOT workaholism.
I should address a criticism some of you be having. “Endurance work you say?? That sounds like workaholism to me!” Note that I am not a trained professional in workaholism, alcoholism, or other “ism” you can think of. I am just a guy who likes to think about and improve how he works. As I have stated in this article, like any good endurance athlete a certain amount of balance is required, including endurance working. My limited understanding of workaholism is that it laughs in the face of balance.
While the idea of endurance working is not new to me, writing about it is. You will see more about the idea of endurance work from me in the future. But in summation, endurance work is about working effectively for longer, with less effort and stress, just as an elite marathon runner glides relaxedly and graciously from one mile to the next, over a grueling 26.2 miles.