How to perform better at work: Relentless achievers have these key characteristics

Floaters are comfortably numb most days and don't realise they could do better (Source: Getty)

Be honest: do you consistently show up at work each morning with your best game on? Or is your working life just a race to catch up with yourself?

Coping with relentless external demands usually requires remarkable levels of resilience, energy and stamina, both to perform and to energise others. Without this, we feel sluggish or exhausted, we lose focus and often a sense of control.

Yet many of us still fail to prepare ourselves well for our daily “key performances”. Our research with thousands of senior decision-makers shows that 90 per cent don’t prepare for high-stake events and two-thirds suffer impaired metabolic function, which decreases energy and creates brain fog.

Sink, Float or Swim?

We exist on a “performance continuum”. On the far left are people struggling with exhaustion. They are near burnout and don’t know how to stop themselves from sinking (sinkers). On the far right are people full of energy, passion, focus, concentration, and preparation. They bring their best game to everything they do and this affects those around them (swimmers).

And in the middle is a mass of people just trying to make it through this week. They’re treading hard to keep their head above water. They occasionally have a great day, but most days they’re comfortably numb and don’t realise that they could be better (floaters).

Does it make sense to drive your car 100 miles and only then put oil in it? Does it make sense to race a top Formula One car on worn-out tires? No. In business, we need to recognise that our brains and bodies need fuel and preparation, and that includes planning what we want from conversations, staying hydrated, moving regularly and creating time for rest.

In the management book Good to Great, Jim Collins talked about getting the right people on the bus. That’s only half the battle. Talent managers have to get the right people on the bus and make sure they have the energy and capacity for peak performance. In the four significant areas we should look at – mindset, nutrition, movement and recovery – it’s recovery that gets neglected the most. It’s not just about sleep; it’s about creating realistic breaks. If you can’t see how you’re going to plan recovery into your schedule, it won’t happen, and you will burn out.

Ask yourself every day for a week:

  • Did you focus mainly on the things you could control?
  • Did you do everything you could to prepare yourself to compete in your must-win events?
  • Did you bring energy to the people you influence?
  • Is your organisation better today because you came to work?

Swimmers are able to answer “yes”. Floaters answer “maybe”. Sinkers don’t make it past the second question. Every recruiter I meet is in search of a swimmer.

A new level of preparation

Much training goes into the strategy and leadership side of business, but too little focuses on the human side. As executives fall victim to external performance killers, companies reach for quick-fix well-being programmes. But if sustainable high performance is about being focused, resilient, agile and innovative, then just “being healthy” isn’t enough.

We should dig further into the human “black box” and develop regular mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery habits that create high performance. Is your team prepared, and are you prepared? Are you more likely to sink, float or swim in the first quarter?

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