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Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything

January 22, 2011

I found an interesting post by Tony Schwartz on the Harvard Business Review website titled “Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything” related to developing a level of performance in a complex domain.

Here are the six keys according to Schwartz:

  1. Pursue what you love. Passion is an incredible motivator. It fuels focus, resilience, and perseverance.
  2. Do the hardest work first. We all move instinctively toward pleasure and away from pain. Most great performers, Ericsson and others have found, delay gratification and take on the difficult work of practice in the mornings, before they do anything else. That’s when most of us have the most energy and the fewest distractions.
  3. Practice intensely, without interruption for short periods of no longer than 90 minutes and then take a break. Ninety minutes appears to be the maximum amount of time that we can bring the highest level of focus to any given activity. The evidence is equally strong that great performers practice no more than 4 ½ hours a day.
  4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. The simpler and more precise the feedback, the more equipped you are to make adjustments. Too much feedback, too continuously can create cognitive overload, increase anxiety, and interfere with learning.
  5. Take regular renewal breaks. Relaxing after intense effort not only provides an opportunity to rejuvenate, but also to metabolize and embed learning. It’s also during rest that the right hemisphere becomes more dominant, which can lead to creative breakthroughs.
  6. Ritualize practice. Will and discipline are wildly overrated. As the researcher Roy Baumeister has found, none of us have very much of it. The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to build rituals — specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2011 7:55 pm

    Excellent points here, Scot. To some extent it reminds me of Covey’s Seven Habits.

  2. Nick Wallen permalink
    January 23, 2011 12:24 am

    Thanks for the great points on achieving excellence.

    “Greatness is not a function of circumstance; it is clearly a matter of conscious
    choice.” -Jim Collins, Good to Great, Why some companies make the leap and others don’t.

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