Prompted: Zone 2
What metabolical efficiency has to say about productivity and chasing big goals.
Last year I became enamored by the world of endurance sports. One of the hardest parts of the training was learning to hold back and maintain slower paces that felt way too easy but produced gains in my fitness over time.
The more I think about it, the more this style of training applies to professional pursuits as well. I hope these thoughts & prompts will help provide a new perspective on your career.
As always, thanks for reading, and have a great week!
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
- Navy Seals
There are 5 heart rate zones ranging in intensity from resting (Zone 1), to all-out exertion close to your maximum heart rate (Zone 5). Zone 2 is an all-day effort where you’re sweating, but you can still easily hold a conversation.
Zone 2 training is sacred among endurance athletes because it improves metabolic efficiency. In other words, Zone 2 training helps you generate more power with less effort, but it takes hours of disciplined training over weeks or months to see the benefits.
For many athletes (myself included), it’s difficult to maintain such a slow pace because it doesn’t feel like “easy” training will make a difference in overall fitness.
We’re wired to search for immediate feedback to show ourselves and others that the work we’re doing has a direct impact on our performance. High-intensity training and all-out efforts are popular because we want to feel like we did something. Sore muscles or a puddle of sweat confirm that we worked hard without waiting for weeks to measure our results.
The same mindset has leached into our psyche for professional endeavors as well. If we’re not working long hours and stressed about projects how else can we show we’re working hard?
In both of these scenarios, we’re focused on showcasing effort. To produce better results we should try to focus on our results instead, but white-knuckling professional work produces great outcomes. At least in the short term.
Eventually, the benefits of intense work plateau, and burnout begins to set in. Applying the principles of Zone 2 training to the professional realm can help us slow down and improve long-term output.
If we translate the characteristics of Zone 2 training into the world of work we would have the following rules in place:
80% of work is to be done at an easy almost effortless pace. It should be slow enough that it requires discipline to hold back and leaves us feeling refreshed.
Do one thing at a time and maintain the same intensity. Do not switch back and forth between urgent tasks that require bursts of intensity and long-term projects.
Maintain this style of work for multiple weeks before expecting improvements in efficiency or results.
This manner of work will probably look lazy to the unassuming bystander. However, sustaining a manageable effort over a long period of time means we can bring more energy to work each day and continue past the point where intense efforts would leave us burnt out.
This is what separates good professionals from the all-time greats. They reduce their daily effort in exchange for prolific results over a longer time horizon.
While there is no immediate gratification for slowing down our pace of work, it consistently outpaces hard-charging intensity, removes the risk of burnout, and provides a foundation for stellar long-term results.
On a scale of 1-5, 1 being almost no effort and 5 being completely exhausted at the end of each day, how much effort do I exert each day?
Do I ever overdo it because I want to show how hard I’m working?
What does a Zone 2 pace for my professional work look like?
Iñigo San Millán - The Drive Podcast
A deep dive on Zone 2 training with a world-class cycling coach.
Tortoise & The Hare - Aesop’s Fables
A quick refresher on a lesson that has stood the test of time for more than 2000 years.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.