4 Essential Ingredients for High Performance and Productivity

When we talk of productivity, we typically speak only of tactics and tools.

  • Use a Pomodoro timer.
  • Use the Freedom app to block time-wasting websites.
  • Take some Lion’s Mane to help you focus.
  • Use binaural beats to help you get into the flow state.

But whilst these all add value — they are akin to icing on the proverbial cake.

And they are unlikely to deliver sustained, high performance if you’re missing some key ingredients.

These ingredients? Values alignment, strengths alignment, passion, and incentives (or VIPS if you want a memorable mnemonic).


As Naval Ravikant put it, “tension is who you think you should be, relaxation is who you are”. Whether it was Ayn Rand, Jiddu Krishnamurti, or Marcus Aurelius, they all preached the value of living in accordance with your values, and without conflict.

Values alignment extends to both the values of an organization — how people typically go about making decisions and act on them — and the organization’s mission or purpose.

If you’re all about making decisions quickly, taking action, and learning from your mistakes — as you might at a modern tech company such as Amazon — then you will find it difficult to get into a good rhythm at an organization that’s all about consensus-seeking and calling a meeting to discuss what are mostly inconsequential matters — as you might at a more traditional behemoth such as Walmart.

And if you don’t truly believe in the mission or purpose of your organization, then you might be depriving yourself of what Brad Stulberg, author of Peak Performance, calls the world’s greatest performance enhancer.

I spent half a decade in consulting roles where I ultimately helped large organizations comply with regulatory requirements. To put it nicely, it did not have me jumping out of bed with a spring in my step in the morning. In fact, it left me feeling miserably comfortable.

Good Incentives

You might’ve had a job where you worked hard and contributed a ton of value, only to be meagerly compensated or to be overlooked when it came to a round of promotions. It can be deflating to say the least.

Human beings are extrinsically motivated to seek out money, recognition and appreciation, and status. This is especially true in a society where humans compare themselves and derive their sense of subjective wellbeing — rightly or wrongly — by comparing themselves to others. And these comparisons typically extend to metrics we can see and measure; salary, zipcode, social media followers, and so on.

This is true of a large percentage of humanity, and ensuring we appeal to these less enlightened but still powerful values is critical — that is, until humanity wakes up.


When we’re working on something that we’re seriously interested in, we become a different beast. We tap into a higher level of energy and being that shows up in our motivation, our performance, and our desire to persist through difficulty.

When there is a disconnect between your work and your interests, it can quickly become just another J.O.B. that takes you away from your interests.

When there is alignment, then work becomes more play than work — helping you tap into more creativity and a higher level of cognition.

Strengths Alignment

Michael Jordan might’ve been passionate about baseball, and was driven to honor the memory of his baseball-loving late father, but his strengths lied elsewhere. So, after a lackluster year in the minor leagues, Jordan returned to the NBA where he won another three straight championships with the Chicago Bulls. He was again playing to his strengths.

In life, it is indeed noble to address our weaknesses, but we each have our own dispositions towards excelling in certain areas.

As Tom Rath, author of Strengths-Based Leadership, puts it, great leaders know their strengths. “If you focus on people’s weaknesses, they lose confidence”.

Look for strength-alignment because this not only sets you up for immediate success but creates a motivating positive loop that sets you up for even more success.

Most people might be aligned with one or two of these, but when you’re aligned across all four, you tap into an entirely new level of performance.