Close your eyes, and imagine you are a professional athlete or sportsperson heading into training. What do you think that day would look like? Planned or unplanned? Optimised for performance?
Of course, business is different. In the sports world, competitions are planned in advance. Lack of control is the biggest area that causes anxiety and performance issues.
But there are ideas and things that we can do to take back control of the day and influence our performance.
Do you find that:
You are too busy with meetings and emails to actually get the work done that is going to shift the needle of your performance and the business?
Are you always reacting to other’s problems and not dealing with your challenge first?
Remember, everyone can work hard; the difference-maker is knowing what to work hard on.
Working hard and longer is not the answer, and if we do not change this, then things can snowball and lead to:
Reduced performance at work
Loss of job – increased stress and anxiety to find a new role
Increased risk of burnout and underperformance
So here are six ways to take back control and start performing again:
1. UNDERSTAND YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TASKS
The first step to taking back control is stopping and taking time to figure out your most important task or M.I.T.’s. A simple way to do this is to write down everything you need to do and cross off everything that is unimportant. Keep going until you have one or two tasks. Make sure you think about whether the task is important or just urgent; there is a clear difference.
2. PLAN YOUR DAY AND WEEK
Planning your day and week in advance enables you to plan your time rationally. Doing this in the morning is not a good idea as your brain will always want to complete urgent or easy tasks first. The idea is that when you sit down to work, you work. Before finishing your work the day before, spend 5-10mins writing down those M.I.T.’s, or spend a few minutes preparing for any activities you are going to do, such as going to the gym. We all feel more confident having a plan; this plan can change, but we need to put structure into the day.
3. PERFORM YOUR M.I.T’s
Most people’s peak performance working hours are in the morning, on average around 3-4 hours from getting up. However, the majority spend this time answering emails or attending meetings (try to encourage people not to have meetings at this time). Most people can only work maximally for around 90 minutes, after that they need a break.
The biggest breakthrough I make with C.E.O.’s and senior business leaders is helping them understand this practice. If I can get them to complete 90 minutes of high peak work, success and productivity significantly increase, and stress is reduced.
You must make sure that you protect this time and the environment. Block out this time on your diary so that no one can book meetings with you. Shut your door, turn off notifications and emails. If you are at home, get some noise-cancelling headphones. Understand that this time is going to help you improve.
4. GROUP TASK BLOCKING
Grouping tasks together can help reduce cognitive load. The best example of this is email blocking. Plan in two or three 30 minutes periods to answer and send emails; this helps to get in the flow. Remember that with most emails, people are cc’d on them; normally, issues get solved during the day. Remind colleagues that if it is something urgent to call you.
Besides emails, think of other areas to employ this process, such as meetings – another benefit of the hybrid model of working is having days planned for meetings. Also, think about meal prep, where you pick one evening or day to make multiple meals for during the week.
5. SAYING ‘NO’
How easy is it to say yes to your colleague or manager? If we say yes to one thing, it means no to another. This other thing might be your M.I.T’s. We are very good at spreading ourselves very thin, meaning that we get the time to dive deep into problems.
6. REVIEW YOUR PERFORMANCE
Self reviewing your performance is a great way to develop the habit of noticing slight changes in performance, both positive and negative. Answering the following questions honesty can help:
- What went well today?
- What mistake/failures happened, and what can I learn?
- Did I work towards my M.I.T’s
- What does my day look like tomorrow? What is most important tomorrow?
- What made me feel good vs not so good today? How can I learn from this?
Feedback is a vital part of performance; this needs to be a daily process. There is no point in reviewing your performance every six months; immediate feedback is the way to go. Remember, high performance is a holistic process; consequently, review everything — work, physical activity, nutrition, cognitive load, recovery, communication, etc. Every element has an effect on the other areas. Check out my video on heart rate variability to understand performance even more.
7. PLAN BREAKS
Planning breaks is mainstream advice, now backed up by science. We need breaks during the day to ensure that we can maintain performance and reduce stress. 5-10 mins every 60-90 mins is a good starting point for development. Get outside, stretch, move.
Taking back control starts with you; no one is going to do it for you. There are times during the day that we need to be reactive and proactive. Understanding the difference is vital for performance. Think about a football team; they have to be proactive in their tactics and reactive to the team they are playing against.
If you feel that you have no control, start by taking control back on the small things — progression over perfection.
Ask yourself this question? What is next month or year going to look like if I continue like this?
Love to hear your thoughts on this. Control is an area that we are going to be covering at our high performance. camp in November. More details here.
Director & Founder