In American football, there’s something called the “Red Zone.” It’s the part of the field inside the twenty yard line, and performance (both offensively and defensively) inside this area is one of the key determining factors of a team’s success or failure.
Teams that easily advance the ball down the field but can’t score in the Red Zone will lose football games. Similarly, teams that play great open field defense but can’t prevent scores in the Red Zone will lose. Performance within this very small sliver of the field often determines overall success or failure for a team.
A Red Zone of Success
A similar principle applies to life, work and productivity. There are certain activities that will determine success or failure, depending on how well and how consistently they are performed. It’s important to identify these Red Zone activities in life–the ones that will most affect your success or failure–and execute them flawlessly every time.
For example, here are some of my Red Zone activities.
If I am not constantly filling my brain with new thoughts, I’ve noticed that I start to wither and die. Regardless of how busy I am or how much demand is on my attention, I know that neglecting study will soon reap a dearth of new ideas and an overall lack of passion for my work. It doesn’t always feel like the most productive thing in the moment, but I know that it’s essential and that I must do it well and consistently.
I must constantly be building time into my schedule to generate ideas. I’m not an “a-ha!” in the shower kind of guy. Most of my great ideas come in the midst of purposeful ideation. When I don’t have these times structured into my life, everything else seems to become more difficult. I need to put these times on my calendar and execute them well each time.
I write a lot, but I’ve realized that if I don’t get at least a thousand words in each day, I tend to lost my momentum. The simple practice emptying my brain of new thoughts ensures that they don’t clog up the works. I’ve found that my writing endurance in on-demand situations is connected directly to this principle of forcing myself to write even when I don’t feel like it.
I need to protect the first part of my day and the window of time right after work for my family. I am not always great at this, but it’s something I’m aspiring to improve because I realize that the biggest impact I have on my family happens during these two windows of time.
As a result, I have tried to build “buffers” between work and family time so that I’m not rushing home, spending ten minutes in the driveway finishing a phone call, then storming into the house with a hundred things on my mind. When I am out of rhythm with the family, I am out of rhythm with everything.
None of the items on my list would traditionally be considered “highly productive” activities, yet they are critical because they increase my effectiveness when I’m engaging in my most important work. I’ve learned that it’s necessary to develop an effectiveness mindset, rather than one based on efficiency, in order to produce consistently over the long-term.
We need to identify the important practices that make us effective rather than relying on flash and show. It’s the linemen–the grunt workers–that provide the foundation for success in football. And it’s our willingness to stay disciplined about our effective (grunt work) practices that will provide the foundation for our everyday engagement.
These are just a few of my Red Zone activities. I’d love to hear about yours!