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What Climbing Mt Everest Taught Me About Productivity

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Nuptse peak near Gorak Shep village

This is a guest blog by Fiona Adler. She is a marketer, mountaineer, and mum and although she’s Australian, she is currently living in the French Alps with her family. She currently blogs about entrepreneurship and is building a team productivity tool.

One of the lessons I’ve learned in life is that I’m often wrong in my estimations of how difficult things will be. Usually, the things I think will be difficult turn out to be more manageable than I’d thought, and it’s something else that turns out to be the difficult thing.

When people hear about me successfully climbing Mt Everest, they’re often shocked. I’m not the muscly, outdoorsy, mountain-man they envisage when they think of extreme mountaineering. In fact, I’m only moderately sporty, my personality is not at all ‘gung-ho’, and I’m a slightly overweight female.

The thing is, climbing Mt Everest has very little to do with extreme climbing skills, and much more to do with planning, perseverance, and mindset control. Pretty much the same skills required to achieve most big things in life.

It’s now more than 10 years since I stood on the summit of the tallest mountain in the world. I could barely believe I was there at the time, and I’m still amazed today. But the thing is, the approaches that helped me succeed in mountaineering are the same ones that help high performers succeed in all areas of life. Although I didn’t think of them as productivity hacks at the time, they were what was required to help me succeed then (and many times since).

Today, I thought it would be valuable to share the productivity approaches that helped me climb Mt Everest…

1. Get Peer Accountability – tell people your plans

Two Friends Talking

The first time I told anyone that I planned to climb Mt Everest, I could barely utter the words out. It still seemed like a pipe-dream and I thought I’d be ridiculed for having such a crazy idea. (Even though I had already climbed many mountains by that stage and logically I would be ready, my self-doubt was strong!)

What I found though, was that each time I spoke about my plans to attempt Everest, my resolve to climb grew stronger. As I answered people’s questions, I became more clear about why I wanted to do it, and as I countered their concerns, I strengthened my ideas about the approach I planned to take.

Some of you are probably thinking about Derek Sivers’ TED Talk where he shares the idea that you shouldn’t share your goals. He argues that the act of talking about our goals makes our subconscious belief that we have already achieved the goal and so we no longer need to put in the work needed. It’s an interesting idea, but for me and a lot of other people, it just doesn’t hold true.

If I just think about wanting to run a marathon, that’s just a thought. But if I start telling people about this goal, inevitably they’ll ask me when I’m going to do it, what training I’m doing, and they might even offer to come and cheer me on. All of these things help cement my plans and set me in the direction I need to put the training program in place. The next time I see these people, I know they’ll probably ask me how my training is going – and I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself! And if we’re friends on social media and they see me having a big night out or tucking into a huge meal, they might also comment and help pull me back into line.

When you share your intentions with other people, it builds in accountability and makes you far more likely to follow through.

In business, I’ve experienced this with mastermind groups. Ideally, each member commits to doing something before the next meeting and this has the effect of almost always getting that thing done.

2. Have a Strong Vision – visualize the end result

Visualization is a technique that many sports people use to help them reach greater levels of success. I consciously used it for climbing Mt Everest and I strongly believe that it’s hugely beneficial when we’re working towards any big goal.

I had no idea what it would be like to stand on the summit of Mt Everest, so it was very difficult to visualize that actual moment before it happened. Instead, I would visualize myself feeling exhausted and gasping for air on the side of a mountain, but deciding to keep going. I’d also visualize having a party to celebrate my successful summit with my friends and family back at home. This was the mental image that I would return to and try to hold in my mind – especially when lying in my tent and questioning what I was doing! I would imagine how proud I would feel, having gone through the struggles of hauling myself up that mountain in freezing temperatures. Knowing what I was aiming for was a huge help in encouraging me to get through another day of climbing or acclimatizing.

In my professional life, right now I’m in the process of building another business. Although we’re in the very early stages, I’m consciously visualizing the next milestone. I’m imagining the day when we have thousands of happy customers, I can envisage the type of feedback we’re receiving, and how we’re helping these customers. I can also imagine the team we’ll have in place to support the business and how we work together.

If you haven’t imagined the future for your professional life, give it a go. Imagine you’re 3 steps ahead of where you are now or your revenue has doubled. What does your day look like? What about your team? What are your customers saying? Use this vision for motivation and to guide decisions.

3. Plan for Things To Go Wrong – “if this, then that”

If everything went smoothly, climbing Mt Everest would not be that difficult. Ideally, you would have done plenty of training beforehand, gained plenty of experience on other smaller mountains, your equipment would all work well, and weather conditions would be perfect. Of course, this rarely happens. In reality, injuries often hamper your training, work or personal life hampers your training, flights into the mountains get cancelled, you develop a stomach bug or chest infection which is impossible to shake at altitude, your gloves are not as effective as you’d thought and you get frostbite, the climbing takes you longer than you’d thought and the weather is never cooperative.

Although it might sound slightly morbid, as part of my preparation for climbing Everest, I read a lot of books about climbs where things went wrong, and often people lost their lives. This didn’t do much for my confidence but it did help me put in place plans that accounted for several different situations. These plans took the form of “if this, then that” – extremely useful at high altitudes where you know you might not be thinking clearly, but equally useful in everyday life where our judgment is clouded by our immediate emotions or stresses.

