When you’re at the top of your game, you know it instinctively. What is more challenging is identifying, and then understanding, the cause for mediocre performance -- and using those lessons to help you win again.

We live in a black-and-white, goal-oriented world when it comes to performance: You are either winning or losing. What we often don’t know is why. In a recent post I shared 15 questions to ask yourself to help understand the why behind past performance, which is critical to understanding what creates those winning moments. With this post, I want to dive more deeply into losing -- and what you can learn from it.

But what if not reaching peak performance -- "losing" -- is less the result of being a failure and more often a result of boredom? We easily forget that when we aren’t interested in something, we don’t put everything we have into it. And that often leads to a less-than-stellar result.                              

While this may seem obvious, the reality is that boredom can creep in at unexpected moments--and can feel like failure. Imagine this: You are tasked with a prestigious, high-revenue project. If you succeed, your company succeeds. However, the project doesn’t leverage your core strength. You procrastinate, you aren’t excited about the work, and then you feel like a failure because you can’t seem to muster up any energy to put into it. In short, you’re bored.

I am not saying that you have to be engaged with every single thing you do -- that’s not realistic. But if you are bored with the bulk of your work, you will fail. The key is to know what engages you and make that the bulk of your responsibilities. If you are engaged 80 percent of the time, the 20 percent of work that is not engaging is easy to manage.

How can you reach that 80/20 balance? The questions below can serve as a guideline to help you navigate if your next disappointing performance is due to boredom or real failure:

1. What happened to cause the lack of great performance? (Be specific: who was involved, what tasks were you in charge of, what was the timeframe?) 

2. Was the skill required something that you are naturally good at? 

3. If yes, then what were the conditions that may have prevented you from feeling energized? How can you begin to alter those conditions next time? (In this case it was most likely a failure and consider what you can do to improve for next time.) 

4. If no, was your lack of performance a result of not feeling engaged and feeling apathetic in general?   

5. If this work is unavoidable, is there a way to do less of it, or can you hand this part of your work over to someone better suited?

How does this play out in the real world? Jim is the founder and CEO of a 15-person company. He has his ideal job. Jim, however, wants to perform at his best more frequently. He notices that there are moments in his work week that are not as productive and energizing as others, and that these moments come during certain meetings. Using the questions above, he discovers that he is bored during these meetings: The content doesn’t leverage his core strengths and he can’t impact it. He decided to hand over the management of those meetings to one of his direct reports. Jim is now more aware of the cause of boredom -- and can avoid it. He also has more time to spend on other projects where he can use his talent more effectively, thus creating better performance.

If something’s not going right at work, stop and ask yourself why. Figure out if you are bored. Boredom is easily fixed; failure is a different story.

Published on: Mar 5, 2014