Finance Work What Antarctic explorers can teach us about working smart

What Antarctic explorers can teach us about working smart

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At the beginning of last year, I was working pretty hard. Trying to get as much done in a day as possible. Squeezing in more and more. And, well, feeling exhausted and inefficient. Ugh.

One night in February, as I was dropping off to sleep, I suddenly remembered an awesome technique for getting stuff done that I’d, ahem, let lapse. (Does that ‘great-idea-as-you’re-dozing-off’ thing happen to you too? It drives me nuts. I have to get up and write the stuff down because I never remember it in the morning.)

Where was I? Oh, yes – the technique. Two years ago, I was doing this fab thing called the 15 Mile March. Anyway, the day after I interrupted my sleep to write it down, I started doing the 15 Mile March again. That was four months ago and I can honestly say it’s working a treat.

So here it is again. Only better. I’ve made it more doable. And easier to stick to.

Why a 15 Mile March?

The phrase ‘15 Mile March’ dates back to 1911 and the race to be the first man to the South Pole. Robert Falcon Scott from England and Roald Amundsen from Norway were up against each other to get there first. It’s a fab story of courage and heroics but this is the important bit:

Scott and his team walked as far as they could every day. Because of weather, the terrain and varying degrees of tiredness, some days they would walk 25 miles, other days just 5 miles.

Amundsen and his team walked 15 miles every day. Whatever the weather, whatever the terrain, however tired they were, they walked exactly 15 miles. Some days that felt like way too much, some days it felt like way too little. But they were super-disciplined and never varied it.

Do you know who won the race?

Amundsen did. By quite a long way actually. He also made it home in one piece. Scott and his team ran out of food and energy and, rather gruesomely, froze to death.

What’s this got to do with you?

Busy people – like you and I – behave like Scott.  We do as much as we can every day. It’s common sense: We keep plodding on. And I don’t know about you, but I always like to do a bit extra each day so that I feel I’m ahead of the game. I’m a natural “Scott”.

And what can be so wrong with that?  Um, this:

At the start it’s fine. We do long stretches of super-human effort and feel pretty good. Then we start to get a bit grumpy. We’re tired but we don’t really know it. Then we get exhausted and we do know it.  Boy, do we know it. Sometimes we can’t even get out of bed. Then we have to take time out to get ourselves sorted. Then we’re refreshed so we start again. And then we panic that we’ve got so much to do, so we start fitting as much as possible into each day again and – then, well, what do you know? We get grumpy and tired and … we’re in the circle of doom.

To be super-effective we should be working like Amundsen, pacing ourselves. Not like Scott, going all out. We should walk 15 miles each and every day, rather than 28 miles one day and two the next. We should do the 15 Mile March.

How do you do a ‘business’ 15 Mile March?

The business version of the 15 Mile March is to set yourself a certain amount of stuff to do every day. So each day, you do the same amount of work and if you finish early you relax and enjoy your free time and if it takes you all day and all night, you keep going.

The march is not about how many hours you work, it’s about getting a certain amount of important stuff done every day.

So that’s the idea. Here’s how to make it actually work:

5 tips for making you 15 Mile March work

1. Pick your “march”

It’s best to have a march on something specific that you need to do a fair amount of each and every week.

My march is writing articles. I also have clients and other work things, so I don’t spend all day writing. I have to fit it in. My current march is 10 specific ‘articles’ a week.

My friend makes jewellery: Her march is pieces made. Another friend, who runs an online shop, has chosen as her march a particular marketing task.

You can pick whatever march you like. Just make it something that you need to do quite a lot of.

2. Work out how long it takes you to do one “march” task

I’ve found that I woefully underestimate how long it takes to do stuff, so here’s a suggestion: Keep a record (for a couple of weeks) of how long each of your “march” tasks take to do.  As you’ll see in the following point, it pays to be honest about how much you can reasonably do in your march.

3. Don’t make your “march” too big

This is where I went wrong. I set my march way too big and got myself in a right pickle trying to get it done. I’ve since made it smaller, but I’ll be honest, I found that really hard to do, like I wasn’t being ambitious enough.

The good news is I stuck to my smaller march. Have done it week in and week out and I know that I’m further ahead than if I’d reverted to “Scott” mode.

Big tip: make your March really ‘doable’.

4. Do a weekly march not a daily march

A couple of years ago I tried to do the 15 Mile March every day and it just didn’t work for me. I’ve got four children and I’ve got clients. Both are unpredictable. I just couldn’t do the daily thing. Weekly worked though. So that’s what I do now.

5. Give it time!

Doing the 15 Mile March feels a bit scary. When you know you’ve got tons to do it feels wrong to stop pressing ahead at all times. I reckon it takes about four to six weeks to feel comfortable with it.

If you’re used to working at full steam and then crashing, the 15 Mile March will feel really odd. But it works. It really works.

What do you reckon? Will a 15 Mile March work for you?

This article first appeared on the The Business Bakery blog.

Julia Bickerstaff advises small businesses through her consultancy The Business Bakery and is the author of How to Bake a Business.