What colour is your diary?

Elite athletes perform in a challenging arena – one often characterised by intense pressure, tough competition, demanding managers, multiple priorities, and high costs of failure.

Performers in business share all these components – and in many ways is even tougher.

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The mindset adopted and habits practised in the face of that arena often differ markedly, not least in the approach taken to planning individual and collective performance. Our experience, evidenced by multiple team medals at International, World and Olympic level, is that the approach to planning taken by elite athletes is far more effective in delivering predictable performance than that followed by the majority in business.

When it comes to their diary, the mindset chosen by elite athletes is driven by recognition that performance is a choice. It’s not a question of luck, favourable conditions, or external events – more a function of focusing effort, emotion and resource on those things largely or totally under the performer’s control. That’s what occupies the mind before the diary is opened – athletes and coaches ask themselves the question “what do we need to be doing over the next days/weeks/months that will build our foundation for performance?”

They are primarily PROACTIVE, determining well in advance what their working day will look like. This approach helps them be much better at being selectively REACTIVE when they have to deal with the unexpected events that inevitably occur. Take a look at your diary entries over the next month – how much time are you planning to spend doing things where you have high degrees of control compared to others where control is low or absent?  What’s your proactive/reactive balance like? With a healthy balance between proactive and reactive working, it’s a lot easier to get the key factors of confidence and control working for you. You’re more confident because you know you’re investing your energy into all the right activities and you’re more in control because you’re not waiting for events to determine your working focus.

Contrast this much more proactive approach with the reactive, externally driven and activity focused (rather than output focused) diaries we see in so many business performers. Diary entries characterised by an external locus of control generates a sense of passiveness, helplessness, uncertainty and stress – hardly high performing ingredients.

We know that the reality of business life is that it’s often not as easy to be as single minded as the elite athlete in deciding how every second is allocated – however, the principle holds true. As much as possible there is enormous benefit to be had in planning to deliver sustained performance as opposed to consistently trying to manage reactive performance.

Look back at your diary over the last 3 months. If you were to colour-code your diary entries – say green for entries that you drove and that were focused on activities that laid a foundation of performance and red for those activities  that were handed to you, happened to you and were not planned for, what is the predominant colour?

The overall balance between green and red is critical. The more red you have, the more out of control and under pressure you’ll feel. The more green you have, the more you’re looking ahead, planning for key performance periods and allowing you to feel more like you’re on the offensive, rather than waiting to stave off the next wave of attacks coming your way.

When it comes to teams, performance diaries or calendars are even more important. More than simply the aggregate of individual team member actions, an annual or quarterly performance focused team calendar is a vital planning and prediction tool – team calendars help high performing teams see where the “pinch points” of collective pressure are, often evidenced by the colour coding approach outlined above;  a team calendar focuses the collective mindset on the behaviours required to deliver collective results and the calendar is a physical representation of the team as a single performing entity.

Having a clear roadmap of the collective challenge that lies is essential if any high performing team or individual – in business or in sport – is going to be properly equipped to perform.