The Keys to High Performance

What makes a high performer? Why do some people achieve greatness and others get left floundering behind.

When I was working with elite athletes at the AIS and in America, special forces soldiers, some high profile people in the entertainment industry and more recently with high performers in corporate organizations, I noticed some clear characteristics that set high performers apart. The good news is that it is not all about talent, ability and potential, it's more to do with how they execute on a daily basis.

The most common characteristic that sets high performers apart is their ability to focus deeply on the tasks that they perform in a day. However as a society we are losing our ability to focus. It seems like the whole world has ADHD. There are three main reasons for this.

1. Attention deficit habit (ADH). ADH is a condition where the habits in our day are sapping our ability to focus. For example most people leave their email open and every time it alerts us to a new email we stop what we are doing and we go off and check it. Also we leave our phone on constantly during the day even when we are writing a report or meeting with someone. These habits actually set ourselves up to be distracted and train us to have poor focus.

2. Information Obesity – This is the result of shifting from a physical economy to a digital economy. We are overloaded with information and we have so much information coming at us we don't have to focus on one thing for too long before something else will come and take our attention away. A recent report released by Proud Foot consulting said that information overload was responsible for a 10% decrease in productivity.

3. Multi-tasking - The greatest enemy of focus is this idea of multitasking, multitasking suggests that you can focus on many things at once. Reality is multi tasking is a very inefficient process and in reality all you are doing is focusing poorly on a number of tasks rather than focusing well on one thing.

New research tells us that the average employee in an office environment is interrupted 11 times in an hour. Sounds a lot but when you think about it most people are constantly responding to their email alert, answering the phone, having people come into their office, suddenly remembering things that they should have done and dealing with noise from open plan offices. What's the fall out of all these interruptions? The fall out is a massive reduction in productivity and creativity. A study by Basex found that office distractions take up 2.1 hours of the average day (28%) with workers taking an average of 5 minutes to recover from a distraction and re-focus on the original task. In fact a recent study conducted by The Institute of Psychiatry at King's college London, compared the cognitive ability of people who had been multi tasking and people who had just smoked marijuana. Who came out on top? The drug affected workers. The reason why is that multitasking is incredibly stressful on the brain, it impairs short term memory and concentration. The result is that the brain is left in an impaired state. This message is important for the leaders of the business. Due to distractions and interruptions people rarely get the time to think creatively and come up with innovative ideas. We need to minise distractions and start to focus again.

A recent study by my company Dr Adam Fraser Pty Ltd showed that the top 10 distractions were:

1. Emails – office alert and volume of emails

2. People – office colleagues

3. Phone – office and mobile

4. Distracting thoughts – thinking of the next thing to do

5. Noise - in open plan offices

6. Clients expecting instant responses

7. Personal Issues playing on your mind

8. Un-necessary meetings

9. Mixed priorities from management


So what is the solution how do we improve our focus? Well there are three simple techniques we can use to have the focus of a high performer.

1. Control Your Environment. Set up your external world to support focus, turn off the email, turn the phone off, and educate your staff on when you are not to be interrupted. Push back on the environment, don't be a slave to your environment.

Strategies to minimise distractions:

Turn off the email alert
Check your email at certain points of the day, for example every hour or every two hours. ·
During important tasks when you need to focus block all distractions or remove yourself from the office environment.
Communicate to people around you that at certain points of the day you are not to be disrupted.
If the noise around you is too great look at using ear plugs at certain points of the day.
Have a clear plan of what you want to do; this will stop you bouncing from task to task.
Practice being "present" this is where you calm those racing thoughts and only think of one task.
2. Formal Practice. An example of a formal practice is meditation. Years ago I thought that meditation was tree hugging, hippie stuff, however a huge amount of evidence shows that meditation has a beneficial impact on our cognitive ability. In its purest form meditation is about calming the mind and focusing on one task, this ability will translate into work.

3. Be Present. During the day practice focusing your attention on what ever is in front of you. Lose yourself in what ever you are doing. If you are writing a report focus entirely on that report without thinking of the other things you need to do later in the day. Likewise if you are having a conversation with someone totally immerse yourself in that conversation don't let your mind drift. So often we have conversations and we are not really present. Business is built on relationships, the greatest complement you can give another person is your undivided attention. However we all have a highly tuned BS detector, and we know when people are not truly engaged with us. Some people believe that being present is the key to team building. Companies spend millions of dollars a year getting people to build better relationships within an organization. They usually spend this money on personality profiling, isn't the first step getting them to engage and be present with each other? In addition some psychologist are now talking about the concept that people are creating fewer and fewer memories. The reason for this is that memories are created in the present and the fact that most people are either obsessing about the past or worrying about the future means that they are not laying down current memories. How sad!

This is the first step towards high performance. Go forth and focus!