Track Daily Progress to Move Your Business Forward

July 8, 2014

by Dan Richards

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Few of us will ever run the 26 miles of a marathon. But you can apply some lessons from new research on marathon runners to hit your own goals and help clients hit theirs.

This was the takeaway from a recent New York Times article. By setting clear goals that are important to you and your team and closely tracking progress against those goals, your chances of success go up dramatically. One of those lessons is particularly striking: While mid- and long-term goals have value, it’s immediate, day-to-day goals that lead to significant changes in behavior.

Why marathon runners – just barely – hit their goals

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Here’s an excerpt from that article, showing how finishing times in marathons spiked just before key intervals.

Viewed from afar, the distribution of finishing times resembles the sort of bell-shaped distribution found in sporting results, economic numbers, elections and other groups of data. But zooming in reveals big heaps of finishes at the three-, four- and five-hour marks. There’s also a similar pattern at half-hour intervals (and to a lesser degree, at 10-minute intervals). Goals really work as motivators, as we see many runners sneak in just under their targets (the shaded peaks are at 2:59, 3:29, 3:59 and so on), and few who just miss (finishing times like 3:01, 3:31, 4:01 are relatively rare).

Distribution of marathon finishing times: The small spikes are people making their goals, with not a minute to spare. A finishing time of 3:59 is 1.4 times as likely as one of 4:01.

Daily Progress
Based on data from Eric Allen, USC, Patricia Dechow, U.C. Berkeley, Devin Pope and George Wu, University of Chicago.

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