One of the more popular sport analogies that gets thrown around is:

“Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”

As young professionals we have either modeled or have been taught by those older than us that the most effective way to meet the “demands of business” and be productive is to work with a marathon like mentality – the longer we work, the more we can accomplish.

Because this has proven to get the job done, it’s understandable why many of us have accepted this concept without ever questioning its true viability.

So today we’re going to challenge it.

We’re going to find out if working for longer periods of time actually makes us more productive.

For us to truly challenge the meaning of this analogy, we need to have an understanding of the effects marathons have on our bodies compared with running sprints.

The Research: Running marathons are not as “healthy” as you may think.

For some, long distance running is an addiction that they can’t get enough of.  However like all addictions, long distance running (especially marathons) has severe risks associated with them.

A study that was presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress stated that regular exercise reduces cardiovascular risk by a factor of two or three.  However, when extending vigorous exercise, like when you are running a marathon, it elevated cardiac risk by seven-fold.

The reason…

Marathon running puts an extraordinary amount of stress on your heart.

When you are running a marathon, more than half of the segments in your heart lose function.  This is due to an increase in inflammation and a decrease in blood flow.

The marathon is the perfect example of the “reverse effect” – where too much of doing something that is good for you has the opposite effect.

Additional downsides of running marathons include:

  • Loss of muscle
  • Joint damage
  • Depressed immune system
  • Weaker heart

Proved by the research of Dr. Arthur Siegel and his colleagues, there is now overwhelming evidence indicating that long distance running is one of the worst forms of exercise there is.

The Research: The benefits of sprinting.

Numerous studies have now proved that running sprints is the most efficient way to improve cardiovascular conditioning.

When you’re sprinting, certain enzymes become abundant in your body.  These enzymes help your body store more calories and energy within the muscle tissue rather than the fat storages.  It is through this process where your body steadily gets rid of all its fat storages that account for weight gain.

Sprinting also increases the body’s endurance strength, making long distance cardio easier to complete; thus the reason why many marathoners incorporate sprints into their training.

Other benefits include:

  • Natural growth hormone production, which results in lean muscle gain
  • Strengthens your heart
  • Boosts your metabolism
  • The most effective cardiovascular activity to burn fat

The Dummy Test

If you see an Olympic Marathoner standing next to an Olympic Sprinter, which one will look more like the perfect picture of health?

Even without the research, it’s clear to see how running marathons makes you look weak, feeble and worn down while running sprints will transform your body to look like a Greek God or Goddess.

Our Challenge As Young Professionals

Growing up many of us were conditioned to believe that taking “breaks” is associated with being lazy.

Today is has not only become counter intuitive for us to take breaks but it’s also counter cultural as we enter the workplace.

The stereotypes about millennials being lazy, entitled and only looking out for their best interests doesn’t help either.

So for many of us who don’t want to be labeled as “lazy”, we’ve learned to put our heads down and grind out the days.

Unfortunately this type of behavior results in:

  • Our jobs draining the energy out of us.
  • Not being able to produce at optimal levels.
  • Being in constant reaction mode letting the day control us.

In addition, the ability to be fully engaged at any time of the day if we approach it like running a marathon is nearly impossible.

Knowing that we’re expected to put in long hours at work, we have to find ways to conserve energy just to make it through the day.  Oftentimes this idea of “conserving energy” results in the form of checking email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, organizing, daydreaming, switching back and forth to different tasks etc. just to break up the monotony.

Unfortunately none of these behaviors create effective energy renewal.  Instead they make us less productive throughout the day.

So the question becomes:

What is the most effective way to schedule the day so we can perform at peak levels?

Approach the workday like a series of sprints.

Take a moment and think about how the functions of our human bodies were designed.

  • Our heart rate pulses.
  • The waves in our brains move up and down.
  • Our muscles contract then relax.

They were all designed with a rhythmic flow that goes up and down like the tides of the ocean.

This is our generic inheritance.

Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project and bestselling author of three books said:

The problem is human beings aren’t meant to operate the way computers do: at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time.  To the contrary, people perform best when they pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy – not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

When we disturb these rhythmic pulses by working longer hours with little to no recovery, we throw our bodies and minds out of whack decreasing our abilities to perform and be productive.

Through the research of Peretz Lavie, Anders Ericsson and Tony Schwartz it’s now clearly proven that:

Working longer hours DOES NOT equal more productivity.

Instead we perform at peak levels and are most productive when we rhythmically flow between intense effort and purposeful rest – the same way our bodies operate.

The Game Plan

According to the world-renowned research of Peretz Lavie “ultradian rhythms”, we are most productive when we work for 90 minutes followed by 20 minutes breaks.

This time spent working for 90 minutes does not mean switching from activity to activity and multi-tasking.  Instead it refers to an intense focus that is solely dedicated to one task.

So whether that one task is sales calls, writing a blog etc., it’s critical to block out all the “noise” and resist the temptation of checking email and social media.

Once the 90 minutes of intense focus is up, it’s time to recover for 20 minutes.

As mentioned above, recovery is not multi-tasking, checking email or social media.  The most effective forms of recovery are when we are able to fully disengage.  This could consist of:

  • Going for a walk
  • Taking a nap
  • Meditation
  • Listening to music
  • Breathing exercises
  • Reading a book

Whatever you decide to do, you must commit 100% from being fully disengaged from your work in order to recover and get ready for your next 90 minute sprint.

At first this will feel counter intuitive.  You will not like it.  You will feel like you’re being less productive and lazy by not multi-tasking and taking breaks.

Your mind will be trying to pull you back into it’s old conditioning of working longer hours with the belief that it will result in better performance.

If this was the case and if this is how the majority of us work – Why isn’t “great performance” more common?

It’s also important to remember the purpose of why you have committed to this new routine:

You have committed because you’re tired of letting your days control and take the energy out of you. 

You have committed because it has been proven as the best way to increase productivity. 

You have committed because effective recovery and renewal is the key to peak performance.

Also I would highly recommend that you keep a log of what you accomplish with this new routine.  By doing this you will find that you’re:

  • Accomplishing far more in fewer hours of time.
  • You’ll have more energy throughout the day.
  • The quality of your work and the results you will be achieving will be superior.

The research clearly defines that we will be more productive approaching work and life like a series of sprints as opposed to a marathon.

However oftentimes we have to achieve the results for ourselves in order to believe it.

So start today.

Fully commit and let the results speak for themselves.


*If you do not think you can focus intensely for 90 minutes, it doesn’t mean that this routine will not work for you. 

Right now I’m only able to go about 45 minutes before I need a break.  However like most things, my ability to solely focus intensely on the task at hand has increased with practice.

 The same principle applies with recovery time.  At first you might need more but as you continue to practice you will become more effective at recovering in a shorter period of time.