Nick Humphrey’s Maverick Executive: Strategies for Driving Clarity, Effectiveness and Focus deconstructs the art and science of peak performance including implementing mindfulness, pushing your boundaries and eliminating distractions. His upcoming webinar on Strategies for managing Stress, Conflict, and Overload addresses the challenge of seemingly never having enough time to get everything done.
Through his extensive interviews with high-achievers including elite athletes, coaches, CEOs and entrepreneurs – Nick brings together strategies, habits and hacks of high performers and research on high performance.
The Eight Rules of High Performance
There are eight rules to drive high performance:
- Elimination: you don’t need more time, you just need less distractions.
- Essentialism: focus on the one thing that will change everything.
- Batching: juggling is for clowns; stop multitasking and start batching.
- Extension: growth only happens outside your comfort zone.
- Purpose: don’t be driven by money or prestige; follow your passion, play to your strengths and contribute beyond yourself.
- Mindfulness: turn off your auto-pilot and be present, aware and in the moment.
- Recharging: take time out to allow your body, mind, heart and spirit to find balance.
- Flow: bring together all these rules and harness cognitive flow.
The first three rules (elimination, essentialism and batching) relate to effectiveness and productivity. The next four rules (extension, purpose, mindfulness and recharging) relate to personal growth. The final rule, flow, considers what happens when you combine all the rules.
Rule one: Elimination
Successful executives understand it is important to eliminate distractions and interruptions, so that you have more time and energy to deal with important tasks. This rule is about learning the art of saying “no” and mastering delegation so that you can allocate your scarce time effectively.
Many executives are overwhelmed with a barrage of emails, constant meeting requests and unscheduled interruptions. They are spending an average of 18 hours a week in meetings and feel that at least a third of those are a complete waste of time. The volume of information and emails has increased exponentially in the last decade, with over 200 million emails sent worldwide every minute of the day.
The key to this rule is the Eisenhower matrix; a chart categorising tasks by whether they are important or unimportant and urgent or non-urgent. Many people spend too much time dealing with urgent tasks that are important or which they thought were important (dealing with a crisis) and then retreat to waste time in the unimportant and non-urgent category (watching television or surfing the internet). They never have time to do the important but not urgent tasks like risk assessment, planning, and true recreation.
Rule two: Essentialism
To be effective you need to practise essentialism, which requires you to be highly selective before taking on more projects or opportunities. It is about focusing on doing important tasks, usually the ones you put off because they make you feel uncomfortable such as coaching an underperforming employee. Doing trivial or unimportant tasks well, even if time consuming, doesn’t make you effective. High performers also understand the profound power of the 80/20 rule — 80% of your results are driven by only 20% of your inputs.
Rule three: Batching
Most interruptions have a negative impact on your productivity by not only wasting time but also by breaking your concentration and focus. High performers know that multitasking is inefficient, increasing the risk of mistakes, reducing productivity and amplifying your stress burden. The typical knowledge worker is interrupted every 10 minutes and it then takes more than 20 minutes for them to return to the original task. It also shows that the mental blocks created by switching tasks can cost as much as 40% of your productive time. Note, however, that having some interruptions is important, as you work faster when you are at the risk of being interrupted.
Rule four: Extension
Growth is simply not possible in your comfort zone. High performers understand that you must undertake tasks that are challenging and stretch your skills. They realise that to face your fears (such as networking, public speaking or facing conflicts) requires careful research, planning and coaching.
Think about when you have been at your best, when you have achieved something really noteworthy, that you were proud of? Guaranteed it was when you were out of your comfort zone. But if you push too far you’ll hit the panic zone, then become overwhelmed and performance will plummet.
Rule five: Purpose
High performers ensure they find meaning in their work. They are motivated by intrinsic factors such as service to others, realising their potential, making the most of their talents. They don’t get distracted by extrinsic drivers such as money, title or prestige. They understand money is merely an outcome not a purpose. They seek to make a difference beyond themselves, to contribute to a greater cause, whether in their community or simply for their clients and colleagues.
Rule six: Mindfulness
The top performers in every field, whether business, professions, academia, military, politics, sports or the arts, without exception, practise mindfulness. They are present, aware, and in the moment rather than being on auto-pilot. They know every moment is unique and ensure they put aside pre-conceived judgments about people or events. They can regulate their emotions to ensure they are rational and orientated to the outcome rather than responding emotionally.
