How to become a high performer in anything

You might or might not want to hear this, but you definitely need to become a high performer. Here’s why, and here’s how.

Why you must become a high performer

High performer. The words can attract or repel us.

Some of us are drawn to the idea. We’re inspired and attracted to the challenge of excellence.

Others of us find the idea off-putting: daunting, unobtainable, exhausting. We have no desire to be a high-performer – and frankly suspect we’d fail if we tried.

As an example, a very good friend pushed back on me about the whole idea of ‘purposeful living‘ a while back. She said “I don’t want to become a purposeful person … I am already living the life I feel called to”. Now she’s a wonderful person; she has a great sense of calling; I admire her greatly. She’s right about appreciating the present. But there is a danger of complacency: because living purposefully is about growing in the areas that matter most.

But here’s why you absolutely need to become a high-performer.

There are some things in your life you deeply – deeply – care about. Things that requires your utmost. These might include your work or a cause that stirs your heart, but it probably includes several areas close to home too:

  • For example, relationships. There are so many failed marriages, so many broken relationships – that being a mediocre performer in the family domain suddenly doesn’t look so great.
  • Another example, parenting. There are so many kids who are unsupported, who fail to reach their potential, who are distant from their parents, that being a mediocre performer in the parenting domain suddenly doesn’t look so great.

See what I’m saying? Everyone longs to be a high performer in the areas that really count.

How you can become a high performer

So, being a high performer is about getting great results in the area you’ve focused on. Now, I’m a mathematics geek at heart, so I like formulas. Formulae, even. So here is my “Results Formula” that explains how to get better results in pretty much any domain of life.

Results = (Raw talent + Effort ) * System * Time

(If you want to remember this, think Results = (R + E) * S * T, which happens to be a helpful reminder that sustainable results need patterns of rest as much as patterns of energy!)

The point is that raw talent and effort are both important, but both are limitedWhat really determines results is the power of your system, because that is practically unlimited and has a multiplying effect on everything else. And your system can become self-learning, meaning that a good system gets better over time leading to exponentially good results!

Just in case my mathematics is confusing rather than clarifying things, let’s take some examples:

  • A mediocre company will hire staff and wonder why some perform well and others less well. A high-performing company will learn the factors that its top performers use and implement those approaches systematically.
  • A clever but lazy student might coast and get an B grade, as might a mediocre but devoted student. But a mediocre student with a brilliant revision system might well ace the exam with an A.

Entrepreneur Ramit Sethi discovered the power of systems when his parents told him they didn’t have the money to pay his college tuition. He developed an organisational system to apply for 60 scholarships and secured more than $200,000 of funding, which he used to go to Stanford.

I’m a natural designer of these kind of systems, and looking back I realise this has been of immense importance to me. At university, my revision system allowed me finish #3 in my entire year whilst still maintaining my social life! At work, the systems I developed to sell and execute projects helped me secure a fast promotion trajectory. And when I had my moments of stalling in life, it was because I had neglected to adapt my systems to the changing context.

3 steps to raise the B.A.R. on your performance

So what should you do if you want to become a top performer in a particular area? It’s time to raise the B.A.R.: Become clear, Assess, Refine.

1. Become clear – about your current system

All this talk about systems might sound a little strange. Some of your might be pushing back at “corporate” speak and insisting it doesn’t apply to the situation you are focused on: your home, your calling, whatever.

You already have a system for the area in question. It may just be implicit, unintentional or ineffective! Perhaps your parenting system is “get home tired at 9pm Monday to Friday, give the kids a goodnight kiss, then play sports with them at the weekend”. Perhaps your marriage system is “watch TV with my spouse every night and go for a meal every Valentine’s day”.

Ok, these are crass examples but you get the point. We have our routines, which are giving us the results we are currently getting. First step is to understand the system you are currently employing.

2. Assess – the results

The second step is to observe the results in the desired area. Are the results looking like those of a high, medium or low performer? Are you satisfied with them? What might better results look like?

3. Refine – for sustained improvement

The final and most important step is to close the loop and tune the system. Make a change and observe how your results start to evolve.

It’s when we regularly tune the system that we move on the path to high performance. After Ramit Sethi’s first scholarship applications were turned down, he realised he needed to tune his system. So he videoed himself practicing interviews and discovered he wasn’t smiling enough. From then on, he smiled — and started winning!

At the start, refining your system might involve considerable work. If you’ve drifted into your current system, it might need massive overhaul! You’ll need to decide if you can go for the nuclear option and design a brand new system, or whether an incremental approach will work better for you.

Don’t forget that raising the B.A.R. is a continuous cycle. Just look at top performers in any domain:

  • Olympic athletes don’t find one training system and stick to it for ever; they refine and adopt to find better results.
  • Top sales performers don’t remain content with the approaches that worked 5 years ago; they look to incorporate new insights and tactics.
  • Happily married couples don’t stay with the habits and attitudes that worked when they first met.

A word of warning. Refining the system is an investment. It often doesn’t generate instant results, but rather it lays the foundations for better and better results over time.

Here’s a trivial example of investing in the system. I always spend time customising the options and learning the shortcuts for the key software I use. To start with, it takes longer than muddling through with the default settings … and my upfront work is seen by others as something they “don’t have time for”. But later, when I am completing routine actions in a fraction of the time of my colleagues, the payoff becomes very clear.

Over to you

Time for your investment of time in this blog post to pay off. So…

What is the area in life and work when you need to improve your performance? What is the adjustment you need to make to the system you are currently applying?

Decide one concrete thing, then go do it. Become a high performer!

What else does it take to be a top performer? Leave your thought below!

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