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An olympic swimmer

These Olympic high performance secrets can help you adapt to Covid-19

According to a recent report Australia is in the midst of a ‘reverse braindrain’. Up to 400,000 highly skilled professionals have returned to our shores because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some have unfortunately had to give up their roles to make this move. But many of these high-performers are continuing to work with their existing employer. Suddenly, they find themselves members of overseas teams and, often, having to work according to overseas timezones.

It’s a huge challenge to keep working and producing at a high level in such an environment.

At ThinkPlace, we understand this challenge firsthand with seven per cent of our current team in Australia having returned from around the globe in recent months.

Recently, some of our highest-performers have been running a successful series of collaborative workshops with a global team from 11pm-1am their time. As a company that has innovation at its core we have worked to make sure we are positioning them to perform at their peak. How?

John Fowlie from ThinkPlace

Performance secrets from Australia’s Olympic brains trust

As Head of High Performance at ThinkPlace I bring to the role experience as a two-time Australian Swimming Coach of the year. In this instance we’ve adopted lessons from the Beijing Olympics, where Australia won more medals in swimming than at any other games.

For Beijing, everything we knew about performance was flipped on its head. Swimming finals were in the morning and qualifying heats, at night (the opposite of what we were used to). Our athletes had been conditioned for years to perform at their peak in the evening. The team I was part had to radically change how we approached training and competing because of this challenge. We developed new approaches, tested them and practiced them until they were embedded into the athlete’s biorhythms and performance cycles.


John Fowlie from ThinkPlace with Alicia Coutts

What that looked like on the day of competition.

•            Wake 5-6 hours before final wake up (4-5am).

•            Take 80mg caffeine and glucose to raise blood sugar.

•            Exercise for 20min and raise body temperature and heart rate.

•            Have a hot shower.

•            Rug up, keep body temperature up.

•            Have a small meal.

•            Travel to the competition venue.

•            Take 80mg caffeine.

•            Stretch and pre-race routine (warm up).

•            Put on competition suit.

•            Music or meditation.

•            Final coaching cues.

•            Pre-race activation of neural system (skipping, jumping, weights and medicine ball work).

•            Marshall for race.

•            Final pre-race routine.

•            Race.

Then of course, you need to ‘come down’ after the race, recover, do medal presentations, press conferences, and get ready for your next event heat in 6 hours!

So what are the big lessons, and how are we applying them with our high-performing international designers?

Here are 3 lessons for sustainable breakthrough performance in international teams.  

1. Hack your routines and biorhythms

Designing different routines for different situations will give you the benefits of a structured and predictable day while simultaneously improving your performance and the sustainability of late night or early morning commitments. Athletes will use different routines for competition and training. They will also incorporate a micro routine (2-5 hours) for peaking their performance at different times of the day.

What it looks like in practice for our international designers for a 11pm-1am workshop?

10am: Wake up (eye mask, ear plugs, block out blinds).

10-11am: Exercise, eat, coffee, shower.

11am-3pm: Most important work needing focus such as writing and analysis.

3pm-3:30pm: Emails and admin.

3:30pm-5pm: Break, relax connect with family and friends.

5pm-6pm: Sleep.

6pm-9pm Evening routine: Coffee, exercise, small meal, shower, social connection.

9pm-10pm: Workshop preparation and run through.

10-11pm: Light work, music, small break.

11pm-1am: Workshop (lights, camera, action!).

1am-1:30am: Workshop capture and make a plan of Most Meaningful Work for the morning.

1:30am-2am: Shower, stretching, meditation.

2am: Sleep.

2. Prepare and work in cycles

Human biorhythms and performance are malleable, but you have to shape it. If you try and work on two time zones all the time, you will burn yourself out. Equally, if you stay on your international time zone exclusively, you will become disconnected from your social support networks in Australia. Athletes train in cycles, and ‘on ramp’ or ‘off ramp’ for times of peak performance.

What it looks like in practice for our international designers?

We ran a series of group and individual coaching sessions with a high-performance coach to map out a performance strategy in 6-week cycles. This included, designing an ‘on ramp’ of 2-3 days to adjust sleep and an ‘off ramp’ of 2-3 days to recover and reconnect with social support networks.

3. Block out time for your most important work

Avoiding multi-tasking and distractions during your most productive points of the day is essential if you want to sustain high-performance on an international time zone. Use a Most Meaningful Work List rather than a To Do List to decide where to focus and how to increase your high value work. Communicate with your team about when you will be available for emails, calls and collaboration and when you will be working on focused work. If you must deliver at odd hours, use an alternative micro routine to improve your performance. A light meal, caffeine and exercise prior to a 10pm conference call will help to improve your focus and productivity. Buffer with some wind down reading and meditation before going to bed. Adjust your morning alarm accordingly.

What it looks like in practice for our international designers?

At the end of the late-night workshops, our designers took 30min to capture anything they needed to and to make a plan of Most Meaningful Work for the morning. This helps in winding down, switch off and sleeping. The next day, they blocked out 4-hours to focus on their Most Meaningful Work list, then 30min for emails and calls.


About John Fowlie. The majority of John’s professional career has been spent in international high-performance swimming. He coached at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) / Swimming Australia National Training Centre for 14 years, including four Olympic campaigns. During his tenure, his athletes won 75 international medals including 9 Olympic medals (4 gold) and set 7 World Records. He was twice named Australian Coach of the Year, has won the Don Talbot Medal on three occasions and has been recognised as a Platinum Level coach.

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