They practise mindfulness by being present when talking with colleagues; they take time out to quiet their mind by being in nature (such as hiking or going to the beach), engaging in hobbies (such as golf or surfing), meditation, yoga or listening to music. The benefits are substantial: reduced stress, increased productivity, and more creativity.
Mindfulness is closely related to emotional intelligence (known as EQ or emotional quotient). There is research to suggest that 85% of your financial success is due to EQ (so only 15% relates to IQ). The good news is that while IQ is relatively fixed, EQ can be bolstered through practising mindfulness.
Rule seven: Recharging
You need to regularly recharge your body, mind, heart and spirit and get back into balance. It is important to give your brain time to commit your recent learning to long-term memory. You will also do your best problem solving after you have had a break. Have you ever noticed that you do your clearest thinking when you are away from your desk? Perhaps when you are going for a walk, doing some gardening or even having a shower. Recharging is also a prerequisite for achieving a flow state.
Free up an hour or more every single day to reset. Take time to exercise and do stretching (body), learn something new outside your job (mind), make meaningful connections with friends and family (heart), and do some meditation, yoga or journalling (spirit). This practice is not complex but it is hard. You need the discipline to do a little bit every day. It is hard because you have to be proactive and plan this time rather than just be reactive to the urgent and pressing events that unfold around you.
Rule eight: Flow
Implementing some of these rules will help you to be more effective, however, the combination of all these rules will allow you to achieve a flow state. This is the cognitive state where you become fully absorbed by the task at hand, are highly energised, can sustain focus for long periods of time and forget about the outside world.
Pre-conditions to flow
Flow requires you to eliminate distractions, work on tasks that are challenging, meaningful, and have an element of risk (financial, social or physical). A sense of playfulness will also help achieve flow.
Benefits of flow
Flow will have a profound and dramatic increase in not only your productivity, but will also provide clarity to your decision-making, accelerate learning, enhance your creativity and for many people, substantially increase fulfilment and happiness.
The potential benefits of flow are:
- Productivity. Research shows that executives working in a state of cognitive flow can increase productivity by an incredible 500%; in other words you can achieve in one day what others take an entire working week to do. Most executives only spend 5% of their working time in flow: if this could be increased to around 20%, productivity could be doubled.
- Sense of growth and control. Another important benefit of flow is that when working in this mind state we feel like our skills are not only meeting the challenge but growing. This sense of mastery and growth enhances the perception that we are somehow controlling and directing our lives, rather than being merely reactive. This sense of control is often lacking in everyday life and is a key cause of stress.
- Stress. Another benefit of flow is reduced stress. When you are present and in the moment and immersed in your task, you forget about your stresses and anxieties. Your focus is so complete that there is no attention left to think about your problems other than completing the task at hand.
Inhibitors to flow
Flow is far less likely to be triggered when we are being reactive and passive. It occurs when we push our minds (and in the case of sports, our body) to our very limits. In other words, we make this optimal experience happen (not external factors).
Once you have experienced the power of flow then you will probably become impatient with anything that inhibits it. For example, flow-seekers know that interruptions and distractions destroy flow, so are ruthless about time wasters like unimportant meetings or information overload.
Motives in achieving and maintaining flow
Your motives play an important role in achieving and maintaining flow. For some people, undertaking certain tasks are “in, and of themselves”, enough of a reward. They don’t need fame, power, money or prestige to complete the task; they really just enjoy performing that task (in part because of the sense of growth and the sense of control).
Flow factors interrelated
It is important to realise that these factors are intertwined.
Once you start to ignore the extrinsic motives (money, fame, power) and focus on the intrinsic drivers, you will be less stressed and more likely to achieve flow. The more flow you experience, the less and less you need to be motivated by external factors. It becomes a positive upwards spiral.
A key cause of stress is a sense of not being in control and that you are overwhelmed. Flow helps create a sense of control and thereby reduces stress.
The more you realise that the tough challenges life throws at you are designed to test your skills, then you won’t be stressed but rather eager to solve them and in turn trigger flow, which will give you the clarity you need to solve that complex problem.
Ironically of course, the more you work in flow the more likely it is you will actually achieve those external societal goals (wealth, status, possessions).
For practical hacks and more on the art and science of managing stress register for the webinar.