Four-Letter Word

“It always seems impossible until its done.” — Nelson Mandela

Back in 2008, I signed up to run the Colorado Relay with co-workers and friends to raise money for charity. If you are unfamiliar with the race, it’s an epic run through the mountains of Colorado that covers 200 miles and approximately 12,000 feet of elevation change. 10-person teams have to cover the territory and each runner on the team has to run 3 separate legs in a 24-hour time period. It may sound brutal, and that’s good because the fact of the matter is, it is brutal!

Since it was my idea to sign my friends up for the race to begin with, I thought it was only appropriate to accept the responsibility for running the toughest leg, Georgia Pass. Kicking off right outside of Breckenridge, this leg is 13.5 miles long and includes in ascent of 2,500 feet and a descent of 2,000 feet at the end. Most of the run is on a singletrack trail through the woods with nasty switchbacks and obstacles along the way. This particular year was more challenging because there was significant snowfall the week leading up to the relay.

I knew this was going to be a tough leg when the race organizers declared, “We are unsure of the snowfall at the top and whether it’s safe to run, therefore we’re sending a group of Marines to the top to give us an assessment.” All that was going through my mind was that the Marines were hardly a good test for whether something was doable or not, and I was ready to drop to the ground in a fetal position and begin sucking my thumb. It turns out that the Marines thought it was fine so we were cleared to run.

In total, it took me 3.5 hours to finish the leg, which is approximately double what it takes me to run a half-marathon. It was by far, and still is to this day, the toughest mental and physical challenge I’ve ever experienced. There were definitely moments I didn’t think I was going to finish, and those moments would get temporarily blocked as I stumbled on ice-covered stones on the trail. The only strategy that worked for me was to think in small increments — every half-mile, I’d celebrate the small win and would remind myself, “You only have to make it the next half-mile.” I repeated this over and over again until I staggered out of the woods, slightly injured and completely worn out.

I’m sharing this story because I heard a segment on the radio that reminded me of that running experience. The DJ teased the spot by saying, “Coming up next, a four-letter word that makes people more productive at work when they use it!” Of course, during the 2 minutes of commercials I tried to exhaust my working knowledge of every four-letter word I knew. (To be honest, it was kind of therapeutic to cuss out loud and for no reason in the comfort of my car with no one to hear me.)

The DJ interrupted my cuss-a-thon with information about Leslie Sherlin, a psychologist and neuroperformance specialist. She has done some research that shows that using the word DONE in the workplace helps you more productively get through your to-do list. A neurochemical shift occurs in the brain that releases Serotonin, which is known as the body’s feel good chemical. The link to the full Fast Company article is: http://www.fastcompany.com/3044546/work-smart/why-saying-this-four-letter-word-can-transform-your-productivity

Finding more opportunities to use the word DONE at work increases your own productivity…and you get a cool, little natural buzz, too! So how do you do that? One obvious but effective way is to break your projects or tasks up into bite-size chunks. Just like my run on Georgia Pass, you can make your way over the mountain by celebrating small victories and then targeting equally small wins for the future. I’ve always believed in the expression, “Think big, start small, iterate fast.” It really applies here.

One thing I’ve noticed in my executive career is that people are tougher on themselves than I normally need to be when providing feedback. They forget to pause and celebrate their small victories. In some cases, they become so overwhelmed with the mountain they need to climb that a simple fall puts them in a state of surrender. Is this the case with you? How do you approach big projects or tasks? Do you think about them a half-mile at a time? If not, try it today. Try using the word DONE, and see how it makes you feel. Look, here’s your first DONE of the day…you are now DONE with this missive. Didn’t that feel good?

Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a newly launched company helping leaders create the conditions required to support large-scale, disruptive change. His upcoming book explores the connection of human experience to the outcomes of change and transformation and the role leaders play to pave success. To join in the conversation, follow @pplb4things and @CIOChris on Twitter.