Unlocking Your Peak Performance
Hard work is wasted if you aren’t at your best, so focus on improving your performance.
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When leaders come to me for help, it almost always starts with the same story. They are tired and burning out. They don’t have time to exercise, they don’t sleep well at night and the stress is getting to them. In short, their ability to do their job is slowly fading away under the weight of what needs to be done.
I know this story well, because this has been me before.
I was the leader who was constantly burning out by working so much and not having time for anything else. I wasn’t at my best, and the more I worked the worse I got. I had to work more to try and make up for it, which made me even worse. I was in a vicious cycle and I needed to break out of it.
What helped me was a simple realization: Your job as a leader is to make decisions.
In fact, as a leader, there are often only a handful of key decisions that make the difference between success and failure. The challenge is not whether you can be at your best all the time, the challenge is whether you are at your best when you make those key decisions. Since we never know when those decisions will happen, we have to find a way to be ready for them at all times.
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That realization helped me reframe all of my problems. I had been skipping exercise and sleep to make more time to work, but that was backwards. I needed to focus on exercise and sleep so that I was ready to make the big decisions!
I rebuilt my schedule with some new rules:
Exercise is part of my job
Sleep is part of my job
Spending time with my family is part of my job
These activities were part of my job since without them I could not be at my best in making decisions. Exercise gave me energy and perspective. Sleep gave me clarity. Family gave me balance. I needed all of these things to make better decisions and hence be a great leader.
With this new framing, I no longer felt guilty when doing these things, since I didn’t feel like I was avoiding my job. I was doing my job! These activities were part of my job, because they made me better at my job.
I put exercise, sleep and family on my calendar as meetings that could not be moved because your calendar is your priorities. Instead of sneaking out to exercise, I wanted to be proud I was exercising and make it clear it was part of how I did my job. I also wanted to set an example for my team about how to reframe their own priorities to ensure we were all at our best.
Another way to think about your peak performance is to ask how long you can be at your best. If you work more hours, are you still doing great work? Your productivity is a function of many things including your natural body rhythms, how often you are interrupted while working, what you are doing and how long you have been working (fatigue). Improving your productivity requires managing many of these factors before you even consider working more hours.
There is evidence that no matter what you do, you only have two hours of peak performance every day. Two hours. It proves your productivity is a scarce resource and you have even less time than you thought to get things done.
For most people those two hours are in the late morning, but you will need to determine when they are for you. Whenever they are, don’t waste them responding to emails! Or attending status meetings! So many of our peak productivity hours are wasted on generic tasks that we can do during less productive times. Block off those times on your calendar to do the hardest, most important work possible.
This is one of the many reasons to minimize the number of recurring meetings you have on your team. Recurring meetings are like rocks in the river of your day, forcing your time to flow around them. The more recurring meetings you have, the less flexibility everyone on your team has to design their schedule to fit their peak productivity.
The constant debates about work/life balance focus on whether you should work more or less. I don’t think there is a simple answer to that, as everyone is different. The question is not whether you should work more or less, it is about what it takes for you to perform at your best. For me, it meant reframing what it meant to do my job and being careful about using my peak productivity hours.
What does it mean for you?
For more on improving your personal performance, see:
You need both Coaches & Cheerleaders
Are you pushing or punishing your team? The Art of Being Unreasonable
Operations are the Ties that Bind Us, and it’s the secret to scaling your leadership
Do you have a question you’d like me to answer? Have a topic you’d like me to cover? Let me know by filling out this 30 second form and I’ll do my best to cover it in an upcoming issue.
This is a lesson every leader needs to learn, and I've certainly relearned it many times! Probably have many more to go, too! Ha! I love the book “Overworked and Overwhelmed” by Scott Eblin for its excellent practices and recommendations! Any books that you recommend? I am always looking for more research backed practices and insights to integrate into my personal work and my writing at The Messy Human.
This is a great post. I struggled with work-life balance at one point. I cracked two teeth from grinding my jaw in my sleep. I was under a lot of stress at the time. But that was the wake-up call I needed. I saw that there were limits to my body and what I could do. This valuable lesson led me to find my passion for road cycling.
Now, I make time for all my rides (up to 12 hours a week) and treat it as a part of my job. I also am part of a wonderful community who share my love for the sport. It's made me very happy and acts as an outlet where I can channel all my frustration, desire, or aggression, and now I sleep like a baby at night. Plus, I still have the rest of my teeth.