In business, you can use the “if this, then that” type of approach too. What will you do if the customer acquisition channel you’ve chosen doesn’t work well? What will you do if a key employee resigns? What will you do when you’re sick? What will you do if your contracted developer goes missing? Having a plan for all of these types of situations means that they’re less likely to ruin you when they do happen. (Hopefully, not all of your worst-case scenarios will eventuate, but chances are some of them will.)

4. Separate Planning From Doing – stick to the plan

Working on a plan

I love the planning process and thinking about what I should be doing. As a reader of the Asian Efficiency blog, chances are you’re the same! But the thing is, there’s a time for planning and a time for doing. The best plans in the world won’t get you anywhere – it’s taking action that brings the progress – even if it’s imperfect action. There are times when we just need to stop questioning whether the plan is right and just focus on doing the plan.

Awaking to my alarm from inside a tiny tent perched on the side of a mountain, with icicles on the inside of the tent, after hardly sleeping due to the lack of oxygen, it was extremely tempting to start doubting my plan (and sanity!). But I learned from previous climbs not to question the plan and instead, to follow through on what I had previously decided to do – get dressed, hydrate, and be ready to start climbing before sunrise.

Throughout my expedition, before each day began, I knew what my goal was for the day; climb to Camp 1, rest and do my laundry (yes this needs to happen on Everest!), descend back to basecamp, or whatever was in order for the day. A simple and definable task that I would focus on until it was done. In a constant state of exhaustion, I could always think of a million reasons why I shouldn’t do that particular thing that day, but sticking to the plan took me one step closer towards my goal.

In regular life, having a plan and doing the plan is just as important. Countless experts advise that planning our day the night before is a key to having a productive day and it’s something I strongly believe in. Having a short list of the 3-5 most important things to get done is one of the simple keys to all productivity. But the important thing is to actually do those things.

Make the plan when you’re thinking clearly, then don’t question the plan until it’s done.

This is a technique I believe in so strongly that I’ve created a team productivity tool for people to record the handful of things they intend to get done the next day. Combined with accountability from their team, this simple approach works incredibly well. James Clear describes this as the Ivy Lee method and numerous successful people credit this technique as a key to their success.

To try it for yourself, just write down a few small but important things (less is best), that you’d like to get done tomorrow. Each one should be small enough so that it can be done in less than an hour – if it’s not, break it down into smaller tasks. Then, when you start work tomorrow, focus on getting those few things done and ignore everything else until they’re done. (Yes, this implies ignoring email, social media, and other people’s requests until you have done these things.)

Make sure you don’t put too much on your list so that you get into the habit of successfully getting it all done – preferably before lunch! Although 3 things may not seem like much, if they’re truly important things, the cumulative effect is enormous. Imagine if you had started doing 3 small but important things every day a year ago!

5. Step By Step is the Only Way – perseverance trumps everything

Climbing a mountain

On the day I attempted to summit Mt Everest, I left Camp 4 at about [9:30] PM and started the long climb upwards in the dark, cold night. After a couple of hours, I was certain that I had absolutely no chance of making it to the top. I was going painfully slow and stopping to gasp for air every 2-3 steps (yes, really!). The lack of oxygen was taking its toll and I felt like I was moving way too slowly to even get close to the summit. But as thoughts of pulling out and returning to the relative safety of Camp 4 came to mind, I managed to reframe my thinking.

I remembered my plan to keep going until midday (the turn-around time I had set for myself to avoid being stuck up too high late the next day). At that point, I stopped focusing on the summit and decided to keep going until midday – just to see how far I could get. I kept taking action and just focused on getting to the next crest, the next rope change, or 5 more steps.

Amazingly it worked and I reached the summit of Mt Everest about 8 AM the next day – showing my previous misjudgment of my progress.

Standing on the top of the world was an incredible feeling but what it taught me most was that perseverance is everything. In almost all cases, perseverance is more important than skills, knowledge, networks and anything else that you might think you’re missing. Clearly, there are times when it makes sense to pull out or change directions, but most of us have a tendency to do that way too early.

If you set a goal to get fit and go to the gym, do you quit when you don’t see results after 3 weeks? The successful people keep going and don’t revise their plan for at least a couple of months. If you’ve set a goal to call 5 customers a day, do you quit when the first 3 phone calls don’t go well? The successful people keep going. If you’re blogging, do you quit if you don’t get the incredible traffic you were hoping for? Successful bloggers keep going.

The lesson? Focus on the inputs and the results will follow. Before you decide that something is impossible, make sure you’ve given your all before you quit.

What’s Your Everest?

If you’re struggling through something right now, and it seems impossible to achieve, here are the 5 productivity techniques that can help;

  1. Tell your peers about your goals and talk about them as much as you can.
  2. Visualize the end result – do this regularly and as vividly as you can.
  3. Create an “if this, then that” plan – know what you’ll do when things don’t go as planned.
  4. Make your plan and then stick to it – don’t question it until it’s done or you reach a certain milestone.
  5. Keep going and know that if it were easy, everyone would be doing it!

This is a guest blog by Fiona Adler. She is a marketer, mountaineer, and mum and although she’s Australian, she is currently living in the French Alps with her family. She currently blogs about entrepreneurship and is building a team productivity tool.

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1 Comment

Posted by Asesh Datta  | March 14, 2018 at 8:43AM | Reply

Most of the techniques are essential in any tasks. Climbing Everest requires first a strong desire, determination and ‘must do’ attitude. Writing later after success is all for those who either did not or could not achieve.
The next important one should be, to try again after you fail till you reach the summit.
Finally, give Everest some rest. Regards.

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