Spinning inside your mind

TV presenter and cycling journalist Rebecca Charlton was on twitter last week looking for top tips for surviving multi-stage rides, and while I was replying it started me thinking about managing complex PR projects.

Having just survived an 850-mile ride from London across the Alps to Monte Carlo, my recommendation for Becca was to be ruthlessly organised. At the end of each day, immediately prepare for the next.

Refuel straight away so your muscles are rebuilding for as long as possible. Wash your kit, lay out your gear for the next day, recharge any electronics and review the route for tomorrow.

When campaigns and large PR projects run on over weeks and months, it’s a good idea to review frequently, perhaps not daily but at regular intervals. It doesn’t have to be a big, formal deal, but take a look at where you are, what’s working, what needs improving and plan for the next period.

It’s strange that people don’t do this. Usually, they’ll tell you they don’t have time because they’re so busy keeping all their plates spinning, but the consequences of taking your eye off the bigger picture are panics and disasters that will suck your time and energy like a vortex. You can put a bit of time in now or a lot of time plus a fair bit of distress later. The idea that you don’t have time is a trick that your mind is playing on you.

Last year, I rode from John O’Groats to Lands End in a week, and there was next to no time to spare, riding 120 miles a day. Eat, sleep, ride, repeat. Yet I always found the time to prepare for the next day, so that my wheels would be spinning with maximum efficiency, no matter how desperate I was to get down for dinner and slump into bed.

Oddly, my evening and morning preparation rituals for the Monte Carlo jaunt were not quite as precise. The stages were not so long, we rode much faster on the French flatlands than we ever did in Scotland and England, and our break stops were shorter. In France, we were frequently finishing each day in less than six hours than the ten hours it took to complete the daily drags to Cornwall.

So though I had more time to prepare, I didn’t do it quite so well. My first theory as to why this might be was that old saying: “If you want something doing quickly, give it to a busy person.” That suggests people with limited time and a lot to do will find a way to get things done quickly and efficiently. There’s some truth in that.

But it’s not the whole story. I have come to the conclusion that my planning and preparation was at a higher level for John O’Groats to Lands End because the challenge was greater and, crucially, the consequences of being ill-prepared would be painful, stressful and exhausting. This I saw come true for two of the lads in our group who were not as well trained as cyclists as they might have been finishing one night after a particularly hard day in total darkness at 10.30 pm. They had to be back in the saddle at 8 a.m.

So my tip for instilling discipline into your review and planning is this. If the carrot of more successful campaigns doesn’t encourage you to invest time into the planning process, consider using the stick and imagine the consequences of failing to do so. Campaigns that don’t work, events that go wrong, negative media coverage and more might all be avoided if you just spent a little time every now and again reviewing where you are and getting everything ready for the next stage.
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