The 3 Essential Ways to Improve Work Performance

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Discover Your True North" by Bill George. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why are a support system and balanced life important for your career? What are the top three ways to improve work performance?

Bill George’s book Discover Your True North focuses on strategies to become a strong leader by improving the way you work. He offers covers on how to bolster your leadership by maintaining a strong support system outside of work as well as maintaining a balanced life.

Let’s look at the three ways to improve your work performance by keeping your personal life healthy and happy.

1. Maintain a Support System of Friends and Family

George says that no matter how talented you are as a business leader, it’s essential to have a group of people who will love you for who you are (not for your career success), accompany you through hard times, and keep you on track to pursue your core purpose. He explains that a support system is one of three ways to improve work performance. Your support system will not only provide a loving environment to turn to when things don’t go your way but also help hold you accountable when you’re not being true to your core purpose or values. For example, if you start missing family dinners and other important events to stay late at the office, you may need your loved ones to intervene and remind you that your productivity isn’t as important as your relationships. George asserts that since this kind of trusting and enduring relationship takes time to build, it’s important to consistently prioritize your family and friends.

The Importance of Investing in Relationships

Beyond supporting your career by providing solace during difficult times and holding you accountable to your core purpose and values, experts say that having a social support network fulfills a basic human need to feel social connection and a sense of belonging.

Given these important roles, why do so many leaders struggle to maintain their social support network? In How Will You Measure Your Life, Clayton M. Christensen says there are two key reasons why people tend to invest more in their career than their relationships even though both require consistent attention. 

He explains that your career is more likely to provide immediate, tangible rewards (like a promotion) whereas the payoff for investing in a relationship is dispersed over the long term. Second, your friends and family may be less demanding than your boss, so it’s easier to pay them less attention. Despite these challenges, Christensen warns that you can’t put off investing in your relationships and expect to make it up later.

2. Make Time for Non-Work Activities

George also recommends that you make time for all the things you like to do—including spending time with your family and other hobbies. He says that whether it’s a physical activity or just relaxing in a peaceful place, having a healthy balance of activities that rejuvenate you will improve your mental health and therefore help you perform better at work, too. 

George describes the experiences of John Donahoe (the former CEO of eBay) to illustrate how a strong personal life can be a boon to your well-being and career. Donahoe was tasked with studying for final exams for business school while his fiancée Eileen was pregnant and due to give birth soon. Realizing that he wouldn’t be able to spend adequate time with Eileen and get top-notch grades, he opted to aim for “OK” grades so that he could fulfill his familial obligations. In the end, because he was less stressed than his colleagues and didn’t try to fill every moment with studying, he worked more efficiently and got all As.

(Shortform note: To manage internal conflicts about how to allocate finite time in a balanced way, some experts recommend distinguishing between essential and non-essential activities. Instead of trying to give equal time to all the areas of your life (professional work, unpaid work, spirituality, family, exercise, and so on), ensure that you’re giving adequate time and effort to the essential areas first and foremost. Donahoe illustrated this principle by intentionally deciding that spending time with his fiancée was essential, while schoolwork would receive just enough effort to get by. This ensured that he would have felt satisfied with his choices even if his grades weren’t the best.) 

3. Don’t Compartmentalize  

Along with thriving in your non-work life, George argues that you shouldn’t try too hard to keep your work life and personal life separate. This means that you shouldn’t have to put on a different persona or mask your personality at work, which will eventually exhaust you. Instead, George says to just be yourself, no matter where you are. He also recommends being honest with your colleagues about what’s important to you, even if that means bringing your personal life into work conversations sometimes. 

For example, when Donahoe had a scheduling conflict with taking his kids to school and meeting with important clients, he chose to be upfront with his boss about needing to make a change. Instead of being afraid to have an honest conversation with his boss or sacrificing his family’s needs, he discussed it openly. To his surprise, his clients and boss respected him more for being clear about his priorities and found a way to work around the conflict.

Gender-Based Challenges of Being Authentic at Work

Researcher Brené Brown supports George’s idea that showing up authentically—wherever you are—is key to your mental well-being. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown asserts that hiding your true self can lead to depression, anxiety, and other psychological challenges because it reaffirms the idea that you’re not good enough as you are. 

However, being honest with your boss about your needs and personal life may be more challenging for women than men because of the differences in their home-life responsibilities and common workplace expectations. In Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez writes that women are responsible for a disproportionate amount of unpaid domestic labor such as child care, which means they’re less able to stay late at work and are more likely to have to change their schedule last-minute to care for their sick children. 

Perez explains that women pay an economic cost for this because they may be passed over for promotions for not working enough overtime or penalized for changing their schedule. In other words, women are more likely to need job accommodations to fulfill both their professional and familial duties, and they’re also more likely to be penalized for those accommodations. This analysis suggests that Donahoe’s experience of his boss and clients catering to his family’s needs may be more of an exception than a standard practice in business, and his female colleagues may have faced more struggles in this area. 
The 3 Essential Ways to Improve Work Performance

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  • Why being true to yourself is more important than having talent or charm
  • Guidelines anyone can follow to become a leader in their organization
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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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