Optimize Your Life

Episode #48: How to Optimize Your Work Performance

Show Notes:

Welcome all you high achievers out there who are always searching for the latest and greatest in optimization. If that’s you, today’s episode will be just what the doctor ordered. That’s because we are going to be talking about ways to optimize your work performance. 

But instead of sharing with you tidbits based on what’s being written about elsewhere, I’m going to share with you the exact 11 steps that I’ve put together as part of my Alive & Strong program that I offer corporations looking to build a stronger and more productive workforce. 

I call it “Alive & Strong.”

As we dive into each of these areas, I want you to consider your current experience at work and how you might incorporate some of these notions into your everyday work.

Let’s dive in. 

So Alive & Strong is an acronym for the steps included in this program. 

“A” stands for Activate. What do I mean by that? 

When you are faced with a problem, rather than jump into action, the suggestion is that you first reduce activation. Sounds counterintuitive, I know. But this gives you an opportunity to release tension and prevent exhaustion. Activating is not about being busy, but focusing on the right tasks, especially ones you find pleasant as this increases engagement and satisfaction. So notice how there’s strategy interwoven into these steps. That’s on purpose because in order to have optimal work performance, you need to stay in optimal health and in an optimal state of mind. In other words, you can’t be burning out in the process. We need your ability to focus to stay online. 

Getting back to the premise of the right tasks, what does that mean? I mentioned that they should be pleasant if possible. And I know what you’re thinking. There are probably many tasks that you engage in that aren’t very pleasant, that you don’t like to do at all. But consider how this affects your energy, mood, and attitude. You’re less likely to engage optimally under these conditions. No, you can’t always have what you want. Not every task you need to do will be pleasurable but if you can focus on ones that are, this will make focusing much easier. 

So perhaps start by jotting down everything you do as part of your job. Then divide your tasks into two columns: pleasant and unpleasant. When it’s time to problem-solve, which tasks can you focus on to get you unstuck? Get clear on this ahead of time. 

Got it? Fantastic. 

Next we focus on “Love.” And as cliche as it may sound to love yourself, it’s absolutely crucial for work optimization. But that’s not typically the case. 

When people seek me out for coaching because they are burned out, almost always they are low in self-love. They beat themselves up for their mistakes. They are filled with negative self-talk. They expect too much from themselves and end up pushing themselves so much that they burn out. They don’t take their needs into consideration. Instead, they focus on their to-do lists, other people’s requests, or hold onto the notion that if they achieve more, they’ll finally become worthy. This is an illusion.

What I’m asking you to do here is focus on being kind to yourself no matter what setbacks you experience. Replace perfectionism with compassion. And give in a boundaried way to elevate others.

Let’s break this down. 

Are you someone who has a fear of failure? If so, what are you telling yourself will happen if you make a mistake? Chances are you’re highly anxious. You’re inserting meaning where there might not be any. You’re catastrophizing about the worst case scenario and it’s likely not nearly as bad as you’re making it out to be. Am I right?

So what if you have a setback? What if you could just accept that these are part of the total experience. No one really wants to fail, but we all fail all the time. It’s more about not making it mean something about your worth and not letting that slow you down. To keep yourself going, you need to be kind to yourself. Tell yourself, “At least I tried” or focus on what you learned as a result of the experience. That’s super valuable and can help shape your efforts the next time around.

If you’re a perfectionist, chances are you expect a lot from yourself. You don’t rest until something meets your unrelenting expectations and even then, it may not feel like it’s quite good enough. In the process of trying to get the results you want, you’re sacrificing your time and energy. It takes a lot longer to accomplish your goals and because you have this all-or-nothing mindset, you often give up before you even have a chance to complete the task. You’re never satisfied and you live with the false notion that if only you can get this one the way you want it, everything will be great. But it never is. And that’s because you’re off to the next thing. And the next. And the next. So be more fluid if you can. Soften the edges. Flow with life and treat yourself like you would someone you care about. 

And finally, if you are an overgiver, you need to keep yourself in check. People-pleasers often get in trouble because they run themselves ragged saying yes to anything and everything without considering whether they have the bandwidth to take on more. If that’s you, try to pause before you answer someone’s request. Sometimes, just giving yourself time to look over your schedule and consider how long the new task would take and where you might fit it in will be helpful in determining whether it’s even doable in the time you have. 

