Peak Performance

In 2001 Harvard Business Review published an article called the Making of a Corporate Athlete looking at what makes some people flourish under pressure and others fold. The authors Loehr and Schwartz came up with the concept of “corporate athletes” and the idea that if people in business are to perform at high levels over the long haul, they must train in the systematic, multilevel way that athletes do – to build their physical, emotional and mental capacity.

The importance of time management, they discovered, is less important than the concept of energy management. Just like athletes, we need to work hard and then make the time to recover our physical, emotional or mental energy before starting again. Recovery builds capacity and increases resilience.

To perform at our best, we all need pressure so we feel stretched and energised.
We all know that if we have too little pressure then we feel bored or stuck in our comfort zone and do not develop and grow. However, if we have too much pressure we strain ourselves and can easily head towards burnout. It is a fine balancing act to keep ourselves in the optimum zone (see graphic below)

When we are operating at our personal best or at our peak it is fabulous, it feels easy and everything flows – we are at our most creative and our ideas and actions flow. We are fully engaged in what we are doing – all our energy is channelled towards the task at hand.

So here are Five Tips to help you to manage your energy and be at your best more of the time.

1. Treat life and business as a series of sprints rather than a marathon.

When athletes are training for endurance and resilience they train in short bursts – pushing themselves to a position of maximum stretch and then they rest before starting again. When they’ve taken part in their particular event, and pushed themselves to their limit, they then make time for recovery, knowing how important this is to their next performance.

If you want more energy it is important that you make time to recover and recharge after each ‘performance’ you do.

If you’ve been working for a couple of hours on a long document ,or proposal, then take a break before starting the next task – go for a walk to the coffee machine, take a stroll outside – do whatever you need to do to empty your head before beginning your next ‘performance’.

If you’ve had a long and difficult meeting with your boss, or a direct report, make time to recover your emotional energy before beginning your next meeting.

If you’ve spent a long day at work and are physically tired give yourself permission to have some ‘down time’ knowing that this will make you more effective the next day. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that pushing yourself harder and harder will enable you to work better and better – this is the stuff of fantasy (see graphic above) you actually work harder and harder but acheive less and less as your performance drops.

So think about how might you divide your day into a series of sprints where you are completely focused on the finishing line for each performance, and make time to recover your physical, mental and emotional energy.

2. Don’t multi-task

We often read about how women can multi-task and men cannot – I don’t know whether this is true or not but I do know that multi-tasking dilutes our energy, concentration and ability to perform at our best.

If we are going to give our peak performance then we need to be fully engaged in what we are doing – channeling all our energy – not thinking or worrying about something else.
So by all means have a lot of things on your ‘to do’ list but only think about and ‘perform’ one at a time – give it your full attention and energy and then (as above) recover before starting the next thing.

Email, instant messaging and social media all dilute our energy.

So think about how you can create an environment where you can focus on one thing at a time.

3. Look after yourself

If you were an athlete in training you would be very careful about what you ate, drank, how much sleep you got and how much exercise you took, this would be a priority for you. You would understand the direct relationship between these things and your performance.
However, in business we can easily ignore these simple things and expect to perform at our best on virtually no sleep, little exercise and no breakfast.

If you want more energy then treat your body more like a temple and less like an amusement park!

Do at least some of the things that you know you should do and you will have so much more energy.

What changes are you prepared to make so that you have more energy more of the time?

4. Channel your thoughts

If you were an athlete what mental preparation would you carry out before performing?
You would probably think about how well you’ve done before and have a target to meet or match your personal best. You would then mentally visualise this and think about the preparation you need in order to do acheive this, and then you’d practice and practice.

Think about how might you learn from this to enhance your own performance and channel your energy more effectively.

5. Manage your emotions

Negative emotions such as anger or anxiety drain our energy whereas positive emotions such passion and optimism motivate us and help us to perform at our best.
Negative emotions are often a great clue to the fact that we are operating at strain rather than stretch and it’s time to recover and recharge. Anger is only one letter away from danger, which is actually very apt (as strain is only one step away from burnout).
The first step to managing your emotions is to be aware of them, as you then are in a position of choice. What are you feeling right now?

If you find yourself feeling emotions that are energy sapping (you will know the ones) then make a positive choice to recharge and recover from this feeling, knowing that it will make a huge difference to your effectiveness. You know what re-balances you so make the time to do it

I hope these Energy Tips have been useful to you – do let me know. We offer coaching and workshops on the topic of Energy Management and Peak Performance so please contact us if you’d like to explore this topic further.