performance

Find Your Rhythm

Are your days ‘lurchy’ or ‘flowy’?

For many of us, it’s more often the former, when we’d love it to be more of the latter.

Let’s get some definitions down:

‘Lurchy’ = you’re moving from one thing to another, feeling fragmented, scattered and often ending feeling unproductive and shattered.

‘Flowy’ = stuff feels effortless, you’re in sync, you can get deep into your work and nail it, it’s fun and energising. You’re not trying too hard.

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For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with getting more into ‘flowy’ and staying there. More recently, I’ve learned a few tricks about how to do that. It’s all about finding your rhythm.

Finding your rhythm is like when you’re doing exercise, and you get that ‘click’ moment. When you’re walking, running, riding, in the gym, whatever. You hit a certain rhythm, a certain flow, where it feels ‘right’ for you, your performance lifts and it all becomes effortless. You know the feeling.

You can find your rhythm in how you structure your time, too.

Cal Newport wrote a powerful book called Deep Work, which argues that if you want to produce anything of value, you need to carve out uninterrupted time to do it. He builds on the ideas of Paul Graham, who wrote about two types of schedules: The Maker’s Schedule, and the Manager’s Schedule. They are both quite different: the first needs unstructured time to be effective, and the second is all about structuring your time. If you’re trying to do ‘Maker’ work (wrangling new ideas, writing, deep problem solving) you generally need big blocks of unstructured, focused time. And, we all need Manager time as well. That’s when you allocate your time into segments to hammer through your do-list, hold meetings etc.

I’ve learned:

  • I need to allow time for both types of activities if I’m going to be effective.
  • If I don’t deliberately carve out the Maker time, Manager time takes over. And I get into ‘lurchy’. And that’s frustrating.
  • It works for me to allow for Maker time across different time spans: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually.

Here’s how I structure each of those time blocks with my Maker time:

Daily: first thing in the morning for at least an hour, I journal, scribble or listen to an interesting podcast.

Weekly: every Friday is a ‘client free day’ where I write, think, and create (including my blogs).

Monthly: I build in three to four concurrent days for ‘Making’ work every month, which is often when I design a new workshop or programme.

Quarterly: I take a week off from any sort of client work to decompress.

Annually: I take all of January off (holidays, yes, and also it’s also a great time for reflection, deep thinking and writing). And, of course, my annual two-week windsurfing trip in October, which keeps my edges sharp. You can learn more about my annual approach in my post Your Year By Design.

Does it always work perfectly? Rarely. Life gets in the way all the time! However, without a structure like this, I reckon I’d always be in Manager time, and I’d feel like I’d not be doing my best work, or producing anything of value. I stick to my structure about 80% of the time. As a result, I get into plenty of ‘flowy’ experiences, create good work, and feel good about how I’ve spent my time.

We all need to experience more ‘flowy’ times. Especially when we need to create new ways for our teams and organisations to be more agile, more innovative, and more bold. More lurchy meetings aren’t the answer.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you or your people follow my exact schedule. I am suggesting you think about what works for you across each of these time spans, and what’s possible for you given your current situation. And then take the first step, however small, to make it happen.

Go well.

 

Art: Tim Borgman

 

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Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 4 May 2017. Learn more.

Are You Trying Too Hard? (Part Two)

 

Version 2

I recently wrote about the idea that when you stop striving, you maximise performance and enjoyment.

If you missed that post, I was training for a mountain bike race (done now, loved it) and I’d been tracking my times. I noticed that when I relaxed more, my times got better.

Since then, I diligently continued my training and kept on collecting data on my times. As a result, some more interesting ideas about optimising performance came to light.

Here’s a visual analysis of my times on one of the trail segments over the past couple of months. The grey dots represent each time I went for a ride. The higher the dot, the faster the time.

Tumeke Analysis 2

There are three patterns jumping out here:

The Practice Effect:

Early on in my training, it was all about getting my fundamentals right: fitness, skills and confidence. Checkout the line sloping upwards. Over those weeks, each time I went out, I was consistently hitting lower and lower times. Fitness, skill and confidence were all on the rise, translating into better performance. On the segment shown in the graph, my personal best time is down to 2:31, with plenty of other recent times around there. Back in early February 2016 my personal best was 3:51. The foundation of that improvement is simply down to time on the bike.

Lesson: There’s nothing like practice to get you to where you want to be.

The Social Effect:

Later in my training, I regularly teamed up and rode with a couple of friends who were doing the race with me. We’re all about the same level of fitness and skill, and we’re all fairly competitive types. Whenever we rode together, all of our times tended be faster than when we rode alone. And we had a good time doing it. The red circles show those sessions. By riding with others, I’ve got even faster, and stayed there.

Lesson: Team up with other motivated people, and you’ll go even further than you thought you could.

The Coiled Spring Effect:

There were some days where I had a particularly big day at work (e.g. running an intense workshop), and there were other times where I didn’t ride for four or five days. In either case, I’d get to the trail with a bunch of pent-up energy. And then I’d bust out a great time. Just like a coiled spring. Boom! The green circles are those sessions. They really stand out from the ones around them, showing me, at the time, what I was capable of.

Lesson: Let your down times fuel your up times.

All useful lessons for many areas in life, right?

One last observation. My training had a purpose: to be fit and fast enough for the race. Now it’s done, I’m noticing my motivation for riding is flagging just a little. I still love getting out there, but I’m left wondering whether I need a new goal to keep me motivated as I head into the colder winter months? That’s one for another post…stay tuned.

 

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Photo: Digby Scott