The trouble is too often people who automatically say “yes” do so because they are worried about what other people will think of them if they say “no.” To that I say, think about a time when you asked a colleague to help out with something of yours. Did you expect them to say yes? Chances are you were hoping for a yes, but expecting a “no.” They are no different. So don’t be afraid to be honest. Otherwise, what will happen is you’ll make yourself overwhelmed and then resent them for asking. It’s not their fault you took it on. That’s on you, so choose wisely.

Step three is “Identify.” Consider the way you behave at work. Your behaviors are the result of your identity. When you identify as someone confident and capable you are more likely to exhibit behaviors that are in line with that self-perception. 

This may not come to you easily at first. That’s because you have a certain program running in the background that goes way back to your early days. But your brain is malleable. And that’s good news. You can decide on purpose right now how you want to feel and through practice, you can change your beliefs and with them your identity and behaviors. 

The way I like to work with my clients to reprogram their beliefs quickly is through brain priming. If you want to learn more about this process, download my free ebook, How to Train Your Brain for Success in 5 Steps. I’ll put the link in the show notes for you. 

“V” is for Visualize. Your mind is so powerful that studies have shown that when you visualize something you want in your mind, it tricks your brain into thinking it is actually happening. We can use this to our advantage. When you are clear on your purpose and how it aligns with the mission of the organization, visualize taking quantum leaps toward the success you want. If you can see it, you can manifest it. 

“E” is for Energize. One of the most important resources you have to avoid burnout is your energy. So it is crucial for you to manage your energy well through your engagement in and out of the office, recover your energy to avoid depletion, and protect your energy which requires being attuned to yourself.

To learn more about how you can manage, recover, and protect your energy, pick up a copy of The 7E Solution to Burnout. In it, I share tips on each of these and much more. 

Let’s recap what we have so far: Activate, Love, Identify, Visualize, and Energize come together for the first half of the program to spell Alive. 

The next part is comprised of 6 additional steps which spell out STRONG. 

“S” stands for Self-Control. The demands of the work environment can lead to stress and other negative feelings. To be successful, you need to manage your responses to difficult situations, find healthy outlets for your emotions, and re-focus on your purpose and sense of joy.

Here’s an excerpt from the 7E Solution to Burnout about self-control:

“Having control over your emotions and, thus, your behavioral response requires you to build up the skills of tolerance and discipline. Once you become aware of your emotional state, you need to be able to ride the wave of your emotions. Knowing that feelings come and go, and mindfully noticing what is happening within you rather than becoming fearful or overwhelmed will help you stay calm. The alternative

is suppressing the emotion, which is a form of avoidance. While avoidance, as a coping strategy, may distract you from an unpleasant experience at the moment, it is not a long-term solution. Suppressed emotions tend to get stored in the body and can result in physical pain, autoimmune diseases, and eventually rupture in emotional outbursts. 

To gain mastery over any area of knowledge or skill, you need an investment of time and energy. What can get in the way of mastery is either boredom or a preference to engage in pleasurable activities. 

Imagine that you want to write a book. This requires thought, research in some cases, and many hours of writing and editing. While you have good intentions to sit down and write, you may become distracted by a television show, or feel tempted to go out with friends for fear of missing out on the fun. All this temptation causes distraction and procrastination and prevents you from making strides toward your goal. Mastery requires discipline and a delay of instant gratification. 

What this has to do with Emotional Intelligence is that your behaviors are a result of your emotional state. If the reason you are procrastinating or giving up on your goal is that you are bored with the repetition of your work, you need to manage your boredom to stick with the task long enough to master it. Similarly, if you are blowing off your commitments to engage in fun, you need to manage your mindset, remember the benefits you will reap in the long-run, and set up rewards for milestones along the way. This keeps you moving ahead and will lead to a sense of purpose in your life, which will outlive any short-term gratification you could attain in this moment. 

It is not only when you are bored that you seek stimulation and forego possible long-term goals. If you experience low frustration tolerance, this may drive you to impulsivity in many situations. A standard illustration of this is on the road when a person becomes impatient with other drivers, red lights, or pedestrians that cause traffic to slow down. When they act out impulsively, they increase their own risk of being in an accident and hurting themselves and others. 

Being aware of how impatient you feel and then taking some deep breaths can help to get your rational brain back online, just when your emotional brain is taking over. Infusing your frustrating moments with relaxation can improve your mindset and sometimes mean the difference between life and death. 

