One of my greatest passions is motorcycling. Waking up and heading toward the nearest hill with smooth pavement is always a prescription to improve my mood. I don’t often think riding in terms of productivity, but if there is anywhere you need intense focus and efficient activity, it’s zooming through a twisty mountain road on a motorcycle. Riders who consider it a sport are always looking to improve and I’ve ingrained the following lessons that have carried over into other areas of life.
You go where you focus. One of the coolest discoveries of motorcycling is you don’t have to steer the bike. Sounds crazy, but the bike will literally go where you point your eyes or focus. The hardest part of this is for you the rider to trust it. You find yourself trying to steer the bike to the proper angle, but the adjustments of your arms aren’t nearly as smooth or precise as your eyes. Sure, there’s some bio-mechanical stuff going on where your body reacts to where you eyes are pointed, but the simple truth is your focus is everything. Trainers will tell you to look far ahead in a turn instead of the pavement just in front of you. The real test comes when you need to make an emergency maneuver to avoid something (e.g. a boulder). Fear tells you to focus on the object you need to avoid, but your life depends on you focusing on your path of escape.
In life, I’ve found the ability to focus the key to getting anything done. Your creativity, your energy and your effort follow your focus just like a bike follows your eyes. Make a habit of getting clear on the subject of your focus and name the distractions that are likely to throw you off your path.
Being right isn’t always helpful. Motorcyclists know (or they soon learn), having the right-of-way is very different from exercising it. When that truck decides it wants to turn left in front of you, let it! Demanding your rights in that situation will only ruin your day.
If you are focusing more on your rights than accomplishing your goal, you will miss many opportunities for success. You will also hinder your ability to adapt which is key to productivity. So much time is wasted demanding our rights or what we justly deserve. I’ve often found the key to actually getting something done is often to forget about being “right” and focus opportunistically on solving the problem. You’d be amazed how much efficiency can be gained when we’re less stubborn and open our minds to a different way.
Traction is everything. Rain, snow, ice, oil, leaves. There are so many ways to lose traction on the road. Motorcyclists spend extra money for “sticky” tires, look for well-maintained roads and are always aware of conditions. Nothing can ruin your day like speeding through a turn with a fresh slick of oil from the cars ahead. Nothing feels better than diving into a turn with full confidence you can accelerate out of it into the next one.
When at work, I’m always on the lookout for that traction. It’s the feeling you get when you’ve started a project or task and you are just catching a rhythm of how you’re going to accomplish your task. You have confidence that if you can just stick to it, you’ll reach your goal. It’s a great feeling and you should structure your work time and environment to maximize the amount of time spent in traction on your tasks. Usually this means removing distractions and breaking tasks down into manageable chunks that can fit into a reasonable uninterrupted timeframe (e.g. 1-3 hours). For most tasks, it takes time to get oriented to the task, gain traction and then wrap up when complete. Make sure you’ve set the conditions for the entire process.
You need rest to be your best. I make it a point not to ride angry, hungry or sleepy. There are no shortages of studies telling us the importance of sleep to health. On a bike, alertness and reaction time are life or death matters and must be taken seriously.
None of us feels perfectly alert always. Schedule your tasks based on your energy levels and you’ll find your most important priorities being completed. I find early morning is best for problem solving and unfortunately late nights are great for writing and creative flow. Whatever your energy spikes, use them to your advantage. Remember, friends don’t let friends work sleepy.
Less is more. It’s a painful truth that while most of us struggle mightily to accomplish a task, the experts make it look so easy. This is certainly true of motorcycle racers. A slight push with the left hand and they’re into the perfect lean angle through a turn while the rest of us are man-handling the bike trying to get it to do our bidding. Relaxed, smooth and precise is how you want to ride and live.
Many times we have a to-do list of ten items that all look the same. Or maybe, we go the next step and prioritize them. But how did we prioritize? I’ve learned to prioritize based on impact. What task will have the greatest impact on my goal? 80% of the impact likely comes from 20% of the tasks. If you focus on that 20% you’ll get more results with less effort.