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Priority Management

Work Cycle Your Way to Success

Work Cycle Your Way to Success

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page


1. Like elite athletes, too much work without sufficient rest leads to decreased energy, compromised health, and impaired performance (otherwise known as a "burnout"). 

2. “Work Cycling” is a structured approach to living and working that embeds sufficient recovery into your schedule.

3. If you give yourself enough rest in between hard working bouts, and if you take care of your physical and mental health through proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise, you can consistently perform at a higher level.

The prevailing mindset in high performance training in the 70s, 80s, and 90s was for athletes to do as much training as possible, as hard as possible, for as long as possible. The survivors would end up champions and everyone else was training fodder.

Where this approach failed was that it led athletes to consistently train at about 75-85% of their capacity. There is no way to hit 100% or real race-pace in practice if you are always pushing. You just can’t sustain or attain that level of performance. As a result, many athletes never truly prepared their bodies and minds for competition-level performance.

The overall effect of not getting enough rest and recovery is a slow downward trajectory of energy, performance and health. It can happen over a day, a week, a month, a year or a lifetime. In sports, it’s called “downward spiral over-training.” Outside sports, it is often called burnout. And it’s a huge issue.

Then, in the early 2000s, a new training philosophy emerged that was based on creating world-class performances as often as possible. The key focus was on training intensely (85-100% of capacity) followed by a period of training at 50-60% of capacity to ensure proper rest and recovery. The result has been better, faster performances and, interestingly, healthier and happier athletes.

When I was translating my experiences with Olympians into a model for succeeding in life, I developed something called “Work Cycling” – a structured approach to living and working that embeds sufficient recovery into your schedule.

Borrowed from the best thinking in high-performance athletic training, the premise of Work Cycling is that by laying out how you spend your time at work and being deliberate about taking breaks, you can consistently perform at a higher level.

Research shows that performance declines over time as tasks, meetings, reports, exams or workouts drain your resources and tax your system. In particular, it’s important to have enough time between bouts of stress to bounce back. For example, your performance will suffer if you don’t have time to eat well, take mental breaks and get enough sleep so you can regenerate and integrate what you have learned.

Techniques like Work Cycling and single tasking are designed to ensure that you optimize your performance. Go hard – at peak capacity – when you need to and take it easy when you can. And always make sure you mix it up. That’s the key to a consistent world-class performance.

Make the decision that taking care of yourself is an essential part of fulfilling your various responsibilities and you will never look back. It’s how every high-performing person I know attacks their life. And once you try it, you will see why it is so effective.  

Recovery is an integral part of a high-performance life. Take it seriously and you will be on your way to your dreams. Taking time to rejuvenate isn’t about slacking off from your goals. It’s about doing what is needed to achieve them.

Today's POWER-UP: Try these Work Cycling techniques to optimize your performance.

Move regularly: Your brain uses glucose for fuel but it has very little stored energy to call on, so you have to make sure that you are creating sufficient blood flow for a steady stream of energy to the areas of your brain that do the thinking. How? Get up and move at regular intervals. I recommend 15 minutes of walking or stretching three times a day and 20 seconds of stretching for every 20 minutes of sitting.

Chunk your day: I try to set up my day like this: a 90-minute block of intense work followed by 15 minutes of movement and a 15-minute break to re-energize and eat something healthy. Repeat. This gives me 4 or 5 blocks of great work over 8-10 hours. I finish the day with enough energy to go home and play with my kids for a while before we settle down for the night, and I haven’t been grinding through a sugar and caffeine haze that has left me tired and unproductive.

The 1:3:2 Rule: To ensure proper recovery and regeneration, disconnect from your life – including unplugging from all forms of technology – for an hour a day, three days each month, and two complete weeks each year. Do things that make you happy and give you energy like yoga, exercise or time with your family – entirely without screens. Take a monthly weekend ‘retreat’ from email, work, and chores. Set up a yearly vacation of two consecutive weeks doing whatever version of ‘nothing’ fills you up. 

Are You Single Tasking Yet?

Are You Single Tasking Yet?

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page


1. We need to change the mentality that multitasking is effective and efficient, and switch to single tasking.

2. Single tasking is starting with the most important task (remember priority management) and working on it exclusively until it is either complete or you are out of time. Then move on to the next task.

3. By managing how you spend your mental energy, you're setting yourself up for success.

What are you doing while you read this? Do you have your mobile phone, a desk phone, a tablet and a laptop all on the go at once? Probably. We all tend to. After all, multitasking is the sign of a highly effective and efficient mind – right?

