I’ve watched Federer reinvent tennis (and himself) countless times over the last decade and a half.
And yet, I still found myself in awe when the Swiss Maestro captured his 20th Grand Slam at the 2018 Australian Open with a masterclass display.
You wouldn’t expect a 36-year old player who has shattered pretty much all the records in tennis and won 10% of the total Grand Slams of the Open Era (20 in 200) to break down in tears during the trophy ceremony. But that’s what happened and it showed how much the title meant to him.
Federer is the perfect athlete. He devoted his entire life to tennis. He kept his head down and worked tirelessly throughout the years to become the greatest player of all times.
“When you do something best in life, you don’t really want to give that up — and for me it’s tennis.”
Over the years, I’ve learned countless productivity secrets from Federer by watching matches, interviews, and reading books.
We can apply some of his secrets into our lives. Here are the top 5 productivity secrets of Roger Federer:
#1 Embrace Hard Work
After Wimbledon 2016, Federer announced that we would not play until the end of the year. He decided to take time off to recover from a knee injury.
We would return in spectacular fashion in 2017. He began the year reclaiming the Australian Open crown, defeating his arch-rival Rafael Nadal in a gripping five-set thriller.
During the tournament, journalists kept asking Federer how he was able to come back better than before, considering his late injury, age, and long absence from the circuit. His response was simple:
“I worked very hard with my team. I tried to work the hardest.”
The journalists weren’t expected such as a simple answer and pushed to find a “true secret”, but the answer came back: “My team worked very hard. We simply did it.”
“There’s no way around hard work. Embrace it.”
There is a reason this is Roger Federer’s career number #1 productivity secret (it reminded me of an Elon Musk secret: “Work hard. Every waking hour.”). Hard work delivered consistently is the foundation of any successful career. You need to be smarter, faster, and work harder to stay one step ahead of everyone else.
#2 Think and Plan Long-Term
Throughout his career, Federer has always been very selective in his schedule.
He played only 12 tournaments in 2017 (Nadal played 18), skipping the entire clay-court season in order to “try and play on the ATP World Tour for many years to come”. He finished the year with 7 titles (2 Grand Slams) and just five losses.
Be laser-focused on your priorities and says no to any opportunities that might hinder your long-term goals. You’re in for the long-haul, not the sprint.
”You have to believe in the long-term plan you have but you need the short-term goals to motivate and inspire you.“
Federer’s ruthless prioritization over his schedule is a proxy for his long-term thinking that involves winning more Slams and continue playing for many years to come.
#3 Constantly Adapt to Evolve
There are almost 5 years between Wimbledon 2012 and the Australian Open 2017. For years, he was under the shadow of Novak Djokovic, to whom he lost 3 finals during that period.
In 2012, he had already won 17 majors and was the best player of all time. Nobody would blame Federer if he decided to retire. Instead, he kept his head down and constantly refined his game to beat his opponents.
The 2017 Federer “version” was completely different than 2012 one. He became increasingly more aggressive, particularly with his return of serve. He started to hit his single-handed backhand more often, instead of using his signature slice shot. Federer was faster, sharper, and with an enhanced killer instinct.
“What I think I’ve been able to do well over the years is play with pain, play with problems, play in all sorts of conditions.”
Due to his age, he adjusted his work and mindset to preserve his body:
“As you grow older, it becomes a bit more quality-orientated and not so much quantity because quantity hurts the body. Essentially I’m working half days if you like, because there’s no point for me to put in all the mega hours anymore, because I know I have it in the vault, I have it there if need be.”
#4 Develop Skills That Increase Your Capacity
Related to constantly adapt to evolve, another productivity secret of Roger Federer’s career is his ability to develop skills that increase his capacity as a tennis player.
He considers himself a fast learner, which in turn helped him develop skills faster: “One of my big, big strengths I think early on in my career was that I could learn very quickly. You wouldn’t have to tell me the things 10 times or 50 times until I would understand them. You would only have to tell me two or three times.”
From a young age, Federer and Pierre Paganini — his fitness coach for almost two decades—, worked hard to build his speed, a very important skill in tennis. Here’s Paganini take: “Nine times out of 10 on the court, the speed is in the first three steps and then you’re playing the tennis ball. So you have to train to be particularly strong in the first three steps.’’
“You have to put in a lot of sacrifice and effort for sometimes little reward but you have to know that if you put in the right effort the reward will come.”
Identify the skills that you need to acquire to excel at your job and constantly learn and develop those skills.
#5 Rest Is a Key Productivity Factor
Federer normally takes his wife and four kids with him on the tour. He tries to fit holidays after the Slams and other key tournaments to rest. He also sleeps for 11-12 hours per night.
Recovery is one of the key factors for the longevity of Federer’s career. And he knows this very well: “If you look at the big picture, sometimes you have to step away to come back strong. I always did that throughout my career.”
Rest and recovery is also a key factor in our careers. Jumping to a new project immediately after finishing a big one can lead to burn out. Sometimes the best approach is to take a step back and evaluate what you learned, reflect, and recover.
And just like Federer, you might find yourself refreshed and ready for the new project after taking some well-deserved time off.
Federer’s unique combination of talent, productivity, and work ethic has enabled him to become one of the world’s most successful athletes.
And I reckon he will still write a lot more history in the years to come…
“When you’re good at something, make that everything.”