Setting Your Priorities – Fewer is Better

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Photo Credit: Focus by Flickr user Mark Hunter, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

“You are such a hardcore runner – how do you find the time?”

“I’m amazed at how you balance your family, career, running, and writing – how do you do it?”

These are a few comments I have seen on dailymile updates, or have heard from other friends when they find out the mileage I put in, plus the other “value added” activities.  I’m not posting these to boast (and yes, I know that denial is the first step to confession – but trust me, that is not the case here), and “hardcore” refers really to effort, not to performance.  But the answer to these questions is straightforward – I don’t do much else.

If you look at the examples of top performers – whether in business (like Steve Jobs), science (like Albert Einstein), or sport (like Peyton Manning), I am sure you will find that one of their defining attributes is the ability to avoid distraction.  In fact, if you aren’t talking to them about their passion, I bet it would be a pretty dull conversation – I doubt a modern-day Einstein would be able to shed much light on the Colts dismal season, or Peyton Manning would be able to offer any insight as to the future of Apple, or that Steve Jobs could have held court on the discovery of a particle moving at a speed greater than that of light.  Maybe they’d each love to be able to do so, but they have made sacrifices to focus on what is most important to them.

As a runner, you may have to make such hard choices yourself.  If you really want to set and achieve aggressive goals to boost your confidence, what are you going to give up to do so?  If you can’t give that up, are you going to compromise your running goals?  It is important, and far more satisfying, to make hard choices early and plan for the results than it is to overstretch and fall short in many areas at once.  As my wise father-in-law likes to say, “you can be anything you want – you just can’t be everything you want.”

I am first and foremost a family man.  Of course none of these priorities is one-dimensional – they all have “tangents” that drive some of my time and focus.  Having a son with autism, I pay attention to behavioral therapy approaches.  As the husband to a pediatrician, I worry about health insurance trends and their impact on the structure of hospitals.  As the father of two boys who possess some of my good and bad traits, I listen to ideas about how to stretch them, while teaching them to harness their impatience and energy towards productive pursuits.

I am also a business professional.  In addition to holding a global role that places demands throughout the day, and seeking to excel in responsiveness and customer satisfaction while satisfying business demands for growth and profitability, I spend time studying personal productivity tools, and ideas for business strategy.  I religiously read (actually, listen to – while in the car or sometimes on a run) The Economist to understand the macroeconomic environment and its impact on businesses. Which leaves me less time than I’d like to listen to running podcasts – but such is the nature of prioritization.

And finally, I am a runner – which means more than just training.  I read books to find ideas on improving my physiological attributes.  I seek inspiration through reading other blogs – and writing this one.  I learn through exchanges of experiences with other runners.

But that’s largely it.  Ask me when the NBA season will start, and expect a blank stare.  My favorite movie?  Well, I’m still stuck on Braveheart – I have seen few movies the last few years, other than occasionally on an international flight.  And my favorite show is Phineas and Ferb, as it is about 80% of what I watch these days (with the boys, obviously).  Oh yeah, I guess Cars 2 is my favorite movie – but I missed part of that taking one of the boys to the bathroom numerous times (we’re still working on his hydration strategies).

Any regrets?  Oh sure, sometimes it’d be nice not to look so clueless in front of others when the topic of music comes up, or to partake of an entire Ohio State football game – or, rather, basketball game these days, I understand.  But there are far less regrets than what I’d have if I tried to be everything I want, and fell short in the few things I really need to be.

And I only found out the Colts were so bad two weeks ago.  Fortunately The Economist pointed out the news on the ultrafast particles.

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  • Malcolm McLoughlin

    It’s a great way of explaining how you do what you do. It will, no doubt, inspire others to make the time to balance an active, productive life. Top stuff and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  • Tim Meier

    Very well written as usual Greg.  I think there are a couple of other factors that refine our priorities, one major one being our phase of life.  As a young father with young children the time is clearly more “short” than having kids out of the house or being a single guy right out of college.  However, I would say that in every phase we decide what we want to be experts at and then we go after it.  Some clearly want to be experts at video games, and that’s fine if that’s their decision I guess, but it’s not very interesting to me.  If you read Gladwell’s book “Outliers” you’ll see his 10,000 hours theory stating that to be an expert at doing something you need at least 10,000 hours dedicated to that practice (among other things like genetic disposition etc.)  I’m not sure if I agree with the exact nature of the number but it’s clear that it takes a ton of time to get good at something.  When some beginning runners ask how much I run and I say “at least 6 times a week” usually that response is met with resistance as if we can just get better automatically.  I agree with what you’ve said here and would add that being a serious runner is not for everyone, but if you commit, it’s an “all or nothing” sort of deal if you really want to progress which means cutting your losses in other areas.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks Malcolm, hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas too!

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks Tim, I’ve read and mentioned before the 10,000 hours theory and to me it’s more the directional thinking that is important than the actual amount of time required. There was a good post yesterday on HBR that proposed ideas for fast-tracking the 10,000 hours – emphasizing that it is the quality of time as much as the quantity that matters –
    Anyhow, thanks as always for your comment, I had a conversation with someone from work yesterday who said they wanted to run a marathon and asked how – when I said “just run a lot”, it somehow seemed too simple of an answer. Things went downhill when we started discussing what time I get up, etc.

  • mizunogirl

    Focus is the way to go.  Training for my marathon last year, I found I had no clue what was going on in the world, and most of the time I only knew if it was a run day or a work day (No running on the 12 hr work days usually).  So I occasionally became quite peeved if things were closed on sundays.  
    Now-a-days, I am less focused and have seen a few films, (muppets).  but I still like Phineas and Ferb!

    As I am lengthening how much I am able to run, I find my thoghts now drifting back into the “run day/work day mode….it’s been comforting, but I do hope to maintain a little better balance, given my lack of skills in the running arena!

  • Greg Strosaker

    Glad to see your running coming back Holly – it’s always tough to find the right balance but no doubt you’ll figure it out, as your passion and commitment is high and that’s the key starting point. Good luck in 2012!

  • Tim Meier

    Thanks for the link, great read.

  • Anonymous

    I linked to your site via  I have been on it all afternoon.  I want to thank you for the great words.  I used to be early morning person and I am looking to regain that attitude ( I truly believe it is an attitude).  Tomorrow will be my first morning back – laying out the running gear tonight. Thanks for the inspiration and yeah I get a little disappointed when my kids want to watch something other than Phineas and Ferb.  Ah but I must pick my battles. Thanks again.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks for your kind words and welcome to Predawn Runner – appreciate you taking the time to look around. Good luck tomorrow morning, and let us know how it goes!

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