Wrong. And it’s time for a reminder about a topic we covered earlier in the program: single tasking.

Doing several things at once might make it seem like you are working hard but it’s actually an illusion. Your body and mind are not designed to work that way. Switching from task to task reduces your proficiency. Why? Because of how blood flows in our brains.

It’s like a firefighter trying to put out multiple fires at once by spraying water from a hose quickly across several burning houses rather than extinguishing one blaze and then moving on to the next.


New research from the UK shows that when workers are distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages, they suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana! Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King’s College, London University, conducted 80 clinical trials where he monitored the IQ of workers throughout the day. He found that multi-tasking could decrease IQ by an average of 10 points (15 for men and five for women – and, yes, that is evidence that women rule the world!). This is the equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep!

The concept behind single tasking is that you start with the most important – not urgent – task and work on it exclusively until it is either complete or you are out of time. Then you move on to whatever is next. By managing how you spend your mental energy, you ensure that you excel at whatever you do. I recommend avoiding email first thing in the morning so that you don’t get derailed by something urgent but not important. I also suggest checking messages at two or three specific times of the day and doing nothing but messages for that period of time. 

The myth of multitasking is deeply embedded in our mindset, so you might find it hard to change the way you work. But if you do, you will be putting the science to work.

Today's POWER-UP: Set aside time to single task

Set aside a 90 minute block of time each day when you have time to completely focus and really drill down into a task that you have to accomplish – writing a report, analyzing some data, preparing a speech, or whatever is the highest priority on your list.

During that time, turn off your phone or put it on silent and disconnect from the Internet. Be completely focused on that one task with no distractions. Build this into your schedule and add it to your calendar so you can defend this critical time for your highest priorities.

The Myth of Multitasking

The Myth of Multitasking

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page


1. Multitasking is common practice in today's world, however it goes against how our brains work. 

2. When we think, problem solve, or create memories, the brain needs oxygen and nutrients to work. This “fuel” is provided by blood flow to whatever part of the brain is working on the specific task. 

3. If we try to multitask, we end up shifting the blood flow between locations and never giving the brain what it needs to get a single job done properly.

4. Make it a daily routine to carve out an hour each day to focus completely on your most important work.

As we discussed in the Mindfulness module, we live in the age of distraction. The problem is that distraction and multitasking go against how our brains work. 

A functional magnetic resonance imaging scan of the human brain. We can't activate all our brain at once, and the more effectively we can focus our attention, the more efficiently and powerfully our brains can work.

A functional magnetic resonance imaging scan of the human brain. We can't activate all our brain at once, and the more effectively we can focus our attention, the more efficiently and powerfully our brains can work.

Here’s why you can no more multitask than fly to the moon:

The nerves that make up the brain have very little stored energy. When we think, problem solve or create memories, the brain needs oxygen, glucose and nutrients to work. This “fuel” is provided by blood flow to whatever part of the brain is working on the specific task. But blood flow to the brain is limited and can only be delivered to a few small areas at once. If we activate different parts of our brain by trying to multitask, we end up shifting the blood flow between locations and never giving the brain what it needs to get a single job done properly.

Yet people try to multitask all time. And when I ask people to carve out an hour each day to focus completely on their most important work, they look back with panicked stares. But world-class performers in all disciplines make this a key part of their daily routines. And that’s how they stay in their Zones.

As mentioned earlier in the Program, leadership guru Robin Sharma recommends the 90/90 formula. For 90 days, spend 90 minutes on your passion project. If you do that I promise that you will see a massive change for the better in your life.

Today's POWER-UP: Read up on the daily routines of geniuses

Here are 3 amazing articles for you that dive deeper into the routines of geniuses and how to start your day for success:

Daily Routines of Geniuses

How to Spend the First 10 Minutes of Your Day

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Use Your Circadian Rhythms To Build Your Ultimate Day

Use Your Circadian Rhythms To Build Your Ultimate Day

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page


1. We naturally have a circadian rhythm, an internal biological clock that regulates sleep, eating patterns, mood, hormone regulation, and everything your body does during the day.

2. Because of this internal clock, there are times when we feel more awake, have a spike in energy, or are able to concentrate better. Alternatively, there are times when we feel more sleepy or lethargic. 

3. Think about how you feel at different points in the day and then align your schedule to take advantage of the peak times. For example, maybe you get your most creative work done early in the morning. Or maybe you prefer to exercise in the morning because that's when you have the most energy.

