John Eliot, PhD, is dedicated to understanding what drives the world’s most accomplished and exceptional athletes, business leaders, musicians, and more — and translating those principles into real-world practices that anyone can utilize.
In this excerpt from his book Overachievement: The Science of Working Less to Accomplish More, he reveals a secret to world-class performance: creating your own pre-performance routine.
Imagine you’re a marketing manager for a major pharmaceutical company who came up with an extremely successful campaign for getting a new product out to the market.
It all took place a few months ago, and here’s how it happened: You had been brainstorming all morning, all your best people sitting in the conference room for hours racking their brains but getting nowhere. You broke for lunch.
Exhausted and starving but with all your notes in your hand, afraid to misplace them, you pinned them up on the bulletin board in your office and headed out to get a sandwich, which you brought back to the office.
You turned on the radio, sat down and enjoyed that sandwich.
Listening to some tunes, you stared off into space, as it so happened in the direction of the bulletin board where the notes from the morning’s meeting were hanging.
As you chewed rhythmically you noticed something — and then it hit you.
The new campaign fell into place.
How Can You Capture the Magic Again?
Here’s how you might design a routine from that experience that would help bring out the clever marketer in you the next time around.
The key to your creativity would be finding a way to unplug after a brainstorming session:
- Pinning up your notes and leaving the office (signaling your brain to stop training)
- Listening to music (putting you in an artistic mindset)
- And directing a Zen-like gaze at the wall (letting your brain get absorbed in your target and just trusting it)
You would certainly avoid sitting in all-day meetings one after another, racking your brain for a week or more.
So do you also avoid researching the market segment, fiddling with graphics on your computer? No, you need to do that. But your most creative moments seem to come when you get away from the details for a while.
You therefore have to design a routine that builds in breaks from the grind of brainstorming, that allows you distractions so your creativity can go to work on what it’s learned in those meetings — and to be sparked again when you just trust your notes.
You need the brainstorming meeting, but not for the entire morning. Set it for an hour or so and tell your staff that when that time is up, you’ll all be breaking for lunch, no matter what.
On the commute from the meeting to securing a sandwich, call home to talk to your wife or arrange a weekend trip with the kids — anything that will keep you from brooding on the pharmaceutical campaign.
Then head back to the office with your lunch, flip on the radio, relax in your chair, eat your sandwich, and let the notes on the wall dance into your brain.
What happens if nothing comes to mind?
Try the same routine later in the afternoon — make it a break for coffee or a quick trip to the gym. If that doesn’t work, so what?
Definitely do not spend the rest of the day chewing up time in a conference; don’t wreck your evening with family or friends fretting over your missing ad layout.
Great ad campaigns are hardly ever born in a day, and they are least likely to come to you when your brain is fried.
Setting Mental Limits and Switching Modes
Many of my clients who are executives are amazed by how much they get done by having a routine that simply gives them a way of transiting into and out of performance mode.
They used to start one project and stick with it until they got results, ignoring their other projects. Work has a way of filling the available hours. Give yourself a weekend to finish that report (or clean out the garage), and it will take the entire weekend.
But if your routine sets the rhythm for your work day, then you will finish things within that pre-ordained time. If a needed solution doesn’t come to you, put it aside for a while. But when you return to that project, go through your routine again.
To maximize your potential in whatever you might do for a living, you need to get into that mental state in which your focus is most intense, in which you trust your abilities, experience, and the work you’ve already done.
The purpose of any routine is to help you make that all-important transition between preparing to perform and actually performing. Also, your routine should never be a chore.
The best performers enjoy everything about what they are doing — including their routines.
Reprinted by permission of Diversion Books. Excerpted from Overachievement: The Science of Working Less to Accomplish More. First Diversion Books edition 2015; copyright 2004 by John Eliot. All rights reserved.