Three Ways to Avoid a Wipeout

Posted 02.01.2016

In 15 years of coaching, I’ve worked with a lot of high-performing executives. When things go well, they run like a finely tuned Formula 1 race car. But life and humans being what they are, I’ve witnessed the occasional wipeout where, in spite of best efforts and intentions, an exec spins out and crashes into the wall.

In the interest of helping you avoid a similar fate, I’d like to share three best practices that are common to the high performers I work with who run at a really high speed yet avoid wiping out.

Understand what “pacing yourself” means: I hear a lot of executives talk about the need to pace themselves. Often, though, there is more talk than action about setting a sustainable pace until they really understand what “pacing yourself” means. Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. Pacing yourself is not running with the throttle wide open for weeks or months on end and then taking a weekend off. The problem with that approach is you’re highly likely to wipe out in terms of your performance or health before you get to the break.

What pacing yourself really means is building in breaks of different lengths throughout even the busiest days that enable you to take your foot off the gas long enough to let your brain and body reset to a lower RPM. That can look like getting away from your desk for 5 or 10 minutes every hour to stretch or take a quick walk. It can be going to an agenda-free lunch with a colleague or friend. It can be designating certain hours of the day or evening as smart-phone free zones. Really, anything that is relatively easy to do that will make a difference in you getting short periods of time throughout the day where you’re not focused on the work at hand will help you pace yourself and perform better.

Build in some guardrails: Race tracks and highways both have guardrails that help keep cars on the road when things are running smoothly and that keep them from flying off the road when things get crazy. They contain the wipeouts and keep them from getting worse. If you want to avoid your own wipeout, you need to build some guardrails in your life. They’re the routines that help keep you on track. When I interviewed Chris Nassetta, President and CEO of Hilton Worldwide, for Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, he shared with me how important guardrails have been in keeping his personal and professional life on track. One of his guardrails is Tuesday night dinners with his dad. Nassetta and his father have had a standing Tuesday night dinner date since Chris was 10 years old. It’s a guardrail that keeps him connected to what’s most important in his busy and demanding life.

Guardrails can look like regular relational routines along the line of Nassetta’s. They can look like a mental routine of blocking out time on your calendar each week for “think time.” A guardrail could be scheduling your workouts first so you know that you’ll have the physical stamina needed to run fast. Whatever guardrails work best for you, you need to build them into your calendar.

Spend some regular time in the garage: A Formula 1 car is an incredibly finely tuned piece of machinery. The time it spends in the garage being attended to by the best mechanics and engineers in the world far exceeds the time it spends performing on the course. All of that fine tuning and attention helps prevents wipeouts.

What would productive time in the garage look like for you? What kinds of reading and activities are feeding the creativity and perspective you need to perform at your best? Who are the people in your life that help you grip the road so firmly that a wipeout becomes much less likely? If you want to avoid a wipeout you need to spend some regular time in the garage.

So, go ahead and start your engine. Long may it run. Pacing yourself, building in some guardrails and spending some regular time in the garage will increase your odds of high performance and help you avoid a wipeout.