Dumbbell designed by nicole forgione from the Noun Project

Dumbbell designed by nicole forgione from the Noun Project

What’s it take to improve your level of work? On the Harvard Business Review blog, author Tony Schwartz pairs his personal research with that of Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson to come up with an answer. Their findings? To improve your work requires six key steps, the same steps utilized in a well-balanced and acutely planned workout. Schwartz:

We’ve found that it’s possible to build any given skill or capacity in the same systematic way we do a muscle: push past your comfort zone, and then rest…it’s not inherited talent which determines how good we become at something, but rather how hard we’re willing to work…

Here, then, are the six keys to achieving excellence…

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…

3. Practice intensely, without interruption for short periods 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…

A common misconception about improving our quality of work is that constant practice is all it takes. But, as Schwartz explains, deliberate practice is only one key to improvement. To get the most benefit from our practice we have to be excited about the work we do, know how to challenge ourselves effectively, and understand the immense value of a well-timed break.

Get all six of Schwartz’s keys to moving towards better work over on HBR.

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