Sunday, November 6, 2011

THE RACE: Maximizing Your Daily Efficiency

Triathletes, runners, and cyclists are obsessed with efficiency - using less to gain more.  Triathlons in particular are all about spending just the right amount of energy on each leg of the race to get you through.  Struggle too much on the swim and you'll be sick or exhausted for the bike.  Push too fast on the bike or mash too hard on the pedals and your legs will be over-fatigued for the run. Start out too fast on the run or use poor running form and you'll end up walking, slowing down significantly, or not finishing.  Maximizing your efficiency during each leg of the race therefore is key to a successful race.

Efficiency in triathlons provides a good analogy for how we move through every day life.  How efficiently we move through each part of our day depends, in large part, on how well we've moved through the preceding part of the day or, sometimes, the previous day.

Reduce your drag:   The swim is the most technical part of the triathlon and the only way to be comfortable with it is to focus on technique, technique, technique.  Proper technique will reduce your body's drag in the water, enabling you to be more streamlined so that you can move through the water more quickly and efficiently.  Like swimming, our days and lives are complicated, incorporating many different moving parts that have to work together.  How much drag are you creating on yourself and your body as you move through your day?  For example, I know very few people who actually get enough sleep.  A 2006 report in Harvard Women's Health Watch found that more and more people are getting less than six hours of sleep a night and recommended six reasons why sufficient sleep is important:

  1. Learning and memory are improved with sleep. 
  2. Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain. 
  3. Sleep deficits can create safety concerns, as people may be prone to falling asleep during activities like driving. 
  4. Insufficient sleep can cause irritability, moodiness, impatience, and inability to concentrate.
  5. Some cardiovascular health issues (such as hypertension) may be linked to serious sleep disorders.
  6. Sleep deprivation alters your body's immune function.        
Whether you're periodically or consistently getting insufficient sleep, you're creating a drag on your body, which will impact your ability to get through your day efficiently, or maybe even safely.  Sleep is not a luxury. You're not a strong person for "functioning" on a lack of sleep.  It will catch up with you. For every minute of your day that you think you gained by skimping on your sleep, there will be at least double those minutes that you're eventually down-n-out with an illness or health issue or, worse, dead at the wheel.  Then how efficient will you be?    

Eliminate your dead spots:  On the bike, you need to eliminate dead spots in your pedaling to have a smoother and steadier stroke to minimize fatigue on your legs.  So where are the dead spots in your daily routine that you can eliminate to get through your day more smoothly?  Television - that's the biggest dead spot that comes to my mind.  A 2009 report from (as in the Nielson ratings) found that the average American watches 153 hours of t.v. a month!  In addition, mobile and online video watching continues to increase.  I definitely have my guilty-pleasure t.v. watching, and it's nice to be able to just turn your brain off for awhile.  But for most of us, we could probably stand to eliminate this dead spot by at least a couple hours a week and spend those hours on other activities.  Another dead spot  - internet surfing or time spend on mobile apps.  According to a study by Flurry apps, the average American spends 74 minutes a day surfing the web and 81 minutes a day with mobile apps (like those available on Androids and iPhones).  How much of your time is surfing the web? Could you get through your work day more efficiently with less internet time?  Could you get 15 more minutes of sleep or 30 minutes of a workout accomplished at home instead of surfing the web?  Try cutting your internet usage or only allowing yourself to spend time online or on your apps after you've accomplished some other task that you may not have otherwise done.  What other dead spots can you think to eliminate throughout your day?

Avoid applying the brakes to your natural stride:  Finally, in the run, stretching your leg out and landing on your heel acts as a brake - halting your stride, creating more impact on your legs, and slowing your run.  Landing naturally, however, on your midfoot, creates a more springy gait with less impact.  (This is subject to some debate, but I'll save that for later).  Are you moving through your day with a spring in your step, or are you heavy footed? Our hectic days can wear us down, both mentally and physically, and make it hard to get revved up for another day of the same thing all over.  But again, in triathlons, the key to having a successful run and finishing the race is not spending too much energy on the swim and the bike.  To get through another day, the same concept applies.  Wasting energy on the wrong things during your day can take a toll.  Try to figure out what's keeping you from being light on your feet throughout the day.        

Some of you may be thinking that a few minutes of t.v. or internet, or a hour or so of missed sleep, won't make any difference in your day.  Life, however, is all about the little things.  If you've ever balanced your budget, you know how the little nickels and dimes can add up.  The same holds true for the little things during your day that hinder  your efficiency.  Starting with small changes can add up and lead to even bigger changes.  Simple, but true.  Your day is like a triathlon - it's not one single activity, it's several different activities, and the key to managing those days efficiently is finding how you can best maximize the energy you spend on each of those activities.

"Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing." -- Zig Ziglar

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