What makes people happy at work? Many things: a friend down the hall, a good boss, meaningful tasks, snazzy office supplies.
We’re also affected by whether we feel in harmony with the speed and timing of work. People generally fall into two very different categories when it comes to thriving at work. I call these two categories “Marathoners” and “Sprinters.”
Slow and steady workers
Marathoners like to work steadily and slowly, over a longer period of time, and they dislike working against a deadline. I know this category well, because I’m a Marathoner myself. We Marathoners feel that working on projects at a steady pace ignites our creativity and keeps our productivity high. We get frustrated and uneasy without plenty of lead time.
A rush of energy
By contrast, Sprinters prefer to work in bursts of intense effort, and they deliberately wait for the pressure of a deadline to sharpen their thinking. They love the adrenaline rush. A Sprinter told me, “I never prepare a speech until the people are in their seats, and I’m heading to the podium. It drives my staff crazy, but that’s when I get my ideas.”
There’s no right way—each approach works well for that type of person. It’s a question of what works for you. Problems arise, however, when Marathoners and Sprinters must work together. Marathoners are driven nuts by the Sprinters’ reluctance to start working on a project. Sprinters are irritated when Marathoners want to tackle tasks before the hour is ripe.
Procrastinator—that's a different story
When we understand that people have different work styles, we can show more patience toward each other. Here’s something important to remember, however: A Sprinter is different from a Procrastinator. True, Procrastinators resemble Sprinters—like Sprinters, they finish in a rush, at the last possible minute. But they’re actually quite different.
Procrastinators wish they could force themselves to start earlier. Also, unlike Sprinters, Procrastinators often agonize about work they’re not yet doing. Before they start, they’re not working, but they’re not having fun, either. Sprinters and Marathoners usually like their work style, but Procrastinators don’t. They’re happier when they change their work habits so they can work more steadily.
Find the pace that works for you
For all of us, we’re happier at work—and we’re more productive and creative—when we’re comfortable with the environment and pace. It can be surprisingly hard to put your finger on what feels right or wrong about a situation. So, if you find yourself clashing with other people about when and how a task should be completed, or you feel that the work pace is uncomfortable, consider the Marathoner and Sprinter distinction. That difference in work style might be at the heart of the conflict.
What's your work pace? Let us know in the Comments section, below.
Gretchen Rubin is the bestselling author of The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better than Before. She is considered one of the most influential writers on happiness today, and has become an in-demand speaker and keynoter. You can read about Gretchen's adventures at GretchenRubin.com.
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