Top performance is hard to sustain. We have all experienced times when we are not performing at our best. We can feel those moments as they occur; we just intuitively know we could – even should – be performing at a higher level. When we are at our best – those moments of high performance – it feels effortless, there is a beautiful ease to what we are doing. The good news is there are ways to help we can help ourselves to reach these performance peaks more often.
Cut the fat
Subtraction is a much overlooked concept. In most areas of our life – especially at work – there is too much waste. We spend too much time, energy and mental capacity doing things that when it comes to doing the work that matters our bodies are exhausted and our minds are overcrowded. Our mental capacity and physical energies are not limitless. They can easily become depleted. When we subtract the things that are less important – or valuable –all that remains is the essentials. Focusing on only the essentials allows us to utilize all our mental and physical skills on what really matters to us. Preparing to perform often means doing less, not doing more.
Pay attention to your energy levels
Our energy levels are the body’s equivalent to the gas that powers our cars. The more gas you have in your car the further you can go – it’s exactly the same for our performance. Peak performance happens when we start a task, project or each day with the maximum energy available. Sleep and down time are essential to replenishing your energy. Working late and putting in lots of hours has been proven to be ineffective after a certain time. You’re better to stop and recharge than just keep going. Having a regular routine for sleep and relaxation is an essential part of your performance strategy. You must also become more aware of your energy levels; notice those moments when your energy is shifting. When we run on low energy we actually shut down our minds to possibility; we go into our own version of “safe mode” – making quick and convenient choices rather than what may actually prove to be successful. Pay attention to your energy; take regular breaks to recharge.
Say ‘no’ a lot!
There is one area you need to pay the most attention to; decision making. You should be focused on conserving your decision making energy at all costs. Your ability to make good decisions is a limited resource. It is essential for you to say ‘no’ to tasks as much as you can. Unless the task is directly aligned with your core focus you should decline. Saying ‘no’ means you’re not having to think when you really don’t need to. You should have no reason to pay attention to non-urgent things. You need to become more disciplined in the art of not making decisions. Say no to as much as you can. Making decisions are things high performers avoid.
Carve our thinking time
Our connected world is a huge distraction to us. We all know that. We all know that we have become addicted to knowing what is happening in the world. Many of us get anxiety at the thought of being disconnected. We need to invest in ‘quality thinking time’. Time where we can be alone with ourselves and our thoughts. Clarity comes in these moments — our mind is able to surface the deep thoughts that are usually suppressed by the noise generated by our connected world. When we have time alone with our thoughts we are able to do deeper problem solving and creative work. High performance requires some time alone – disconnected from the world – to focus on the important tasks at hand. Plan some time each week, often early in the day and at the start of the week (cause our energies are higher after the recharging that takes place on the weekends). During this time turn off all distractions.
Multi-tasking is not productive
Start thinking about a “single-task” more. The world has conditioned us to think that successful people are great multi-taskers. Managers are well respected for being ‘multi-taskers’ but being a good manager doesn’t make you someone performing at your best. High performers are too focused to multi-task. Our brains can only do one conscious thing at a time. Switching between tasks wastes our energy and actually leads to lower levels of performance and inaccuracies. There is also research that proves multi-tasking doesn’t save you time. The research proved that it takes just as long to do multiple tasks at once as it does to do one task after another. The difference was when we can focus on a solo project we make less mistakes and deliver more creative work.
Positivity is essential for peak performance. You need to maintain a positive mindset. Our mind has to classify everything and we have a sadly simplistic process for classification. There are just two buckets for everything to fall into, danger or reward. We are always trying to avoid danger and move toward the reward. We do our best work when we’re positive, collaborating with others and moving toward a goal (the goal is the reward; achieving something). It’s important to identify the potential ‘reward’ in everything you take on. What is the potential upside? What’s the win? Focus on what you’re heading toward. Be optimistic. If you tend to lean toward the negative and what could go wrong, the task gets placed in the danger bucket. That causes you to think about survival and limits your ability to take risks and think outside of the box.
To perform at your best you need to be doing something. Not talking about something, doing something. We can’t expect to reach our best if we’re over analyzing what we could do. You shouldn’t be reckless but if you over think your potential actions there is a good chance you’ll become paralysed. Too much information doesn’t necessarily help rather it hinders your ability to move forward. Data can always be used to argue why you shouldn’t do something. At some point to perform at your best you have to take a leap of faith and actually do something. Reprogram your mind to think of failure as ‘experiments’ – scientists learn a lot from the things that don’t work out as planned and so do we all. Experimentation is essential for high performance as it means you’re taking action.
To perform at our best we need to take more responsibility for our bodies, environment and mindset. We have to set ourselves up for peak performance as it’s unlikely to just happen; you can’t rub a magical lantern and expect a genie called ‘success’ to appear. Those that are consistently able to perform at their best know that the discipline they have in their lives and the mindfulness that they choose to approach their work with is what allows them to perform at a level far greater than most. Like anything peak performance doesn’t come just by turning up – it’s an intentional and deliberate choice that people make.