Saturday, September 11, 2010

Why it is difficult to run the last mile?

I was running the half marathon last month; my third thus far, and as I advanced towards the finish line, a certain realization struck me. On all the three occasions, I had always found it difficult to run the last mile.
My marathon experience has raised some serious questions- It is not that I can’t run long distances, in fact the thrill, the pace, and most importantly the gratification of running for a purpose has always propelled me to participate. But irrespective of the distance, running the last mile has always been formidable, uncomfortable.
Is finishing a job always this difficult? And if yes, does it have to do with the expectation of outcomes? Or is it that we are too exhausted and stressed towards the end that we tend to lose focus and our sense of purpose.
As I as struggle to find answers, I will reason and ponder on each point separately and apply it to the marathon analogy.  Let me first talk about expectations of outcome. Assuming that I have already run twelve out of the thirteen miles that will lead me to the finish line, this is when I tend to become distracted. I start thinking about the post run events and it diverts my mind from the current race to future events, this in turn generates desperation of finishing the race, anyhow.
When I apply this analogy to a project situation, I realize that during the last phase of the project our focus seems to dissipate, we are low on accountability, prioritize lesser, and tend to slacken our hold because the goal appears closer. We start talking and thinking about upcoming projects, and enquiring about possible future opportunities. This diverts our attention from the current project and when we get distracted, even for a moment; it takes several minutes to regain our focus. Distractions, large or small, kill productivity and the main task i.e. the completion of the WHOLE project is hampered.
Towards the end, we sometimes feel less energetic and stressed out and when the situation demands our utmost focus and control, we seem lost.  I would probably attribute this to burning out caused by excessive stress and pressure conditions during the various phases of the project cycle. We expend energy too much too soon and feel rather snowed under as the end approaches.
In a project scenario we work overtime to control the schedules, avoid taking any leaves despite the fact that they actually help us reenergise, and fail to develop clear boundaries between work and personal life. As a result, when we reach completion, we feel enervated and helpless to handle stress and it becomes difficult to proceed with the same speed.
I think for successfully finishing a long race in a given timeframe we need to control both these factors, we need to spend our energy carefully and focus on the present rather than dreaming about future.

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