4. Take advantage of your circadian rhythm to optimize your health and performance, and build your ultimate day.

Humans are innately aware of the rhythms of the day, month and year. We are awake during the day and asleep at night. We experience times when we’re more or less alert, hungry, energetic or fatigued. Often, these feelings are influenced by our circadian rhythms – the natural changes in our body’s internal chemistry. Once aware of these natural rhythms, we can take advantage of them to improve health and performance.

Our circadian rhythms are controlled by a structure in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is located in the hypothalamus. The SCN is the pacemaker, and it is so powerful that it can control your behaviour and even your genes. For example, it controls the release of melatonin (the hormone that regulates your wakefulness and sleep) and also cortisol (the primary stress hormone).

If you pay attention to your own bodily rhythms for a while, you can start to plan based on them. Ask questions like this: When are you at your best mentally? When do you have trouble concentrating? When do you feel most energetic or lethargic? When are you most likely to want to do some exercise? Then make a plan for your living and working that takes those patterns into account.

Also, keep in mind that your body loves consistency. Back in the sleep module, we learned that going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day is good for your brain, body and emotional state. Consistent times allow your hormones and other chemical-producing organs to get into a groove. If you change that pattern, it takes time for your body to adapt. That’s what happens when you fly across time zones and get jet lagged. Changing your sleep-and-wake pattern changes your body’s circadian rhythms and gives you micro jet lags every day. You feel awful and your performance drops.

So I’d like you to defend the last hour of your day so that you can fall asleep quickly and deeply. Set up a routine that allows you to decompress and relax. Many of my clients who have trouble staying asleep are the ones who work late in the evening right before they collapse into bed. You can avoid this by finding a calming activity you love and doing it before bed.

At the other end of the day, think about when you get up and what you do first thing. Leadership Guru Robin Sharma swears by “The 5 a.m. Club.” Waking up early lets you get a head start on the day. You won’t be bothered by emails or messages. The world is quiet. There’s less traffic if you’re going to the gym. You can run on empty roads. You can read a book in peace. You can meditate or do yoga. But most of all, you can get to the important things you need to do for you. And nothing will get in your way.

Also try to program your day so that you are doing your most important tasks at the time of day when you naturally have the most energy. I workout first thing in the morning on waking. Then I do Power Work for 4.5 hours (3 x 90 min). That's my best time of day. I put less important tasks like admin, checking email into my afternoon when I have less energy.

Today's POWER-UP: Use your circadian rhythms

Think about how you feel at different points in the day and then align your work tasks and schedule to take advantage of the peak times. Also control the beginning and end of each day to keep your high-performance rhythms consistent.

To help you figure this out, you can complete section 4 and 5 of your Priority Management Workbook

Dive Deeper: Your Brain's Ideal Schedule

Check out this article in Harvard Business Review by Ron Friedman, Ph.D., author of The Best Place to Work, on how to structure your day to get the most done.

The Awesome Day

The Awesome Day

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page


1. Switching to priority management isn't hard, but it takes discipline to execute. 

2. The first step is to make a list of your priorities. By figuring out what's important versus what's urgent, you can figure out how to pursue and complete your dreams. 

After 7.5 hours of sleep, a woman wakes five minutes before her 5:30 a.m. alarm. She takes a few deep breaths, stretches, sits up in bed and says an affirmation: “This is going to be a great day!”

She heads down to the living room for 15 minutes of power yoga. Body active and mind calm, she then makes a morning smoothie of almond milk, berries, vegetarian protein powder and coconut, with extra to take in a thermos. She drinks some hot water and lemon and fills a second thermos.

After showering and dressing, she and her husband put together healthy lunches for herself and the family with organic tofu and tempeh, loads of vegetables, and nuts and berries for snacks. She kisses her family goodbye and heads to work at 7:15 am.

In the car on the way to work, she listens to a podcast from one of her favorite thought leaders. She drinks her water and lemon to rehydrate after her morning yoga workout.

At her desk by 8 a.m., she replenishes her nutrients by sipping on the rest of her smoothie as she prepares for the most important task she has to do today – her presentation. She is clear headed and notices how tired and frazzled everyone looks as they race into the office.

Having worked for 90 minutes on her most important task and feeling well prepared for this presentation, she takes 20 minutes to clear her email inbox. She then plans the afternoon to make sure it is organized based on priority of tasks.

At 10:30 a.m., she goes for a brisk 15-minute walk, drinks the rest of her water and picks up an espresso. She reviews her presentation as she sips her caffeine shot and then delivers it with energy and confidence.

Before heading out to lunch, she eats the berries and nuts she brought with her. At lunch, she drinks water, skips the bread, and enjoys a large mixed vegetable salad with a double order of organic salmon. She finishes with a green tea.

