Many years ago (too many in fact), I undertook the task of running a half-marathon (21km) and training for it in 7 short weeks. At the time I had a friend who had run many marathons, New York and Boston to name a few, and she outlined a complete training regimen for me to get me in shape. I still remember my time of 1:58:05 (primarily because I wanted to be under 2 hours).
To this day, I always remember the one piece of advice which I applied to that race and now apply to so many other things in life – “Overtake them on the Hill”. When these words of wisdom were first imparted to me I didn’t understand it – “sure, let me get there first, whatever happens, happens” – but I remember very clearly whilst running starting to notice that as we approached a hill, people changed their stance, shook out their arms, caught their breath – they slowed down. If you haven’t run before, when you approach a hill, after having already run a great deal, you immediately start to notice new sensations throughout your legs as different parts of your muscles start to be used – sometimes this can be invigorating, sometimes it can be painful – irregardless, it’s a different feeling and some people’s natural tendency is to slow down. So, while people are slowing down, you overtake them on the hill, then when you get to the top you slip back into your previous pace whilst they now try to play to catch up and have a light break.
So what does it mean? People will naturally slow down when the going gets tough – “I don’t know what to do, how do I make this work, what should I do, arrrrrgggg process paralysis” – the best thing for you to do at this point is plow through and keep pushing because eventually you will overtake the problem you are facing. You have to be smart about it – you can’t plow into people to get there, sometimes you have to dodge them and try new things – because who wants to plow through people! Projects, of any kind, are made up of peaks and valleys – the hard parts and the known parts – the known parts are easy, the hard parts are hill where you can’t let up and I would argue you have to push even harder at.
There is a lot in the media about whether you need to work crazy hours to make your startup a success (i.e., overtake them when everyone else is sleeping) only work what you can in your 8 hour day and pace yourself. I can’t advocate one over the other because I’ve never been able to do it and would be scared to lock myself into one mode of thinking. Sometimes to get a project done and really make it a success; evenings, weekends, very late nights are required and sometimes pushing all my meetings out so I can work non-stop during the day and and relax in the evening will have the exact same affect.
Whatever the case, whatever works for you, ask yourself if what you are currently working on is a hill or a valley and overtake them on the hill.