Aristotle said it first: “Excellence is not an act, it’s a habit.” When it comes to the high stakes of Olympic competition, it is no surprise that many athletes develop some strange habits around their practice and performance.
But what they’ve learned can also help you reduce stress and achieve more productive days at work.
#1 Phelps and the Science of Small Wins
Big victories are a result of small habits. Just ask Michael Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman.
According to Bowman, Phelps started swimming when he was seven years old. But Bowman knew that habits would play a huge role in turning this talent into a champion.
So Bowman developed a series of daily habits that drew on what he calls “the science of small wins.”
“There’s a series of things we do before every race that are designed to give Michael a sense of building victory,” Bowman told LifeHacker.
“If you were to ask Michael what’s going on in his head before competition, he would say he’s not really thinking about anything. He’s just following the program. But that’s not right. It’s more like his habits have taken over. When the race arrives, he’s more than halfway through his plan and he’s been victorious at every step.
“All the stretches went like he planned. The warm-up laps were just like he visualized. His headphones are playing exactly what he expected. The actual race is just another step in a pattern that started earlier that day and has been nothing but victories. Winning is a natural extension.”
If you want to eliminate an unproductive habit or start a new routine, try to establish a series of small habits leading up to those bigger wins. Productivity at work isn’t something born one morning; it takes many years to develop and refine.
For example, arriving to work 15 minutes early every morning (so that you feel you already have a productive head-start), taking a regular break at 10:00 AM (so that you force yourself to get something immediately done), and doing a check-in after lunch to make sure you are on-track with your daily goals—these small habits can help you stay on track to larger productivity victories.
#2 Religiously Keep Records
Allyson Felix, eight-time world-champion sprinter, believes in the power of accountability.
“I jot all my workouts down in a training log–everything I’ve ever done,” says Felix. “I always look at the day before and try to do more. I’m always increasing my efforts.”
This technique works for weight-loss and training, as well as staying productive at work.
In our experience, working with thousands of businesses every month, employees that use time billing software to religiously record their time at work—both billed and unbilled—tend to earn higher profits.
#3 Sanya Richards-Ross’ Lucky Ritual
For Sanya Richards-Ross, the Jamaican American track and field athlete Gold Medalist, wearing a lucky charm is part of her pre-race ritual – “I always put my bullet necklace on. My mom gave it to me when I was in the 7th grade.”
Is it superstitious? Probably.
But Richards-Ross isn’t the only high-performer that believes in the power of habit. Legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz, for example, had a series of rituals designed to prevent writer’s block and to allow him to write under the stress of million-dollar deadlines.
One of his most famous rituals was setting an egg timer to exactly 33.33 minutes. He believed that this short time period was ideal for intensive work.
#4 Practice the Big Day
Like Phelps, Natalie Coughlin believes that you are more likely to perform well if you “practice what you want to achieve.” For her, this involves establishing a familiar set of rituals before each performance.
“I do the same stretching routine every morning, so on race day, it’s the same,” says Coughlin. “And I’ll do the same warm-up in the pool too. Race day becomes like any other.”
If you have a big presentation at work, try to not change your morning ritual. Stick to your usual routine so that you arrive relaxed and ready to perform.
#5 Reduce Time to Achieve More
Mike Keohane, who competed in the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, says his training involves quality exercise, not quantity. “Twenty miles a week of quality running is going to beat 35 miles of plodding, hands down,” he says.
The same goes with work. You will achieve more in a short period of time if you limit yourself to an eight or nine hour day. Even further, track those hours to make yourself accountable, ensuring every minute at work is as productive as possible.
Which habits do you have to achieve more at work? Share with us!
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