3 Keys to Keep Your Small Business Team Performing ‘In the Zone’

achieve optimum productivity in your small business

Have you ever had moments in your life when you felt like you were “in the zone”?

It might have been during a sporting event, but I’m more interested in your professional life. As a small business owner, I’m sure there have been times when you’ve been so intently focused on a task that it almost felt like time stopped because you were accomplishing your goals so efficiently and effortlessly.

Sometimes it feels like it takes us two hours to accomplish a 15-minute task and then occasionally it seems like we can get a two-hour job done in 15 minutes – or at least it feels that way.

These moments are precious. At the end of completing tasks when we’re “in the zone” we feel excited and even energized. On the other hand, when we’re struggling with a task, we feel drained and unmotivated.

A secret to productivity in your small business it to keep yourself and your employees in the zone as much as possible. There has been some good work done in the area of human performance and three principles have emerged that you can leverage in your professional life and as you lead your small business team.

We seem to have internal triggers that help put us in this mental “sweet spot” and when you can pull those triggers in yourself and with your employees, you have a far better chance at achieving the highest levels of small business productivity. Here they are:

1. The optimum degree of difficulty. When tasks are too far above our ability or two far below our ability, it causes problems. When they are too difficult, frustration quickly sets in and hampers our ability to move forward.

Also, from the purely practical point of view, when tasks are too far above our ability level, we spend more time researching the solutions to the problem than we do applying the solution to the problem.

When tasks are below our level of competence, we get bored. We tend to shirk these kinds of tasks; we let them slide. Sometimes this can sneak up on us. For example, if your best sales reps are never challenged with new accounts, they will begin to give less than their best effort on their existing accounts.

The key here is to give yourself and your team tasks that push the envelope to some degree, but not to overdo it – at least not on a regular basis. Stretch your team, but don’t break them. Further, stretch them in one direction at a time, which brings us to the second point.

2. Clear goals. When you assign tasks, including those that stretch the members of your team, be sure they have clear goals. Imagine a runner setting out on a race, but having no idea where the finish line was located. The runner would just lope along aimlessly. It’s the same situation with small business productivity.

If your employees don’t know the goal – and this includes their ability to truly understand the goal – they won’t develop the intense focus that delivers the ultimate level of productivity. This means that first you must know the goal and have the willingness and ability to communicate it to your team.

3. Immediate feedback. Have you watched any professional auto races? The support teams give their drivers feedback on virtually every lap. The drivers know where they stand and what they have to do to achieve their goals.

Treat your employees the same way. Don’t let your communication slide. In many ways, your feedback is how they judge their performance and they’re looking for it. When you provide it, it shows that you’re involved and that you care. The flip side of this is that if you withhold your feedback or delay it, it’s tangible evidence that you don’t care very much. Your employees won’t stay “in the zone” if they think you don’t care.

These are three simple leadership principles that you can start using in your small business today. If you make them habits, you’ll find that you’re able to accomplish far more than you ever thought was possible, and that is critical for small business success in this competitive business environment.

(If you want to investigate this topic more deeply, I recommend reading “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance,” by Steven Kotler.)