The Ironman's Guide- From Busy To Effective- Mark Allen (Part 1)

The Ironman's Guide- From Busy To Effective- Mark Allen (Part 1)

From Busy To Effective


If you are a success-driven person, you are continually striving to improve your results and effectiveness in your profession. One measure of that success is usually to see an increase in your productivity over time. Last year’s quota was great, but this year I want to increase it by a certain amount. 

If your results are the sum of a team’s efforts, it may be that you simply add more people to your crew. But if your results are mostly dependent on you and your efforts, then the real question comes into play. How will you produce more? There are a limited number of hours and days you can work in the year, and you are likely already pushing the limit of both those. So, clearly the solution to higher productivity is not working longer, but in working more effectively. 

Keep in mind that working more effectively is not the same as working more efficiently. Efficiency is about taking less time to do a particular task so that you can at the end of the day do more tasks. And while improving your efficiency can be a part of higher productivity, just like the limited hours in a day and days in a year, you can only get so efficient and you are probably already there. 

Being more effective on the other hand opens up a huge opportunity. Improving your effectiveness means you become more and more potent at doing your work. Being effective translates into you being able to get greater productivity from the same amount of work. 

And most importantly, never confuse being busy with being effective. Anyone can fill every second of the day by doing something. But it has to be the right kind of something if you are going to go from being busy to being truly effective. Here are five keys to help you do just that.


Commit To The Inglorious

Regardless of the industry or the job, excellence is built on a vast foundation of quite mundane simple work done over and over and over. As an example, in my years training for triathlons, I had to be good at swimming (along with cycling and running). So, right after the New Year, I’d start back into my routine of being in the pool five days a week. In the very first workout of the year, I’d swim up one side of the lane, do a flip turn then swim back on the other side of the black line on the bottom. In about 35-seconds I had seen the entire swim course I was going to do about another 50,000 times by the end of the season. 

That mundane task can be seen as torture, or as something empowering. I chose empowering because I knew that each and every one of those laps was adding to my foundation of fitness needed to eventually be fast enough to have a great race at the Ironman World Championship in October. There were no fans cheering or press cameras rolling during those mundane sessions. I didn’t get paid each time I completed a lap. The only tangible reward was when I saw my times start to get faster as my fitness built. But even that didn’t happen very often. I could go weeks and weeks at the exact same pace. For many that was disheartening. But I knew at some point a critical mass of fitness would hit and from one day to the next I’d see a noticeable improvement in my pace.

Yes, this is the inglorious work that eventually leads to great successes. What is your endless lap-upon-lap-in-the-pool kind of work? It may be so obvious that you rarely think about it. But it’s important to never shortchange the foundational work. Never exchange the exceptional strength of the day today for a promise of an extra add on option. The extras cannot make up for a weak foundation that lacks the work of the inglorious. It’s like how we eat. The foundation is a well-balanced diet. The extras are the supplements of vitamins and minerals that many people take. But a bottle of pills cannot make up for a lousy foundation of the basics. And it is just like this with your work.


Know What You Are Avoiding, Then Do It

Is there something you know is essential to your success that you are avoiding doing like the plague? Maybe it’s a part of your work that is not natural for you or that you know at first you won’t be proficient at implementing it. But if it is essential to your success, today is the time to make the commitment to putting it in place. This is a very powerful way to go from being busy to being effective.


I learned this halfway through my career as a triathlete. I had raced the Ironman World Championships in Kona six times from 1982-1988. None of those resulted in victory. I had finished 2nd, 3rd, and 5th a number of times, but never 1st. I was strong up through the first six-hours of a day that usually took about eight and half hours to complete. Why was I falling apart at that point year after year?


I looked at my training log. I saw that on Saturdays I was doing a long ride of about 5-6 hours. Then I’d follow that up with a long run on Sundays of 2-2.5hrs. That was a solid 8-hours of training in two days. And on top of that throughout the year I was logging closer to 15,000 miles of swimming, cycling and running. But I was still coming up short. 


