Friday, 7 March 2014

Procrastination and Paralysis

I have seen many Blogs from different people about their plans for 2014 and the goals that they have set themselves. I started to write my own and spent so long procrastinating over it that it is now March. This got me to thinking about what causes delay or more specifically procrastination? How does this effect ones day to day life and what are the potential effects on Training?

1. Firstly it seems Procrastination is part of a more vicious and sinister cycle. Procrastination rears it's ugly head at times of high stress, emotional pressure and/or high workloads.

2. Procrastination leads to Paralysis. There is a point where it feels like there is just so much to do that the mind cannot cope and goes into shut down and finishes none of the multitude of tasks awaiting its attention.

3. By becoming paralysed the workload, pressures and stressors only increase. The sensation of being overwhelmed leads to a point where the persons mind and body go into to shut down.

So what happens next? There is no easy way to tackle these difficulties other than to break them down into manageable chunks and bit by bit address them.

In addressing any issues I liken the pressures to a strong tall building that keeps growing week on week. You don't try and pull the roof down in some vain effort to bring the building down. The best course of action is to kick away at the foundations. It takes time and can be tiring, but little by little the task becomes smaller, more manageable.

For me the biggest difficulty faced is in my job. I am generally so busy on a day to day basis, often with deadlines that force me to exceed the expected hours of my working day. Historically this has led to me skipping training sessions and eating crap. This has led to weight gain and fatigue. It has also caused a loss of quality time with the family. You can see how the frustrations from this build. For me at the times the hardest thing is to pull back and gather a sense of perspective. It can feel like a losing battle and the question "What's the point?" Rears it's ugly head.

When under the gun I have watch my small work tasks grow as I prioritise the urgent stuff. The big pieces of work command attention, but the little things build and build until they are a big and daunting task in themselves. I can be working hard, but appear to be getting no where.

I reached a point at the end of February where enough really was enough and something had to be done. A little bit of self reflection, honesty and a whole lot of determination were required to sort this all out. It was time to remove the excuses and take back control. My situation had become one where I was working, coming home, trying to do more work and falling asleep on the sofa. I was missing out planned training sessions and quality time with my wife. In essence the time was being consumed but in an inefficient manner.

The main part of my life that didn't take a back seat was time with my boy. It suffered a bit as I was distracted, but in essence I was still focused on him and having fun. This for me was the crucial lightbulb moment. The reality is.............

You are MORE productive after rest and recuperation.

I was working relentlessly, but like a wind up toy. I kept going and going, but as the cogs turned I began to slow down and eventually, in essence, paralysed. By near burn out everything was taking twice as long to do and the workload was rising. I have a senior position in a Local Authority and am tasked with improving practice of social workers. I love the role, but it's hugely demanding and I needed to reclaim my me time and family time.

I learnt a few things very quickly;

1) Sometimes doing less really is more.
2) devoting 30mins to a smaller task is never wasted time.
3) Attacking things in stages has a cumulative effect.
4) Maintenance is key.
5) rest breaks are key.
6) don't waste time when resting or working,
7) be clear on what you are doing.

My advice would be for everyone to remember these points and strive to keep the balance. It's easier to keep things under control than try to fix them once they have gone wrong. Each element plays a crucial role.

1) by being realistic about what can be achieved I have stopped setting unrealistic goals. These were in essence setting me up to fail and giving me no time to rest. I was then having work to do over night and would be tired in the morning. It meant the little jobs then got sacrificed by started to mount up. By setting myself to do less people may have to wait a little longer, but everything can be done to a high standard and I don't end up like a heap on the floor.

2) When it has felt like I don't have enough time to complete a task I found myself doing nothing or planning the bigger tasks. Spending the snippets of time starting/finishing little tasks it appears almost as if I have found "magic hours" with the day. They were always there, but just not being used.

3) similiar to point 2. by planning things in stages to completion it means I can start tasks and feel they are progressing, but have the plan for each stage and an end in sight for each task. This is moral boosting and gives a constant sense of progress, rather than moving backwards.

4) Sustaining change is far easier than catching up. By ensuring that I am maintaining reports and records for current issues I do not fall behind on them whilst catching up on others. These are prioritised and this way the backlog always comes down or maintains. It is prevented from getting worse by maintaining the completion of current work. Maintenance is key.

5) It has become vital to know my limits and the points at which I need to switch off. There needs to be a balance and the rest means that I can wind back up read to move again at a higher pace. I liken it to a walk/run strategy at the start of an ultra. Act from
The start before the exhaustion kicks in.

6) As I was addressing the issues of work I was looking at the time I was wasting. I have utilised this to ensure my strategy to prevent paralysis works. Reflecting on this I realised the same applies in rest. How many of us sit and watch tv in a vegetative state when we could interact with our families, sleep, blog, or any other number of things that would be productive and give a greater sense of achievement. Remembering this helps me optimise my time, even when it is my intention to do nothing. When doing nothing I intend to do it the best way I can.

7) With any task or action it is essential to have clarity on what I am doing and trying to achieve. There are so many distractions in this world. Technology means I am always being contacted by phone, email or in person. I am often interrupted mid flow. By managing this and staying clear on what I am doing I manage the time better. If people need help they are asked to come back at a time that works for my plan and I only log into my email if I have allowed the time to actually respond to them. These keeps my mind focused and clear on what I am trying to achieve.

This to many will sound very idealistic and it is certainly a work in progress, but by starting now I stop the backlogs getting worse and I take control. I am undoing the paralysis and am at the stage of wiggling my toes.

If you are reading this blog then you are likely to have spotted the startling manner in which all of the above applies to running and any training plans and goals you may be trying to achieve. This period of reflection was to focus on work and it's effect on my life and also drew me back to reflect on the management of my training and general running. Looking at points 1-7 they all remain pertinent. The less is more can definitely apply and alongside remembering the short time runs all add up and have huge benefits in training. It remains imperative to be clear on what you are trying to achieve, whilst also acknowledging the cumulative effect of training runs and maintaining a level of fitness.

All in all it leads to a plan that involves reclaiming a balance in my life whilst training hard and in essence optimising my time. I don't want to get into the mess I have been in for last couple of months. It is not good for my health, neither mentally nor physically. I feel like with this period of reflection I am back on track. I hope everyone out there who is feeling paralysed is also motivated to get things back on track. It is not easy, but when was anything that is worth doing ever easy?!

In refocusing my attention I ran the Eastbourne Half marathon. I had no expectations. I had done no speed work and the last couple of months meant I anticipated a slog and ultimately a time well in excess of 2hrs. I cleared my mind and approached with the attitude that points 2,3 and 4 would at least apply. Alleviating the pressure I set about just maintaining consistent pace. I loved this run. The first run for a long time where everything clicked and the mojo was there in abundance. I had nearly pulled out of the race due to a lack of...... Well of everything. With the assistance of a sprint finished I came home in 1hr59:58. What (if any) my body has lost in fitness it made up for in mental focus. I am about where I was last year and that was a pretty good year. So with my 7 point plan etched in my mind my targets are;

A. Completing GUCR
B. 20 loops at Endure24
C. PB at Beachy Head Marathon
D. PB at Beacons Ultra.

This plan will no doubt be tested by the arrival of my second baby in early August. With my 7point plan in mind I have every intention of this paralysis not rearing it's head again in work or free time.

Happy training everyone.

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