One of the best ways to get something done is by brute force. If you want to write a book, all you have to do force yourself to write a page a day and by the end of the year, you can publish your wonderful 365 page (unless it was a leap year) book!
But the problem with that idea is that it requires a sustained commitment for a year. Many people, myself included, have a hard time saying I’m going to do something every day for a year. It’s a bit too daunting and I like to be somewhat flexible with my time.
There is an alternative.
Instead of focusing on something for a year which can be thought of like a marathon, you can focus on it for 30 days with overwhelming force like a sprint. In training for my marathon, the idea was that you didn’t want to push yourself too hard. It was most important to hold back and to just keep running so you could make it long term.
A sprint is different. In a sprint you go ALL-OUT because you know it will be over soon. It’s sort of like pulling an all-nighter to finish a project. You can do it because you know that the end is in sight.
There are some great benefits to taking the sprint approach when trying to reach a goal:
- Work fills up the time you give it: This was first articulated Cyril Northcote Parkinson in the economist and was later christened as Parkinson’s Law. He observed that government bureaucracies seemed to grow and need more resources even when there was less work to do. The idea of the sprint is to short-circuit that and give a set work task less time (similar to timeboxing)
- Your focus during the sprint is very clear: Time is our most limited resource. During those 30 days you can ruthlessly prioritize and eliminate distractions because it’s crystal clear what your priority is for that time.
- You can do anything for 30 days: A year sounds daunting, but 30 days is much more approachable.
You may be saying that this all sounds great in theory, but has anyone actually used it successfully? There are lots of great examples of 30-day sprints, but my favorite is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo):
National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.
Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
You have to love the crank-it-out philosophy of NaNoWriMo.
As for myself, I’ve definitely sprinted in certain areas to hit goals in my life. For the first three months of my working career, I spent all of my free time deeply studying the latest technology books in effort to get up to speed on all the technology out there and to prove myself.
Last fall, my main focus was getting ready to run the Disney Marathon in Jan. So I ruthlessly focused on running every few days and steadily increasing my mileage each week. This meant having to drop other activities I enjoyed like reading and tennis, but I had signed up for running a marathon on a specific date so I knew that there was an end in sight.
Lately, I’ve been sprinting to get an iPhone app developed and placed in the app store. It’s taken up all my free time at night and limited my exercise time, but that’s OK because I can do anything for 30 days…
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven