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Emma Sue Prince



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Giving 100%


Lately I’ve been thinking about our potential as humans beings to give 100% to what we do. Tom Peters asks: “If not excellence, what? What else should you be doing with your time, your life?” He agrees with Thomas Watson, Sr., the talented early leader of IBM, that you should make a personal commitment never again to do anything that is not excellent. But how do we go about doing this? Every day there are numerous obstacles to pursuing excellence – at the very least these range from distractions to multiple demands to how we’ve planned our time. And does he mean excellent at everything? Everything? Yes, I believe he does. The key is the word pursuit. This is where 100% comes in. If we pursue excellence in everything we do then maybe we have half the chance to actually be excellent. It’s a mindset, an attitude. I listened to another interview with Tom Peters the other day where he was talking about fly fishing as a discipline to be mastered and likened this with studying and mastering the art of listening and making it a strategic competence. Study and mastery requires consistent and focused attention. It’s not even about trying your best either – consider this sentence: “you tried your best” which usually means “you weren’t great but it’s ok” and actually means that failure was perhaps expected. And now this sentence: “you gave the best of yourself” which, to me, means consistent application of effort resulting in excellence.

Michael Goldhaber, writing in Wired, said, “If there is nothing very special about your work, no matter how hard you apply yourself you won’t get noticed, and that increasingly means you won’t get paid much either. In times past you could be obscure yet secure—now that’s much harder.” So here’s a very real reason to give 100% because that is what will give you distinction.

Unfortunately, we seem to have sunk into a culture of “excuse making”. These days it’s perfectly acceptable to do any one of the following: be late for appointments and meetings or cancel them at short notice, claim lack of skill or knowledge, shift blame or question the validity of something. Yet the majority of all of these are actually within our control to be completely accountable for. Yes, those obstacles I mentioned earlier? They are something you can manage.

Here, are six keys to achieving excellence and giving 100% – whether that’s baking a cake, giving a presentation, writing a report or even fly fishing.

  1. Pursue what you love.  Passion is an incredible motivator. It feeds into focus, resilience, and perseverance. So if you don’t love what you do, ask yourself why you’re doing it in the first place.
  2. Do the hardest work first. We all move instinctively toward pleasure and away from pain. That’s our tendency towards what’s known as delayed gratification. A tennis player like Andy Murray takes on the difficult work of practice in the mornings, before doing anything else. And at work, that’s when you probably have the most energy and hopefully the fewest distractions.
  3. Work intensely, without interruption for short periods. 90 minutes appears to be the maximum amount of time that we can bring the highest level of focus to any given activity.  So you can do this with any task you are facing whether that’s rehearsing for a performance, starting a new work project or running a meeting. It’s also a great way of managing your time.
  4. Seek expert feedback. The simpler and more precise the feedback, the more equipped you are to make adjustments and improve. Too much feedback, too continuously can create cognitive overload, increase anxiety, and interfere with the pursuit of excellence.
  5. Take regular breaks and look after yourself. Pursuing excellence and giving 100% doesn’t mean working non-stop all the time. There has to be balance and rest which enable us to not only embed learning but allow the right brain hemisphere to become more dominant, which can lead to creative breakthroughs, helpful for excellence.
  6. Practice and use your will power! Will and discipline are hugely overrated. Roy Baumeister in Willpower says that none of really have much of it, yet we underestimate the strength of it. Build up its strength, the authors suggest, with small but regular exercises, like tidiness and good posture – small things lead to excellence.

So, do it – this week give it 100%.

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Emma Sue Prince


Read more from Emma Sue Prince

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