What does peak performance mean to you, and how do you get into that state at work?
For me, peak performance is a state when you are at your best, delivering results, feeling in the flow. While there are challenges, you’re able to overcome them and you feel that life and work are easeful (my term for something being “full of ease” rather than easy).
In my experience, getting in a state of peak performance at work is about being motivated about the work, developing the right habits, staying productive, and managing your energy.
These apply to life more broadly as well, so it’s well worth getting to know yourself in these areas.
Being Motivated About the Work
The easiest way to stay motivated is to choose work that you enjoy, and activities that you’re both good at and love to do. Work that gives you what you need to stay energized and motivated.
When you have this kind of intrinsic motivation, you’re more likely to be super motivated, operating in a “flow” state, and achieving peak performance.
But while you want to spend as much time as possible doing things you’re highly motivated to do, that’s not always possible. In those situations, I find it’s helpful to reframe the situation so that it fits with my bigger “why” or purpose.
For example, you might not be motivated to climb a tall mountain (think Mount Everest) in the winter. But if your loved one’s life depended on getting a special herb only available at the summit, you’d find a way to do it with urgency and energy.
A variant of that is to fall back on a transactional approach where you think of the benefits you gain from taking on the work you’re asked to do – “they pay me X for doing Y”.
Or you can delegate those tasks to someone who does feel motivated by that activity and let them perform it brilliantly – like having my super-organized team member get my office in order while I get to focus on writing, speaking and coaching.
So, what motivates you? Are you making use of that knowledge to make good choices about the work you do versus delegate, and to reframe things when you have to do the work anyway?
Developing the Right Habits
At other times, getting to peak performance is less about the big “why” and more about the actions you take (“behavior habits”) and the thoughts you think (“thought habits”) on a daily basis.
In terms of thought habits, I know from personal experience how much of a drag on performance negative thoughts can have. In my career, I’ve thought things like: “What if I screw it up?”, “Why isn’t Joe calling me back – maybe he hates me?”, “Jane’s much better at this than I’ll ever be.” And so forth.
Those kinds of negative thought habits are the equivalent of driving with the handbrake on. A definite drag on performance.
It was only when I began replacing these negative thoughts with positive ones – “I can do this”, “Joe’s just busy – I’ll call him again”, “I can learn a lot from Jane” – that I made progress.
If you adopt this kind of positive thought habit from the outset, it will give you a huge boost toward peak performance.
Behavior habits can just as easily hurt your performance, not to mention the performance of your team and organization. But often, it doesn’t take much to turn things around.
For example, if your negative habit is being late for meetings, then start getting ready 10 minutes earlier than you normally do.
If you’re usually afraid to speak up in meetings, then make it a habit to say something in the first 60 seconds so you get used to hearing your voice in the room or on the call.
If you’ve avoided building your network, then make a new habit of saying hello to everyone you pass in the hallway and cafeteria.
What's one habit you want to change or develop? What would it mean to your performance to change or adopt that habit?
Alongside having motivation and the right habits, if you can get more done with the same or less resources – think time, money, energy, headcount – you’ll be streets ahead.
Plus, being productive means you can create that extra time for next level thinking and actions, or to recharge.
Some of my favorite ways to be more productive center around banishing obstacles like procrastination and perfectionism. That’s because I’m fine once I get down to business – it’s all the worrying and fretting that keeps me from peak performance.
If, like me, you’re also your own worst enemy on getting things done more smoothly and easily, then it can be hugely effective to take the approach of addressing the things that are holding you back.
I’m also a fan of creating systems and processes to help stay on track. For example, planning out my day the night before, having a focused set of goals for the next 90 days, and taking breaks during the day. These can also tie into creating some of the helpful habits that we just talked about.
What do you struggle with when it comes to being productive, and what systems do you want to put in place to get yourself to peak performance?
Managing Your Energy
The best thing about energy is that you can generate more of it. Your energy is a renewable resource, while your time is not. That’s why it’s important to manage your energy and protect your time.
One way to manage your energy is to match your tasks to the time of day that’s best for you. Or, as my friend Ron Friedman says, “not every hour of the day is created equal”.
I find that I’m most creative in the morning, so that’s the time to be writing articles or creating presentations. Whereas I prefer to leave the admin tasks for later in the day. What’s your best creative time?
The other big energy creators revolve around your health and wellness, both physical and mental – frankly, the two are closely related.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that the three most important aspects for managing my energy for peak performance have been:
Getting the sleep you need is core to peak performance, both physical and mental. I need 7-8 hours to stay on good form, and since I travel across 8 hours of time zones on a regular basis, it’s been key to learn to sleep when I need to sleep. And remember, naps count too.
Having spent most of my teenage and college years on silly diets, I’ve finally found a steady state way of eating that gives me energy and helps me perform well.
It’s about getting to know your body, and what kind of fuel makes you feel best. In my case, it’s eating smaller meals more frequently, getting more protein (since I’m working on building strength) and eating “clean” – as many fresh foods as possible.
There was a time when my back and neck would go into spasm and it would take days to recover. Now, that hardly ever happens. The difference is that I now exercise regularly – Cross Fit three times a week plus some yoga here and there.
While I coasted for a while in my twenties and thirties, it was when I hit my forties that I realized that there comes a time when you have to take care of your “physical plant” or you’re in for a future of pain and lower quality of life.
The older I get, the more I realize that I just have to take better care of myself. Watching my mother’s generation become increasingly frail motivated me to get a running start on physical strength and fitness in preparation for eventual “old age”. But I now see that this has the added benefit of allowing me to get more done than ever before. So a double benefit!
So choose an activity you like to do, and go do it!
Now, it’s over to you… How do you achieve peak performance at work and in life?
The Peak Performance Playbook, by my friend Dr. Ron Friedman, is a compilation of actionable strategies, tips and tools to perform at your peak. Practical strategies from 50 leading experts and respected thought leaders in productivity, peak performance, and success.