Then the lightbulb went on. I was doing 8-hours of training in two days, but the Ironman is not a two-day event. It’s a one-day race. So, in 1989 I designed five Ironman training days where I would swim 30-minutes, bike 7-hours and then run 30-minutes. That was an 8-hour training day. That was the type of training that would truly make me effective in the race by building the real endurance I needed. 


I did five of those days throughout the year. Each one took me weeks to get ready mentally. I didn’t want to do them, but I knew they were essential to my success as a triathlete. And those five days only added 10-extra hours of training onto my entire year. That’s less than 2-minutes a day! Would you be willing to work an extra 2-minutes a day to achieve the greatest dream you have for yourself? Of course! But it has to be done in the right way. So whatever that one thing is for you that you need to implement, now is the time to do it!

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The Ironman's Guide- From Busy To Effective- Mark Allen (Part 2)

Mark Allen

Mark Allen

Six Time Ironman Triathlon World Champion
Endurance Time Management

Plan. Then Act. Then Plan Some More.


Before I took one step in training each year, I would plan out my race schedule. Usually, that came out to racing seven times throughout the season. That then made it easy to focus in on the training I would need to be ready. Each race would serve as a marker to make sure that my training plan was indeed keeping me on track for where I wanted to be. Then after each race I’d assess what happened and plan again. And if necessary, I’d also make adjustments to my training to shore up any holes I saw in my fitness.


What is your plan for the next important period of time? What is the end goal to want to hit? How will you measure your effectiveness along the way to make sure that your plan is on track to achieve your ultimate result? 


Planning, then acting, then planning again creates critical effectiveness. The real world is a very unpredictable place, and often the “ideal” plan laid out at the onset of a project needs to be modified once you see how it is actually working in that unpredictable environment. That is how one builds true effectiveness.


One Eye On Today, The Other On The Future


Being effective comes from the hard work done deep down in the weeds while at the same time always remembering where that hard work is propelling you toward. It can be easy to get lost in the daily grind otherwise. The day to day can wear you down. It can be easy to forget where that hard work is taking you. 


You can lose the steady patience needed to keep chipping away at what might look like a mountain ahead. But you can also regain it by reminding yourself that each of those days is building the clout needed to reach critical mass and hit the markers you have put in place for yourself. 


I had to continually remind myself of why I was training. There were many days where I was not in the mood to go to the running track and do another speed workout or hop in the pool and do another long set of 500’s. It was the same thing I’d done over and over already. I wanted something new and entertaining, and well, easier! 


But then I’d look down the road into the future and see Ironman coming up in a few months. And then I’d see the importance of what I was doing today. Without that vision, I would have done each of those workouts anyway, but I wouldn’t have done them with heart. I would have been busy, but I would not have been effective. 


Why Are You Showing Up At The Office


Every great accomplishment comes with its challenges. And no journey goes completely as planned. In fact, there can be many moments along the way to hitting a new standard where achieving it looks completely impossible. That is when a vision of purpose can carry you forward even with impossibility staring you down. 


What is your purpose? Why are you going to show up at the office every day? What purpose will make it so worth going for the big dream even if you end up falling short of accomplishing it? 


In my racing, I had many years early on where the purpose was to win races. Eventually, though I saw that even with a victory that sometimes I just didn’t feel fulfilled. There was something missing in my purpose. That’s when the real purpose for me to be in the sport came. I wanted to bring better and better parts of myself into each race and into each season as a whole. 


What that looked like was giving 100% of what I had even if my race was not going well. Even if I was not going to be the champion on that particular day, my effort could be that of a champion. This singular vision of striving to bring the best of me to a race carried me past the thousands of rough spots when it would have been so easy to just give up when victory seemed impossible. 


What is the purpose that will carry you forward and bring out the best you can be? 

To book Mark Allen for your next event, visit his profile:

Need books for an event? Get bulk books at non-bulky prices at

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All posts in the The Ironman's Guide- From Busy To Effective- Mark Allen (Part 1) series

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October 09, 2019
The Ironman's Guide- From Busy To Effective- Mark Allen (Part 2)
By Mark Allen
Plan. Then Act.Then Plan Some More. Before I took one step in training each year, I would plan out my race schedule. Usually, that came out to racing seven times throughout the ...