No matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
We recently sat down and watched The Great Gatsby this past weekend. Although I can say that I wasn’t really mature enough nor did I have enough focus to actually finish the book during my middle school years (SparkNotes baby!), I truly enjoyed it. Obviously, the quality of the writing and plot line have proved themselves time and time again as the book is constantly used as recommended reading and consistently appears in “Top 100” rankings.
However, the quote above really struck me as odd. It came from Gatsby himself during the movie and seemed to accurately portray the human struggle of achievement.
Put in a good solid workday today, but don’t worry, there’s always tomorrow to try harder.
Is this the case? Probably far too often.
The Problem With Tomorrow
There’s an obvious problem that exists with waiting for tomorrow to put forth 110% effort: it might not exist. The only time guaranteed to you is right now. Still, I’ve certainly been caught in the trap of waiting and waiting or working in a progressive manner. You start a task without a clear focus of how it will end or how you will move forth from step to step. The first few steps go well and you find yourself eagerly working past hours rapt with attention and focus.
But, then you hit a roadblock.
The work doesn’t seem to be as interesting anymore. As a result, you take a step back and ease off the gas pedal. You’re accomplishing less and less each day. But, rather than pushing yourself harder, you seem to feel okay with the lack of accomplishments. You pride yourself for getting so much done in the beginning of the project and relax into a state of complacency having comfort in the fact that you can always “run faster tomorrow”.
I’ve absolutely been there. It’s an extremely frustrating time. Sure, it may lead to the same quality product down the road, but the mindset itself results in a subpar work timeframe.
I’ve written before about the power of deadlines for projects (particularly those that are creative in nature). I truly think their imperative to optimizing workflows. But, more than simply putting deadlines in place, I think that pacing your day or project is more important. While it doesn’t make sense to sprint hard only to walk through the finish line, it makes less sense to be on pace throughout the first 10 miles of a marathon only to settle for a less than average finish time resolving to try harder during your next one.
Our Brain is Wonderful…Until It’s Not
We’re exceptionally good at convincing ourselves of things we want to believe. You’ve rationalized something with yourself whether you want to believe it or not.
Well, I was going to do 10 sprints, but it’s really hot outside. I’m probably better off with just 8.
I know I was going to study for 5 hours tonight, but I feel like I have a pretty good grasp now. Plus, I should probably get some sleep. I can always pick it up again tomorrow.
I know I was going to save half of my next paycheck, but xyz is now on sale. It makes sense to buy now and save money on the purchase. I’ll just save more next period.
All of these examples have likely happened to you at some point or another in some context. They’re tricks from your brain that rationalize us putting forth less effort. Our brain is hardwired to find the path of least resistance and when it comes to making tough decisions, you can literally convince yourself to take the easy road out. To “run faster tomorrow” if you will.
So, what’s the solution? Sprint out from the gates and go hard the entire time?
Obviously not. It’s foolish to imagine that you can maintain 200% effort on a single project the entire time without burning out. However, it’s also a bit foolish to start sprinting and then convince yourself that walking is okay midway through since you put in such a strong effort in the beginning.
There’s a proper pace for each project and that pace will vary from individual to individual and organization to organization. But, that pace should be considered ahead of time. I’ve written before about the power of scheduling energy rather than time, and I think it applies here more than ever.
Practice pacing your energy and work, but certainly don’t rely on always running faster tomorrow. Sometimes, that just isn’t possible.