Those who have known me any length of time will tell you I’m an unapologetic traditionalist when it comes to things I’m passionate about, particularly when it comes to baseball and music. I’m the guy rolling his eyes in the stands at Fenway Park to the sound of Katy Perry tunes in between innings, a complete sell-out of the great American pastime to broaden the sport’s appeal to teenagers and non-baseball fans. In the world of business, I have always valued a firm handshake and good eye contact over the design of your web site or your commercial, and not surprisingly, I’m an ardent believer in the power of professional relationships. Certain elements of life are timeless, and should be treated as such. On the other hand, we live in an era of unprecedented change, and these change agents – new technology, disruptive competition, and endless distractions – have inspired top performers to seek out competitive advantages in any way possible.
For almost twenty years, I’ve lived by the creed Work Hard, Play Hard, insistent on squeezing every last drop of life out of the 24 hours I’m given every day. While at some points in my own career, that meant late nights entertaining clients, followed by the unwelcome sound of the alarm clock the next morning, the creed is more appropriately a philosophy of personal development and the pursuit of personal fulfillment. It’s about operating at peak performance all the time, as opposed to some or most of the time, and managing your own personal habits to allow for maximum achievement potential in any area of your life.
While the particular habits of the ultra-successful may vary, there are certainly commonalities we all share as human beings that fuel our energy level, stimulate concentration and focus, and drive a relentless persistency to get things done. Key lifestyle factors include these five areas:
- Sleep. Scientists agree that the human body requires between 6.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep per day, though one’s personal requirement is driven by other factors as well, such as exercise, diet and stress level. The key is to know your own body, and regulate yourself to a consistent pattern of when to bed and when to rise. After 30 days of conditioning, you can toss that alarm clock. Your sleep schedule should be built around your own natural peaks and valleys. If you’re a morning person, as I am, plan to turn in at 10, and get up at 5. If you’re a hyper-effective night owl, your sleep schedule should reflect that, and perhaps calls for going to bed at 1 am, and getting up at 9. Of course in the real world, these decisions are heavily influenced by our other responsibilities, but the key is to be in control and discipline yourself t a schedule, as opposed to drifting off to sleep with the TV on, and failing to condition yourself to an appropriate sleep pattern.
- Diet. Over the years, I’ve arrived at so many 8:00 am business meetings, where a well-meaning presenter loaded up the conference table with donuts and pastries. An hour into the meeting, attention spans are plummeting, focus is off, and the sugar crash is upon us. Avoid the sugar, and opt for a banana and oatmeal for breakfast. Caffeine, while my constant companion for 30 years, needs to be regulated to avoid the crash. Two cups a day if you choose, but replace the third and fourth cups with water, which experts agree you should drink at least eight glasses of per day. You’ll sleep better, and maintain energy throughout your waking hours. There’s no shortage of guidance on what to eat and what not to eat these days, but there are two general rules of thumb that will keep you out of the doctor’s office, and looking and feeling your best: First, always practice portion control. Eat 5-7 small meals throughout the day and avoid the binge. Second, eat real food. Sounds simple, but in the age of processed foods, your body and your business will benefit from consuming food brought to us by Mother Nature, not Mother Chemistry.
- Exercise. It’s no secret that exercising at least four times per week is a key factor in living a long and healthy life. But what about the benefits it provides along the way? Let’s face it, if you’re in shape, you’re going to look and feel better than you have since the running shoes were retired last year. That creates confidence, an invaluable characteristic in your professional pursuits. It also creates greater concentration and focus, more stamina, and reduced stress. All the excuses for avoiding exercise we’ve built up as a society over the years are holding millions of Americans back from their goals in life. Establish a routine, whether it’s running, lifting weights, or yoga, and stick with it. Your business results will grow with your self-esteem.
- Alcohol. As much as I enjoy my Scotch, alcohol is one of the biggest detractors from performance in the workplace today. Knowing your body, your limitations, and when you’re losing your edge, both in the moment and the morning after, is critical to getting ahead. There’s no time for hangovers in today’s economy. If you’re committed to achieving great things in life, stay in control. The same can be said for any and all vices that compete for our attention, our money, and our focus.
- Personal Finance. Establishing good financial habits takes the same mindset as building a business, or a customer base. It takes many small steps and activities, and an understanding and belief in how all the pieces come together in the end. Pay Yourself First is a concept rooted in the philosophy of saving money before you pay anyone else. Establishing financial goals and committing to the discipline that’s needed to see them through is a core practice that carries over into every area of your life, your career or business included. Start with a simple program called the 52 Week Challenge. During week one, put $1 away in a jar, a shoebox, whatever. Increase that each week by just $1, and at the end of 52 weeks, you’ll have saved $1378, while never having to put away more than $52 in any week. If you and your spouse or partner both take the challenge, that’s $2756.
While ultimate accountability will always lie with the individual, leadership within performance-driven organizations can play an integral role in inspiring the troops to adopt such habits practiced by so many high achievers. While Sales organizations in particular often provide training, coaching and development opportunities to their employees, such training is generally centered around the organization’s products and services, and related topics. In recent years, many large corporations have recognized the benefits of wellness programs for their employees, and have integrated such initiatives into their cultures. If you’re a leader of a team measured on performance, you owe it to your team members to bring more awareness to the personal performance habits we’re still not talking enough about.