Set your intention on building up your tolerance of negative feelings and on having the discipline to delay gratification so you can reach your ultimate goals. There is a time and place for everything.”

In the book, I shared several cognitive and behavioral strategies to help you attain a greater sense of control over your emotions, so if you’d like to dive deeper into this topic, that’s where you go next.  

“T” is for Time Management. You likely have more on your plate than you have time for. By building this skill, you will be able to prioritize your tasks better, overcome procrastination, and attain “perfect attention.”

By prioritizing your most important tasks, you ensure they get done and you are making progress toward your goals. Focus on tasks one at a time so you’re maximizing your brain. It’s when we try to get everything done at once that we waste time and lose focus in task switching.  

If you’re someone who procrastinates, it’s likely because there are tasks you lack confidence in and worry about failing at. Rather than avoid what scares you, face it head-on. Take risks and follow through on tasks. Be kind to yourself and work to build up your confidence. 

Lastly, create a supportive environment for your mind to get tasks done by eliminating distractions, protecting your time, and finding purpose outside the office, so you have a hard stop to your work. These techniques will keep you focused and make you more efficient. 

“R” is for Resilience. To bounce back from adversity more quickly and efficiently, you need to build up mental discipline. Through this growth mindset, you can adaptively cope with stressors rather than feel hindered by them. 

Perhaps one of my favorite quotes from my book is this: “Resilience starts in the mind and includes a sense of realistic optimism for what lies ahead, gratitude for the goodness around you, and acceptance of anything that is not in your control or that has not gone as well as you would have liked.”

“O” is for Openness. For continued career growth, you have to be open to opportunities for professional development and expanding your view. Rather than taking criticism personally, seek out and accept feedback from colleagues or customers about how you can improve your performance.

This may sound obvious but it requires you to be proactive. Opportunities don’t always fall on your lap. That means you have to seek them out and you do that by reflecting on where you are and where you want to go next. And when opportunities do show up, be curious. Consider where they may take you. Sometimes things happen and shape our lives in ways we could never have imagined. Let life lead you.

And as much as feedback can feel challenging to hear, it is part of your learning journey so embrace it. 

In the book, I talk about the importance of getting immediate feedback on tasks. This gives you a sense of whether you’re on the right track before you spend too much time and energy on any given project. Sometimes, all it takes is crafting your goals with enough clarity so that they give you feedback as you take part in them. 

“N” is for Narrative. What holds you back is often your own inner voice. To excel in your work, your thoughts have to align with your actions, and if they are negative, you will be holding back your potential. 

Are you aware of your internal dialogue? Some of my clients seem completely unaware of how critical they are of themselves simply because they’ve never done it any other way. It’s their norm. Only when we start working together do they become more self-aware and realize what they are doing and that it’s toxic. 

People sometimes fear that if they are gentle with themselves they’ll become lazy. But life’s not that black and white. We aren’t either horrible to ourselves and productive or gentle with ourselves and lazy. There is a lot of gray in between. The truth is that when you’re gentle with yourself, you are more likely to pursue your goals long-term. You might feel motivated to pursue your goals if you beat yourself up, but only at first. The motivation quickly dies off after a while because you’re so beat up.

And finally, “G” stands for Gratitude. By focusing on everything there is to be thankful for, you create an abundance mentality, increase social bonds, and decrease stress while improving your personal well-being.

There are so many upsides to gratitude and these have been proven by research. But here’s how I like to think of it. Your brain is designed to focus on the negatives. This is not faulty programming. It is precisely to ensure your survival. If you were programmed differently, you may have gotten distracted smelling the flowers and then become lunch for a nearby tiger. Instead, our brains are brilliant. They look for the tiger and overlook the flowers.

But because we don’t have to be in survival mode in this day and age, especially at the office, you need to retrain your brain to do it differently and gratitude is one of those practices that helps you do that. 

To recap the second half of these steps, we have self-control, time management, resilience, openness, narrative and gratitude. Together,  they spell STRONG. 

So there you have it. The 11 steps to help you optimize your work performance that come together to make you alive and strong. 

I hope you’ve found ways to implement some of these right now in your work. And I invite you to share this episode with your HR director. This is a program I can happily train your entire staff to follow for you to optimize your workforce, maximize performance, and build up your team individually and collectively.

Until next time, take good care. 

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