The European sporting summer is a chance for the planet’s best athletes to do their thing. Whether that’s grinding their way up the Alps in the Tour de France, fizzing a low backhand slice on the grass at Wimbledon, or stepping up at Wembley to take a penalty in the Euros, careers and reputations are tested, and heroes are born. Those competitors who can get ‘in the zone’ and stay there long enough, like Aussie tennis star Ash Barty, or Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, can realise their dreams and be crowned champions.
But what about the rest of us? The mere mortals whose vocations are a little less glamorous and whose names are less well-known to the average Jo(e). As it turns out, we too can achieve great things when we get ‘in the zone’. But what does it take to thrive when your moment of truth arrives?
Back at 3rdView
The 12 months from Easter 2020 to Easter 2021 were relatively quiet for 3rdView as many businesses adjusted to the pandemic ‘normal’. Last quarter though we found ourselves in a busy period with new and exciting projects. I remember MC (my colleague at 3rdView) and I discussing how to ensure we were ‘match fit’ for the level of intensity coming our way.
For me personally it was a period of strategic conversations, fascinating research projects, and demanding, multi and mixed site facilitations. Every day had critical moments, expectant participants and required outcomes.
So how did I respond, and what did I learn about how to get ‘in the zone’ and thrive?
Top 5 Insights
Reflecting on last quarter after a much-needed break, here are the 5 things that resonated for me personally…
- Embrace it – this is what you trained for!
- Keep moving – pause briefly to enjoy the wins / take what you can from the losses, then move on
- Share it with your team(s) – you can’t do it alone and the rewards are better shared with those around you
- Adjust, but don’t stop being you – your usual approach may not hold up in such demanding times, so what goes and what stays?
- Nothing lasts forever – make sure the end is in sight and finish strong!
Let me elaborate…
While we may not be trying to win Olympic Gold, or the World Cup, periods like this are life-affirming and career-defining. These are the times where reputations and built and memories are made. As a consultant these are the times when the work you do can generate repeat business for years, maybe decades. My tips to ‘embrace it’ are
- Smile and enjoy it
- Keep your self-talk positive – you’ve got this!
- Stick with it to find out what you’re really capable of
The very nature of being ‘in the zone’ as a consultant is that the opportunities keep coming. You might submit a huge proposal one evening, be facilitating the next morning and then presenting that afternoon. Emotionally you need to acknowledge the small victories along the way, and learn from the situations that don’t go well, but only pause long enough to recognise them, and the people who helped you achieve them. My tips to ‘keep moving’ are
- Stop briefly along the way to enjoy the small victories and to thank those who helped you achieve them, then reset and move on to the next thing
- Create feedback loops and stay open to what you hear – this is a rich time of learning
- Take 5 to complete an ‘on the fly’ review – what went well, what could’ve made it even better – circle back to these when things settle down
Share it with your team
You can’t be a star performer without the support of a great team around you. In my case I have 3 teams that I lean on when I’m ’in the zone’…
- My family, affectionately known as ‘Team Hassall’ – when I have intense periods like this, I let them know and I call in whatever favours I can to free up time and stay focused. Be sure to return the favour once things settle down.
- My work colleagues – like any small business, at 3rdView it’s essentially ‘all hands on deck’ when things get busy. The great thing is we’ve all chosen to be here, we love what we do, and my colleagues at 3rdView know how to pull off the odd miracle for clients when the pressure is on – thanks guys!
- My friends and network – even when you’re really busy, checking in with people who exude positive energy, and who genuinely ‘have your back’ can help you keep going. A quick vent or pep talk can be just the tonic to go again.
My tips for ‘sharing it’ are
- Dedicate your successes to those who helped you, either along your career journey or on a particular job
- Deflect the gratitude towards others; they’ll get a buzz out of it and so will you
- Being gracious will encourage people to be there for you again next time when there’s more magic required
Adjust, but don’t stop being you
Being you is what got you where you are today. In my case its why clients seek me out to do the work in the first place. When you’re ‘in the zone’ and ‘under the pump’ you can’t always operate as you normally would. Some things have to change, while others are non-negotiable. So how do you decide what to adjust? Here’s where I landed…
Things I adjust
- Perfectionism has to go – Back yourself with best first endeavours, then seek feedback and iterate
- So does procrastination – Get over it and do the next thing on your list!
- Accept the extra workload – I’m OK to do extra hours when required; I enjoy staying late at the office by myself (with some tunes) to knock off a critical task
- Delegate – on all fronts this is a great time to lean on others to reduce your other commitments
Things that stay
- Proactively managing client expectations – this is even more critical during busy times
- Ensuring I design critical tasks at least a week before I need to deliver them, so I can keep solving them in my subconscious and be ready to go on the day
- Reduce but don’t stop… some key minimums…
- Exercise and fresh air every day, even if it’s only walking the dog for 15 mins at 5:30am
- 7 hours sleep
- 1 day a week with no work (usually Saturday for me)
I find that if I can stick to these I can stay ‘in the zone’ for a few months at least.
Nothing Last Forever
To be a Grand Slam tennis champion you need to win 7 matches in 2 weeks. Even if you stay ‘in the zone’ all the way until the final, you know when it will end. In our working lives finding the end of an intense period is not that simple.
The most valuable thing I did to help me during this run was booking a week off at the first opportunity where I could afford to step out. MC suggested it when she realised how much things we cranking up, knowing it had already been a few months since my last break. My tips for ensuring you ‘find the end’ are
- Book a break for a period when you can afford some time to really switch off
- Use it as a motivator to complete the work prior
- Make it non-negotiable and let those around you know that it’s happening
I’d like to think that everyone has the opportunity to spend time ‘in the zone’ in one or more aspects of their life. And while everyone responds differently to pressure, I hope some of my reflections help you to embrace and enjoy it when it happens.
I’d love to hear your experiences ‘in the zone’ and what advice you would give others to make the most of it.