12 February 2012

The Most Important Hour

A few months back I was speaking at a company conference in Rhode Island and enjoying my annual chance to run the beautiful, if a bit windy, coastline south of Newport. I’ve been haunting this event for enough years that many of my company’s partners and customers expect to see me slinking out in tights in the morning and dash in a bit later to the breakfast buffet, fresh off the roads, well, rather sweaty in fact, but you get the idea. My life on the road in running shoes is quite well known to those in my life on the road pitching technology.

I’ve been blessed with enlightened management that understands the value of exercise and its positive impact on health, both physical and mental, and the resulting positive impact on job attitude. And I’ve witnessed a few conversions along the way, which only lends a boost to my spirits to think I might somehow create some positive influence. At this year’s conference, a few hours after my morning coastline tour, my colleague Dan rang me up to let me know he was arriving mid-day, and was excited at the idea of finally getting a chance to go out for a run with me that afternoon. Yeah, so I’d already run that day. What’s a double workout for a friend and a chance to encourage a healthy endeavor? Who am I to say no?

I burned the extra hour and we slogged out an easy five through historic Newport. We had a great time, and I got paid back a few days later with a big laugh when another colleague taunted me that apparently the story was circulating that I’d tried to kill poor Dan. OK, so I thought it was an easy five, I guess my perspective gets skewed a bit. Dan is, I’m pleased to say, still quite alive, and I’d expect willing to do it again.

All the talk of attempted murder aside, this other colleague and I got into a discussion which I’ve found myself repeating periodically. As it came up again this week, it rose to blog-worthy status. Put simply, it’s the question of balance and prioritization. I hear it over and over from co-workers: I need to get some exercise. I’m out of shape. I’m putting on weight. I can’t find the time. How do you do it? How do you find the time?

I tell them the simple answer: It’s the most important hour of my day.

My work, as is true of so many professions, can eat a person alive. I could easily work from waking till sleep, and each day I would still find myself facing a larger stack of unread materials, uncompleted actions, and unrealized possibilities. Suicide by self-abuse is futile. Instead, paying myself first is vital.

I ask my overburdened colleagues if they can keep up with the load. The answer is obviously, no. I then ask them if they had an extra hour every day, would it significantly change their ability to keep up? Universally, the answer is still no. The next logical step goes the other way: If one extra hour won’t make a dent, would one fewer hour really put you that much further behind? When faced with this logic, not one of my colleagues has disagreed that such an hour stolen would cause material harm to their effort. And in fact, it’s not always an hour stolen from work time, anyway.

Once you’ve spent that hour, the crap thrown your way during the rest of the day really doesn’t matter. Putting in the midnight oil really doesn’t matter. Road food, road trips, and road construction just don’t matter. You’ve already paid yourself, and you can be satisfied that it’s been a good day.

Commit that you will make it a priority to find time for the most important hour of your day. Your reward will be obvious. And you’ll send a message to those around you to do the same.

Shout Out Department: After meeting the legendary Dick Beardsley last fall at Wineglass, I finally read through his two books recently and learned the rest of his amazing story, encompassing both his running successes and his subsequent struggle with substance abuse. As it so happens, today, February 12th, is his fifteenth anniversary of coming clean from the painkillers that almost killed him. I sent him personally, and send him here publicly, big congratulations. And I suggest you check out his foundation, www.dickbeardsleyfoundation.org, dedicated to helping provide treatment for youths mixed up in substance abuse. His books are worth a read, and his foundation is worthy of your support.

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