30 Sep 2015

Distance Running – blocking off time to work

I’ve been following Ginger Runner as he’s trained for the Cascade Crest 100 mile ultra. [1]

I run trails, but nowhere near distances like that, and I’m kind of fascinated by what it takes to run for that long. I found the instruction packet put together by the race organizers and about half of that consist of tips from previous finishers; it’s an inspiring and sobering read.

One finisher gives this advice: “Figure out ahead of time what would have to happen to make you quit and do not quit unless that thing happens.” Because inevitably things will come up that will make you want to stop: you’ll get hurt, or disoriented. You’ll fall behind your goal time. And if you’re open to a reason for stopping–you will find one.

So much of my own running comes down to this same thing: turning off the need to keep making decisions. Because it’s the process of deciding that pulls me out of running and into narratives about my running (should I walk now, should I speed up, am I running as well as I planned, am I a complete fraud?).

I think the same is true of work: blocking off time to work means time off from weighing it against competing demands: weighing its quality, it’s velocity.

Because if I’m open to a reason for switching to something else, I’ll find one. This is why the productivity suggestion to just “do your important stuff first” doesn’t work. “First” isn’t durable enough because you still have to make decisions about how long to stay at it. There is something about blocking off a start and an end time that stops the questions, lets you get quiet, and work.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Photo is from the The 2007 Blueberry Picker Award, which recognizes the race’s last official finisher,  Marc Greenberg (31:47), shown here approaching the finish line. “This was Marc’s 13th 100-mile finish. Both Marc and fellow runner David Bliss stopped for more than thirty minutes early in the race to help a sick runner get off the course safely. We believe Marc and Dave’s selfless acts capture the ethos of our sport perfectly. photo: Audrey Crissman.”


  • Lisette Wilson
    November 10, 2015 Reply

    I don’t run, but this struck home for me. I vacillate between finding an easy excuse to stop and refusing to stop, and both cripple productivity.

    I’ve never been one to block out time on my calendar except for meetings and hard appointments. Deciding at the end of a day what to work on the following day helped with the tendency to meander in the morning. I started blocking out days to big projects, allowing a day for the little things, and have been doing that for a while, using that week chart you once shared. Yet I still struggle with properly estimating and allocating time. Too often, I’ll find myself in refusing to stop mode. I’ve got set in my head that I need to solve a certain problem before I can quit, it’s taking longer than expected, and I just keep at it until I can’t.

    This past month was particularly overbooked. ( I chose to deal with it now rather than delay a few things and run the crunch into the holidays.) I read this post on the first of October and the next day started blocking off time on the calendar for each project, setting an end time and leaving gaps for email review, figuring out what’s next, and the unexpected.

    Setting an end time freed me from refusing to stop! The timer chimes at ten minutes to the next time block, and I wrap up, making notes of next steps for this project. I do shift things about, especially when I know another 15 minutes will allow me to finish a task and reallocate a time slot. Still, I’m amazed at how much that little ding freed me from doggedly sticking with an “important” task even though returns on my effort were diminishing. Better, I’ve found that when I return to that task, with those notes on next steps, the problem seems to solve itself. It’s been bouncing around my subconscious for a while, and the answer magically drifts to the top with that trigger of what comes next, even if I was off-base about EXACTLY what I needed to do.

    Happy to say I kept everything on track and had a great month.

    • John Sindelar
      November 11, 2015 Reply

      Love it, Lisette! I know what you mean about having notes about what to do next; for me that means restarting the work goes much quicker as I’m not starting with a blank page. “Setting an end time freed me from refusing to stop! ” I have someone I need to pass that on to =) Thanks.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.