THE BIG IDEA: The strategies in today’s article can radically alter how you work and can yield results uncommon to even the highest performing leaders.
Many strategies for achieving high performance in sports and the arts apply beautifully in business.
Without question, the most underutilized factor in achieving higher productivity and effectiveness in the workplace is the management of internal energy.
High performing athletes and musicians (as well as their coaches) know how to consciously manage their energy, but few executives have been exposed to this understanding.
Managing Your Energy is the Key to High Performance
We each have a finite supply of energy that we expend throughout the day. Psychologists who study the science of self control call this ego depletion.
Because we aren’t taught how to cultivate this energy, most of us seek to boost this finite reserve with stimulants like coffee (caffeine) and soda/candy (sugar). Both of these drugs—yes, they are, technically speaking, drugs—do provide a temporary lift, but it comes at a cost. In the end, these drugs take more than they provide.
The ultimate key to higher performance is learning how to consciously manage your energy throughout the day.
Here are four interrelated strategies you can use to massively boost your daily performance:
Strategy #1: Work in 90 Minute Time Blocks
Research suggests that even top performers—including athletes, musicians, and novelists—can only maintain their focus and concentration for periods of four to five hours. Most of these performers, however, practice and train for only two hours at a time.
While overachieving executives may pride themselves on working nonstop throughout the day, this is an ineffective way to get results and achieve peak performance.
Humans are not machines. We work and think best in short sprints rather than long marathons. (And even computers overheat after prolonged, uninterrupted use.)
The majority of your work day is likely consumed by a whirlwind of meetings, one-on-one interactions, and other forms of communication. The key to getting better results is working in time blocks for the remaining 20 to 30 percent of your time when you aren’t caught in this whirlwind.
Each day, block off time in your calendar to work on specific results.
At the start of this scheduled time block, clarify the result in your mind. State the goal to yourself or even say it out loud.
For example, Over the next 60 minutes, I will make major progress in completing this presentation that will inspire my leadership team to focus on the needs of our customers.
Focus all of your energy on this result during this specified time, nothing else.
Condition yourself to honor these time blocks as sacred. If you don’t, outside forces will always command your attention. If you treat these pre-scheduled time blocks as critical meetings with yourself—no less important than attending a board meeting—you will keep to your schedule.
Strategy #2: Manage Your Energy and Attention
Staying focused on a task for 60 or 90 minutes isn’t easy. Maintaining focus is a skill that can be cultivated.
To improve your focus and attention, stay mindful of your body:
- Keep both of your feet firmly on the ground. This will help you stay centered.
- Observe your posture. Relax your shoulders.
- Keep your spine straight. Many of us hunch our bodies over our desk. This collapses the lungs and reduces oxygenation. Less oxygen translates to faster fatigue. More fatigue equals less focus.
- Stay mindful of your breath. Breathe slowly and steadily. This will also help ensure proper oxygenation.
Stay mindful of any tensions in your body, especially your face, shoulders, and upper back. Any tensions we hold due to stress saps our energy and reduces our focus. The more conscious we become of these tensions, the more they will resolve naturally.
Learn to meditate. It will help you build greater reserves of energy and enable you to maintain a deeper focus.
Stay hydrated. Drink water. Hydration is fundamental for healthy bodily functioning. Dehydration leads to fatigue.
Strategy #3: Eliminate External Distractions
Distractions plague the workplace. The average executive gets disrupted over eight times an hour.
Every time your attention gets pulled away from the task at hand, it takes more energy to return to that task.
Effective leaders find ways to navigate through the distraction jungle. This takes both skill and strategy.
Because we don’t work in a vacuum, we can’t eliminate every distraction. However, we can greatly reduce most distractions when we are working on something important during our time blocks.
Eliminate the following common attention-killers when you’re working on an important task:
- Close your email program.
- Shut off your smart phone or put it on airplane mode.
- Exit all unnecessary browsers and other programs on your desktop.
- Close your office door.
Anything that gives you instant alerts (new email, texts, stock quotes, etc.) cannibalizes your attention.
Technology owns us until we master it. Every ding and beep on our phones triggers the reward center of our brain, which makes it difficult to ignore. Eliminate this persistent source of distraction when you’re working towards a result. This one strategy can be a game-changer.
Let your assistant know when you’ve schedule time to work on the important stuff. You are not to be disturbed unless it is a truly urgent matter (which happens more rarely than you might think).
Strategy #4: Rest and Recover
This is the best kept secret of high performers and the ultra-creative in any field. After you complete a period of intense focus and effort, allow your mind to wander.
For every 90 minutes of work, allow up to 30 minutes for rest and recovery. I know, this sounds like a lot. But ask yourself, is your primary outcome to work consistently for long hours throughout the day? Or is it to perform at your best and drive toward specific results each day?
Start with 5 minute breaks, if that’s more manageable. Any break designed for rest and recovery will serve you greatly.
We work in highly ineffective ways because of malaligned cultural norms. Essentially, we simply don’t know better. Working long hours has become a badge of honor in modern business. We reward and value sitting at our desks instead of achieving optimal results.
We need to first challenge our existing beliefs. Then, we can introduce new perspectives. Finally, we can change our behavior.
During periods of recovery, you can:
- Practice deep breathing.
- Meditate: focus your attention on your breath.
- Listen to music you enjoy.
- Go for a walk outside.
- Have a low-sugar energy snack and chat with colleagues.
- Take a power nap.
- Stretch and move around.
- Play. Toss a ball around the office. Throw a frisbee with a coworker.
All of these activities can fundamentally increase your overall performance, your level of creativity, and your enjoyment at work.
Take the 10-Day Challenge
Are you skeptical as to whether or not these four strategies can really catapult your effectiveness at work?
Good. Take a 10-day challenge.
Run an experiment for 10 days with these four strategies, working with at least one 60 to 90 minute time block each work day. Then, evaluate the results.
We’d love to hear how it goes.