The Last Two Miles

I didn’t absolutely didn’t believe it when my coach said that most people drop out in the last couple of miles of a marathon. They are within sight of the finish line, have gone 24 miles of the 26.2 distance, and then they just quit. This is why the Team-in-Training* coaches would come out and walk or run alongside their first-time marathoners and encourage them to keep going. Even though   the coaches explained this to us, I found it really hard to believe. Then Reality reared its ugly, mocking head. On Nike Marathon day saw it happen with my own two eyes. With the end in sight, with victory just around the corner, people just sat down. Besides witnessing it, I also understood it on a personal level because I really wanted to sit down too. All I wanted to do was sit down but I was fortunate enough to have a coach walking right beside me telling me to keep walking. When someone is right there with you, telling you to keep going and to hang on, it is a lot harder to quit.

Why quit when you are almost done? This doesn’t apply just to marathons. It also happens with large project. For example, I advised at a Graduate program and worked to improve the completion rate of doctoral students. They would finish their coursework but 60% would fail to complete their dissertation. That is a lot of time and money to throw away!

At the end of a long project, you get tired. The excitement of starting the project has long since worn off. The grand ideas of how the project was supposed to go are tarnished by reality of the trade-offs and challenges that you had to overcome. Part of you is still excited about getting done, but there is a part at some point that doesn’t care about the sunk costs and time investment. Sitting down may start to look pretty good. You may also notice that an increasingly popular narrative is that quitting is good and people should quit more often. I will not argue that you should never “strategically quit,” but let’s go on the assumption that you are working on a worthwhile, marathon- type project and it would benefit you to finish it. What should you do? Here are three things (a Keep Going List) that you can do to help you make it across the finish line.

Three Step Plan
1. Make a List
Write a list and make progress every day. The book Organize Tomorrow Today has a great system that is really helpful when you are at the end of a long project. Just write out three manageable things you can do in the day for the project, and get those done first. This helps you to keep going, one step at a time.
2.Manage Fatigue
Mental and physical fatigue is a serious factor in quitting. Make sure you get enough sleep, work out, drink water, breathe, eat healthy foods, and play to offset the high mental energy demands that come at the end of a long project.
3.Get a Coach
When you are getting tired and losing focus, one of the best things you can do is to have somebody alongside to help you. They can remind you of the goal. They can help you recognize and eliminate time distractions. They can cheer you on. They can tell you to move your ass and keep going. They are your ally and at the end of a long project, this might just be the support you need to finish. Your coach can be a friend, co-worker, or paid Coach. Just make sure they know the goal and have the skill and time to help you.

The topic of project fatigue has been in the forefront at Maze Runners lately because we are in the last two miles of the Playbook project. There have been many challenges and it has taken longer than planned. I am using the Keep Going List to make it to the finish line. If you are at the end of a long project and facing the last two miles, use the list and keep going!  We wish you all the best and will see you at the finish line!

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