Recovering Peak Performance Amid a Hurricane of Distractions

It’s human to want “the best of everything.” But people hear that phrase and they think of the material “high life” – houses, cars, fine clothes and luxury goods.

Those things are certainly nice, but they’re only tokens of appreciation for what we’d truly chase, if we understood it – the best of life. Rich relationships, a bright future, work we love and impact on the lives of others. Wealth and honor are the rewards of living at peak performance.

“Peak performance” should be an educational requirement for every entrepreneur. Personally, I think it’s one reason so many businesses fail. There are other reasons, of course. But you can’t discount the fact that some people get into the game without knowing how to perform at their best.

Let me rephrase that: I think we all get into it that way. But some of us choose to pay better attention to that reality than others, and it pays off. Some entrepreneurs are too easily distracted. They lack the desire, or (in most cases) the will, to do what is necessary to turn off the noise of the world.

“Distraction” is also a term that’s become vague. Quite frankly, you can be distracted by anything. The caricature of the smartphone is an easy target, because it’s so easy to spot. But I’ll be honest – in the evenings, I don’t do business very well. I’m distracted … not by my phone, but by being tired.

I look at my phone in the evenings because my brain needs rest. It needs someone or something else to take over the complex thinking. It’s when I’m most vulnerable to be distracted, so that’s the part of the day I write off to distraction. The rest, I keep for myself and my family. Especially the hours of peak performance.

Why The Peaks Must Become Sacred Places

As business coach Aaron Walker says, “Success lies in the ability to execute the best idea.” I’d go a step further and add, “At the right time.”

I’d stop short, however, of defining what the “right time” is, for any particular individual. For most entrepreneurs, the early mornings are peak times. But you’ll run into plenty of people with different schedules, or night owls who do their best work when the world is asleep.

What’s important is to give yourself the advantage against the endless loop of distraction. If you can hack the night shift, you have some natural momentum already. The people you live with are likely asleep. The neighborhood you live in is likely to be quiet. Electronics, television, radio and entertainment have to be switched on to interfere.

But most people are day trippers, which makes morning so essential. Immediately following a good night’s sleep, we’re at our peak when we get up early, establish our morning routine, and then settle in for our deep work.

If you’re dissatisfied with life because you’re too tired, it’s time to shuffle the deck and figure out when you’re likely to be at your best.

Once you know when those times are, you need to identify everything – and I mean everything – that could stand in the way of peak performance. Not just for your deep work as a business leader, but (more importantly) for your role as a spouse, parent and influencer in your community.

This is where any “extreme” personality readers, like me, get excited, because we like to “level the playing field” when it comes to things that crop up to distract us.

But before we call in the airstrike, let’s first identify a few targets that are completely off-limits.

1. Family

You have to establish boundaries with your family while you’re working, and vice versa. But let’s not forget that the day will come when you can no longer work liked you used to … but you’ll still have your family. Relationships transcend everything, including work.

2. Good Sense, Honor and Moral Situations

If you’re out for a run and you see your neighbor’s house on fire, you don’t casually jog past it because you’re trying to complete a certain amount of steps to meet your goal. (You’d think we wouldn’t need to cover this, but some people ask … which means some people do that.)

3. Contingencies

Pastoring a church, I’ve seen my share of other pastors preaching during the final days (or hours) of their wives’ pregnancies. When you’re on call for emergency situations involving people’s life or health, you stop what you’re doing. Even if it’s in the middle of a sermon and you haven’t made the altar call yet.

In other words, nothing you’re about to read or implement trumps the importance of people you love. Just as you wouldn’t tolerate your preschooler interrupting a sales presentation to clients, so you must not prioritize your clients if your terminally ill parent needs you at their bedside as they pass.

How to Recover Peak Performance

If you think about it, as a child, you were born with a primitive version of peak performance. You had a time of day you performed at your best. In fact, if you were well-rested, you probably had more than one of them.

