We can learn a lot from animals. Aside from always living in the present moment, without allowing the past or worry of the future to bog them down, each animal species is uniquely blessed with specific skills, distinct behaviors and physical capabilities that allow it to play an important role in the ecosystem. No animal is too small or too large to make an impact on the planet as we know it. (The same goes for us humans, too, by the way!)
To best respect these gifts, we must first learn about them and from them. And so, this blog is only one of many to come that dives into life lessons we can learn from our fellow inhabitants of this one, precious planet we call home.
4 Productivity Lessons from Cheetahs
A cycle of speed bursts and rest brings victory.
As you may already know, the cheetah is the fastest land animal on the planet. This speedy feline can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour and accelerate from 0 to 68 miles per hour in only three seconds. However, cheetahs are sprinters not marathoners. This high-speed chase can only last a minute or so due to the amount of energy expended.
Both before and after hunting sprints, the cheetah banks its energy by resting. It finds some shade in the grass or on a rocky outcrop, where its camouflage enables proper rest and recharging.
Each of us has a particular period of time during our waking hours where we are most energized, most creative and at our peak performance. This is usually about a two-hour time frame, and it’s your sprint burst when you are most effective and impactful.
Let me ask you: Who or what is getting the best of you at this time?
If you answered social media, television, or responding to email, my hunch is you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to make some serious progress in the higher priority areas of your life – whether that be personal or professional. Tell me where I’m wrong?
According to research conducted by Nathan Kleitman more than 50 years ago, our human body operates on ultradian rhythms while both asleep and awake. During the day, your brain can only concentrate for 90-120 minutes at a time. After which, it needs a 20-30 minute break to recharge. (Otherwise, you’re looking at serious diminishing returns.) During each sprint, if you manage to focus on one goal and then rest before attempting another sprint, you are operating at your highest productivity.
Throughout history, the greatest musicians and artists (including Leonardo da Vinci) have been known to operate in this way. Time and again, researchers like Tony Schwartz (who authored The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energize Great Performance) are proving that a 90-minute focus sprint followed by 20-30 minutes of rest will optimize your effectiveness. And there is one particular 90 minute sprint where you are at your most productive – use it wisely!
This is how you work smarter, not harder.
Be willing to change direction mid-stride.
The cheetah is the only big cat that can turn mid-air while sprinting. It keenly watches as its prey adjusts and shifts, and then turns on a millisecond’s notice. It’s the difference between eating and going hungry.
Often we hold so tight to a particular idea or goal that we have worked so hard toward, that we resist changing directions. It’s called escalation of commitment. Yet, if we aren’t willing to adjust as new information is presented, we risk missing the target completely and needing to start all over again from scratch.
Avoid expending more energy than you need to. Notice what’s happening. Be aware of shifts in your environment and with projects. Then be flexible, agile and willing to change directions to achieve your goals.
Repurpose rather than discard (or waste).
As the smallest of the big African cats, cheetahs spend a lot of time looking for prey and looking to avoid becoming another cat’s dinner. Observation posts are extremely important for both.
If you’ve ever been on Safari (and if you haven’t, the picture above provides an example), you’ll notice that abandoned termite mounds are a cheetah’s favorite and most-used surveillance station.
If you’re looking for a fresh idea while avoiding unnecessary waste, I invite you to repurpose what you may have discarded as no longer useful.
For example, if your office used to be a spare bedroom and you have no need for a clothes closet, maybe convert that space into a built-in desk or install a giant saltwater fish tank for admiring during your regular 20-30 minute breaks (see #1 above).
If you have boxes of old t-shirts that you no longer wear yet hold sentimental value, maybe you (or find someone who can) stitch them into a quilted blanket.
Is there a standing meeting that’s gone stale and could be revamped to fit current needs?
Get creative. Try a new perspective. Recycling is more than just sorting plastics and papers in waste bins. Doing so can help you get more out of what you already have.
Hunt when (and where) there’s less competition.
As mentioned, cheetahs are the smallest of the big cats and as such, have the potential to lose their hard-won kills to larger competition like lions and leopards. Therefore, they hunt during the day (usually early in the morning or late in the afternoon) rather than at night.
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, where is your niche? Where can you serve others with your potential products and services that your larger and more established competitors can’t or won’t?
If you’re marketing your business, is there somewhere your customers are spending time that your competitors are not?
Maybe it’s competition for your time and energy. Where can you go and what boundaries can you set so that you and your needs get fed first?
“Self care is never a selfish act — It is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.” ~ Parker Palmer
To summarize, the greatest keys to performing at your highest, most impactful state are to give yourself regular rest, be aware of change and adjust your direction as needed, repurpose creatively to utilize what you have, and work where there’s less competition.