The best employees are essentially good running backs

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If you don’t fully understand football, this might be lost on you a little bit — so I think we need to set that up quickly.

Running backs have one predominant job: take the ball from the quarterback, either via hand-off or pass, and advance the ball down the field. Usually this happens 2–3 yards at a time, but sometimes a running back might bust a few for 20+. Football is exciting. It also explains everything wrong with America in one tidy little analogy, but I am OK glossing that over for this post.

A good running back is usually fast and strong, but that’s not the point of this post. Employees can be fast and strong, sure — you want to think one element of work-life balance is getting to the gym more, as opposed to the bar — but that’s not what I’m discussing here.

Instead, it’s about finding space.

What does “finding space” mean?

Well, as a RB tries to advance, defensive players (DE, DT, LB, CB, etc.) are trying to hit him and stop his forward motion.

The best running backs find the space they need through a combination of two things:

  1. Their own skill
  2. Using their blockers (offensive linemen and other skill players)

Now we can make the analogy to work.

You are an employee. You’re the running back.

The “end zone” / goal is the completion of a project in a successful, productive way.

You need to get there in the right amount of time (i.e. don’t turn the ball over on downs).

But there are going to be numerous obstacles.

DEs: email you need to check and respond to.

DTs: bad managers.

Linebackers: “Hey, got a sec?” pop-ins that last 47 minutes.

CBs: Unclear goals, priorities, and road maps.

Safeties: Meetings

This is what the best running backs do…

They find the space they need.

You can use blockers, sure.

In this case blockers would be:

Use your blockers. Find the space to do actual work, as opposed to sitting in meetings and answering emails. None of that stuff is productive.

Most people get so caught up in push-pull and daily deliverables and stress that they keep getting hit in the mouth by a linebacker (a new meeting!) or a defensive end (a spreadsheet that must be presented to the VPs!). They keep getting knocked down. They are nowhere closer to the end goal.

Isn’t the end goal the point?

Don’t most people want the touchdown as opposed to the turnover on downs?

Use your blockers.

Be smarter about how and what you don’t do, or how you manage the guys (concepts) trying to pound you into the ground.

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