A common question my clients ask me is how to sustain performance over time.
In a competitive climate where investors expect consistent growth and employees are working harder than ever before, the risk of burnout is high— for individuals, leaders and companies alike. However, we can incorporate a principle from the elite sports environment, called periodisation, into the business planning cycle to avoid performance overload.
Periodisation in sport is a huge area of research and applied practice. It is used to structure training and practice in such a way that it results in athletes being primed to deliver their best performance when it counts. For example, Olympic athletes follow a finely-tuned training schedule that incorporates clear cycles built in and around their key events leading up to the Olympic Games. Periodisation is used to break down a time period into macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles. The duration of each cycle can vary, but typically they are as follows:
Macrocycle = 1 year
Mescocycle = 4 to 6 weeks
Microcycles = 1 week
Watch our free performance blueprint where we discuss how to periodise in business here.
These cycles help manage fatigue and reduce the risk of overtraining by controlling factors such as load, intensity, and recovery; optimise peak performance at a specific time; and allow for differences in the individual athlete (or employee), including time constraints, training age and status, and environmental factors.
If we periodise the week, month and year we can improve performance. It’s important to note that intensity is normally split into three ranges: low, medium, and high. This enables the athlete to place stimulus on the body and allow them time to adapt to that stimulus. Too much high-intensity training will lead to overtraining and loss in performance, while too much low-intensity training will lead to a lack of performance.
How can periodisation be applied to business performance planning?
As a performance coach, I firstly sit down and look at the overall goal and important milestones at the beginning of a new season. Just like a fiscal year for business, we know most of our important dates for the season —or macrocycle — at the outset. I would then plan off-season dates, as well as a deload week around those dates.
We can take a similar approach in business. First and foremost, work back from your annual goal and schedule breaks and downtime. It may sound counterintuitive, but recovery is just as important as working, and at some points during the year, it has an even higher priority.
The next step is to break down the planning further into mesocycles. The goal for a mesocycle and its duration varies from one industry to another.
The standard measure used in large multinational companies in the fiscal quarter (3 months). But a mesocycle could also be a specific project with a short-term block of 4 to 6 weeks.
Once the year has been broken down into mesocycles, we can identify several occasions when the team needs to peak. In business, there are significant moments during the year that are a higher priority. For example, a retail company typically expects higher sales in the last quarter, while a service-oriented business might lock down its contracts in the early part of the calendar year when annual corporate budgets are approved.
Now for the microcycle. This is day-to-day work over a week – time management is critical here. In a professional sports environment, the sequencing of sessions is vital for success. We understand that athletes can’t train at a high intensity all the time. But somehow, we expect “cognitive athletes” — that is, people working in a business context — to be constantly “on.” The ideal scenario is to be able to rotate high, medium and low-intensity days during the week. Most people use their weekends for low intensity or recovery days when that’s the time to spend with family, friends, playing sport or pursuing hobbies.
I can imagine what you’re thinking: “This guy doesn’t understand my business. I need to be working hard all the time. We need to be an agile team, and if we’re not consistently performing, our competitor will overtake us.” Don’t get me wrong. I agree 100% that we need to work hard to achieve results. But there needs to be a balance, and that balance requires planning. If I asked you to run as fast as you can for as long as you can at some point, you would slow down as fatigue builds up. This is also true for cognitive performance.
High-intensity mental function is demanding and will result in a drop in performance without adequate rest periods.
What are the benefits of periodisation for business performance?
When I look at the benefits of periodisation in sport, I see the crossover into business.
First and foremost is the management of fatigue. Long working hours, poor sleep and lack of recovery all lead to a drop in performance. So, how do you avoid this?
Create the right mix of high, medium, and low-intensity days for your team during the week.
Plan deload weeks during the year to help with restoration and reflection. It’s essential to have time away from work following intense work periods or big events.
A business needs time to develop, grow, perform and achieve results. As with physical training, there needs to be time to build a foundation to allow the individual to reach their potential.
We are all different and at different stages in our lives. Taking into consideration your employees family life, relationships outside of the office, health and overall stress levels will allow for improved performance. Everyone has an optimal stress threshold that we need to produce peak performance, but understanding this for each of your employees is critical as a leader. If you apply pressure or stress to someone already under strain leads to burnout, lost productivity and, ultimately, poor performance.
Understanding periodisation and utilising it will aid performance.