You were also fully capable of resisting distractions at your peak. Did you ever have to be called multiple times by your parents? I certainly did, because nothing could tear my attention from whatever I was focused on in the moment.

But now that we’re grown, we know we can’t live on the attention span of a flea. As radio host Dave Ramsey says, “Children do what feels good in the moment; adults make plans.” You know that you can’t excel as a spouse, parent, entrepreneur or community leader by accident.

That’s what provokes the following questions. If you can answer these honestly, you’ll take a first step in the right direction toward recovering peak performance.

1. What time of day do you perform at your peak?

At the risk of repeating myself, it’s between 5am and noon for me. I function decently into the afternoons, but it’s in the morning hours that I burn intensity.

So when I want to write a module for the Foundations coaching program, what time do you think is optimal for me to do it? Probably somewhere in the 6:00 – 9:00 AM slot, before or after breakfast. (Sometimes, intermittent fasting turns it into a “magic hour,” where I don’t even get interrupted by breakfast).

What about spending time with my wife and daughters? As I mentioned earlier, I get more tired in the evenings. It’s not optimal for any man attempting to relate to an entirely female family squad. So you need a “second wind,” a source of physical replenishing. I frequently set aside 30 minutes for a “recharge nap,” particularly on days I know I have date night or evening occasions with my kids.

Life doesn’t lend itself to only performing during peak hours, but if you know when performance is expected, you can adapt to it and give yourself some rest.

2. What is your biggest daily distraction?

Even though we’re clear that the smartphone isn’t the only kind of distraction … it’s probably safe to say it’s in your top two.

But eliminate it? That seems like a bridge too far. What if someone sends a text message, or an e-mail, or a Facebook Instant Message, or a Marco Polo video, or a DM over InstaGram?

I don’t have any simple, logical answer to those questions. I can only ask you to restate what you really want, in the moment. Because, if what you truly want is the ability to respond instantly to any message you receive … you already have those conditions! You don’t need to do anything to change them. You definitely don’t need an article like this.

The same goes for any other distraction you can think of. Do you get up and wander around the house, and find yourself snacking? Then you need to go to the public library to do your work. Do you find yourself doing household chores and errands when you’re supposed to spend time with your family? Then, you need to go hiking in the woods instead.

The truth is much simpler. I’ve sent plenty of messages, and made plenty of phone calls, where I hear back from the other person when they’re ready to respond. I never get upset about it, even if they take weeks. I don’t assume people will drop everything they’re doing, because my invitation to coffee isn’t exactly the Second Coming.

You can bet, on average, the same rules will apply for you. Most everyone, including your customers, will understand if you don’t pick up the phone or answer the message right in the moment.

Of course, you should return messages and calls in a reasonable amount of time. I’m not suggesting you can keep people hanging for long periods of time without consequences.

3. How easily do you believe you’re distracted?

This is the trickiest part. Some people are “distracted easily and don’t know it.”

Would you agree, my smartphone is a business tool? I can receive communications with it, and stay productive while on-the-go. I don’t need to stay chained to my office if I don’t want to. But this assumes I’m not checking into Facebook or zoning out on YouTube videos, instead of client communications or shooting video content.

I’ve learned there are times of the day I simply need to turn the smartphone off. Not all day, but for an hour or two, so I can focus. There are times when I have to discipline myself not to check e-mail, and people I work with don’t expect to hear back from me immediately when they send a message.

With my family, I’m useless if I have my phone with me. Most people would say the opposite, but I’ve figured out, I can’t be present to them if I have it. So I leave it in the car, turn it off, leave it at home, whatever I need to do. It is an essential tool of my inner saboteur, who’s always there waiting to rob me and the people I love of peak performance.

This is what I mean when I talk about “leveling the playing field of distraction.” I have an office, so the integrity of my work isn’t compromised by normal responsibilities in my home. I have a home, so its integrity can’t be compromised by normal responsibilities of business.

And we always have a choice over what gets our attention, based on the questions we ask ourselves, and how we answer them.

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