After lunch, she goes for a quick 10-minute walk and then takes the stairs to her office. Brain supercharged on neurotransmitters generated by the protein she ate at lunch and the quick bout of exercise, she attacks her prioritized task list before heading home.

In the car, she listens to a great concert and takes a few deep breaths to let the day go. At home, she engages with her kids and husband. After dinner, homework and getting the kids to bed, she and her husband read for a bit before turning off the light at 10 p.m. They quickly fall deeply asleep.

Does this sound like a different approach to work? It’s not hard, but it takes discipline to execute. She has energy. She’s getting healthier every day. Yesterday’s exhausted guy thinks he’s working super hard when in fact he’s spinning his wheels. He’ll be the one draining the company benefits plan with medical problems. He’ll be the one whose kids one day wonder where their dad was as they were growing up. You don’t have to live like that.

We need to work and live differently. I want to help you create a high performance, health improving, energy creating, and happiness enhancing day. Remember the 1% gains principle. Try to be 1% better each day. In three months, you’ll be 100% better and in a year you’ll be 365% better!

Today's POWER-UP: You can design your day

We’re working on what’s important versus what’s urgent, so we can figure out how to pursue and complete our dreams. Sorting priorities is a huge part of what’s needed to get there.

In your workbook, complete Steps #2 and #3. Completing this work will help you to see what’s most important to you and how you see yourself in those roles.

Enjoy yourself as you complete the steps! Think about who you are now and what you want to change. Appreciate all that you do, and reflect on where you are headed.

Remember to be clear about your priorities so you can act on them.

Welcome to Priority Management!

Welcome to Priority Management!

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page


1. In today's society, we think we need to work harder, put in more hours, and get less sleep to be successful. However, this is leading to us to become sick, die from lifestyle-related diseases, and be unhappy. 

2. The key is to switch from doing time management to priority management. Instead of focusing on urgent activities that are usually associated with achieving someone else's goals (such as responding to emails), we need to focus on activities that are important to us and lead us to achieving our goals (such as setting aside time every day to be creative). 

A young man is woken by his alarm at 7:00 a.m. Dazed, he crawls out of bed and stumbles to the bathroom. A shower and shave later, he goes downstairs to the kitchen and preps his breakfast of cereal, juice and coffee. Fired up on simple carbs and caffeine, he heads off to work.

Before arriving at the office, he stops to pick up another coffee and a muffin to eat at his desk. Once there, he checks his email and sees a barrage of requests. It’s 9 a.m. and he has a critical presentation to deliver at 11 a.m. His heart rate is up and his cortisol is flowing as he attacks his emails to clear the backlog. At 10:30 a.m., he finally gets to preparing his presentation for a few minutes before racing out to deliver it.

Afterwards, he heads out to lunch and has some bread before the main course of pasta with chicken in a cream sauce, then finishes with a cappuccino. The whole time, he checks his mobile device every five minutes for messages.

Fuelled by caffeine, he manages to hammer through the next three hours. Because his brain can’t focus deeply, he works through a torrent of minor issues. He’s busy but isn’t able to work creatively on the important new initiative his boss asked him to prep.

Once home, his kids are super excited to see him but all he wants is to sit on the couch and watch some TV, which he does while eating dinner in silence next to his wife. Hours later, he collapses in bed, exhausted and spent, but can’t fall asleep. He’s already thinking about how much work he has to do tomorrow.

Does that sound completely screwed up? Or like a typical day? The stats say that this is how most people live. As Tony Schwartz from The Energy Project puts it, “The way we’re working isn’t working.”

We think we need to work harder and put in more hours. We think that the answer to the insanely competitive marketplace is to go longer. We take pride in how little we’re sleeping. And we’re all getting sick. We’re unhappy. We’re dying. It does not have to be this way. We can perform better.

The key is to stop doing time management.

Tomorrow, let’s try another approach to this day. Welcome to Priority Management.

Today's POWER-UP: Remember that more isn’t better – better is better.

Achieving your dreams means knowing the difference between “important” and “urgent,” because that allows you to set the right priorities and allocate your time and resources well.

Here’s the difference:

•    Important activities have an outcome that leads to us achieving our goals, whether these are professional or personal.

•    Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with achieving someone else's goals. They are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.

Right now, our focus is on priority management, so you can be clear about what really matters to you and what to do about it. Here’s today’s task:

1) You have a workbook attached to this note. You can download and print it. 

2) Complete Step #1 in the workbook. You’ll see the instructions on it.

The idea for today is to see your life laid out and reflect on what you see.

Tomorrow, we’ll keep building the momentum to understand and plan for your priorities.