I recently started working out. I would say again, but when the last time you worked out was more than 10 years ago, I think you just go with “started”. One of the routines I did yesterday on the bike was a 15 minute workout where you would peddle hard for 20 seconds and then ease back for 40 seconds and repeat this process for the full 15 minutes.

At first, I thought it was going to kill me, but after a few minutes it started to become a challenge. Each 20 second ramp up, I tried to beat my last speed. During the 40 second ease down period, I spent my time thinking about the next 20 seconds. In the end, it turned into a great exercise and I can’t wait to do it again.

Waking up this morning, I was thinking about that routine as I made my way to my client and wondered how many times I felt that “20 seconds” each day. Going through a day on the “40 second” side would be pretty boring, especially if you had a few of those day’s backed up in a row, but how many times do you actually get that “20 seconds”?

Is it possible to get that feeling, that productive feeling, every day in everything you do? The more I thought about this, the more I realized the answer was YES, you can get that “20 seconds” everyday in everything you do, but you have to know the secret.

  1. Driving home from a client on a Friday afternoon with the sunroof open. It wasn’t quite warm enough to open the windows just yet. Bruce Springsteen was on the radio singing a live version of Thunder Road. Volume at 10. Enjoying the drive home, even if I was sitting in gridlock traffic.
  2. Coaching my son’s baseball team on a warm sunny Saturday. Pop fly to 2nd based. Johnny (name changed to protect the innocent) gets right under the ball and makes a catch for the 1st out of the inning. So, no big deal, right? No, HUGE DEAL. You see, at the start of the season, Johnny had never even owned a baseball glove, never mind caught a ball. He showed up to practice and the first ball I threw to him gave him a bloody nose. Here we are a few weeks later and Johnny makes a catch. In a game no less.
  3. Preparing in my hotel room the night before a big lecture. Charging my video camera to make sure I could capture the event. Reviewing my slides, reading about the client. Went down to the bar to watch the Phillies playing in the World Series. The day of the lecture, I made sure to get there early and prepare for the unknown. That day, I spoke to about 20 people for over 2 hours and had a good feeling about the day. Unfortunately for me, my lecture started right at 1pm – snooze time. I knew I was going to lose everyone into food coma hell, so I had planned an exercise to get everyone out of their seats for 20 minutes. I had them! By the end of the lecture, I had a line of people waiting to talk to me. I found out a week later that my speech had been given the highest rating of the 2 day event.

Figure it out yet?

That 20 seconds that we all chase comes from the ability to do just one thing. Too often we spend our days or lives doing the “40 second” thing.

The “20 second” thing is doing something YOU want to do. Something you have ownership in and can take pride in. It is dealing with the “40 seconds” because we know the reward we will receive at the end. It is having the courage to speak out. It is having the patience to teach someone a new skill. It is having the confidence in your abilities. And, it is knowing how to fail and fail fast. If you find yourself spending too many day’s doing those “40 second” things then maybe you are focused on the wrong ideas. Maybe you are not empowered in your job?

Have you ever listened to, or read, the transcript of the Steve Jobs Stamford Graduation speech? He takes you through his life from birth to the creation of Apple and at one point in the story, it sort of hits you. The more Jobs did the things HE wanted to do or learn, the more time he spent integrating those ideas into what is now Apple. Maybe that is the reason so may great companies are founded by leaders who dropped out of college to pursue their dream. The thing THEY wanted to do.

I am not saying that spending your time focused on the “40 seconds” won’t have great results. I am saying that if you don’t experience those “20 seconds”, you are truly missing out on a great experience.

In my day to day actions, I am certainly guilty of spending too much time on the wrong end of the clock, but with some planning and focus, I know I can turn things around. Why shouldn’t every day feel like that drive home from work with Bruce blaring from the car on a sunny day? Life is too short.

Think about how much fun you have when you work on something YOU WANT TO? Think about the last time you overcame an obstacle when it was something YOU WANTED TO DO?

I hope I got you thinking? I know it certainly got my mind going and re-focusing on what is important.

In ending, I wanted to leave you with one final story I read a while back. To paraphrase below:

There were two tribes living in a remote region. One tribe lived at the bottom of this great mountain and the other lived up high on the mountain top. The bottom tribe couldn’t climb.

One day, the upper tribe came down in the middle of the night and kidnapped a young boy. When the bottom tribe woke up in the morning and realized that the boy was missing they called all of the men together and planned their attack.

Two days went by and nothing. Nothing they did worked. They just could not climb the mountain. In the midst of their third day of trying to get up the mountain, a lone woman walked up to the group of men. Without saying a word, she slowly kept on walking straight up the mountain to the disbelief of the men. They had been working so hard and along comes this woman who makes it look so easy.

After waiting for a day, the woman came walking down the mountain holding the young boy. When asked how she did it, how she managed to do what all of the tribes’ men failed to do, she had but a simple response. “It wasn’t your baby.”