“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”
Alexander Graham Bell
I’m a sports nerd. I love watching athletes execute, especially under pressure. Whether it’s the Packers executing a crucial play in the Super Bowl or an individual doing something magical (Did you see Wayne Rooney’s bicycle kick – 78th minute to win 2-1). Jordan hitting unconscious shots in key moments, or Tiger Woods draining a 20 foot putt on one leg at the 2008 US Open to send it to a playoff. I’m always intrigued about what they’re thinking at this time. Does time stand still? Have they visualized this same play or putt? How many times have they practiced this same shot? When you break it down, it’s simply extreme preparation in action. These athletes aren’t renting their skills. They own them. A lot of times they make it look effortless. I watched Tiger Woods hit balls for about an hour after his round at the Memorial a couple of years ago. He was the only one left on the driving range. It was about 7pm. You think he takes the time to prepare?
IT’S ALL ABOUT EXECUTING WHEN IT MATTERS
I love watching a guy like Peyton Manning look at the defense and adjust plays at the line. Talk about practicing situational awareness and performing in the zone. The players are great to watch, but so are the coaches. Have you ever watched an NFL or college football game and see what the coaches have? Typically a laminated sheet that has all of their plays/schemes, etc – It’s one sheet typically. All they’ve prepared for the week or even the season is summarized on this one sheet. They’re constantly looking at this sheet. Watching the game, analyzing, thinking, but then going back to their sheet and deciding what the best play right now is….it’s a great lesson on simplifying and providing structure to what you’re doing. It’s like an action list….everything’s in front of you….you know what calls you need to make are and if you’re near a phone and have time, you just look at the list and start cranking away. They have specific plays for 3rd and short or 2nd and long. They make a decision based on what’s going on in the game and what’s going to deliver the best result…again, at this moment.
Is it best to brainstorm that project you’ve been thinking about…or, is it best, to tick off some of those annoying bills you have to pay. You be the judge. You need to analyze the situation – your energy level, what’s pressing, your time.
When you’ve prepared like this and you have the full landscape in front of you, you enter what I like to call the Focus Zone…you’re in it, you’re in the game. And, you need to trust that you’re making the best decision at that moment. Will it always be the right one? Maybe not, but for the information you have and the environment you’re in, at least you’re making the most informed decision.
Some habits we can model after world-class athletes:
- Go into each day with a plan – Start with planning out your first set of plays before you start. Do this either at the end of the day (for tomorrow) or first thing in the morning. Begin with identifying the tasks or things I have to complete today (my hard landscape) and then a list of what I’d like to accomplish. If need be, create one list for work stuff and one for personal. Just doing this will allow you to focus at the start of your day and to execute on your plan first thing. You will see your stress subside and will feel a sense of accomplishment by executing here. I guarantee the best athletes and coaches have a plan each day.
- Simplify your reference guide – Can you get it to one page? If you engage in GTD (Getting Things Done by David Allen), this would be your next action lists. Personally, I like to create a hot list of items and put these on one page (key calls, @computer tasks, etc). A great read on this is First Things First by Stephan Covey. Check it out. Look at a football coach next time you watch a game (I know, football season’s over so you’ll have to wait a while). One sheet typically – that’s focus!
- Become a master at situational awareness – Be ready to adapt, while staying true to your plan as much as possible. Plan on getting a curve ball everyday. It’s inevitable. If you need to adapt, do it.
- Keep your offense on the field – Be proactive more than reactive. As much as possible, focus on the important stuff. I view email as a pretty reactive system. Most emails can be deleted or filed. I’d guess that only about 30% are actionable and of those, I bet 10% have key information needed to execute on your key tasks/desired outcomes. Give yourself certain times to batch process emails. If you have to scan every once in a while, do it. Even if it’s once an hour or half hour at first – try it. Set an alarm if you have to and DON’T cheat. You will see your productivity jump significantly by executing on this one habit.
What do you do to execute your game plan? I’d love to hear your comments. In this day and age of many choices on what we do every minute, it’s crucial to follow a plan and focus on the key stuff that truly matters.
Some additional reading on this topic:
From Illuminated Mind by Jonathan Mead – Four Things in Business You Always Need to Be Thinking About
From Zen Habits by Leo Babauta – The Magical Power of Focus
From Reading for your Success by Scott Dinsmore – 11 Steps to Insane Focus – Do More of What Matters
If you’ve received some inspiration from this post, I’d be delighted if you passed this on to at least one person that could benefit from it. You can email this from the “share” link below. Don’t forget to sign up to receive emails when I post (about once a week) or RSS. You can connect with me on Twitter and Facebook as well.
All the Best,