“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Will Durant
This is a comprehensive guide to good work habits to help you succeed in your career in 2021. So if you wonder what to do on a daily basis at work, you will love this guide.
Let’s get started.
Own your work
Even if you work for others, do it as if it is your own business. Talk to your clients the same way your boss would do, when he’s at his best. If you work in a company, work as if you own the business. You can’t have a say in everything but you can always take responsibility and own what you do.
Stand up for work that matters
Most corporate workers spend time on tasks others assign to them. They behave as if their job is to follow orders from their boss. Besides, why should you care to stand up for what matters when you can hardly catch up with the tasks your boss assigns to you? And isn’t it the boss’s job to lead in the business? Well, maybe if you want to make your boss happy. But if your goal is to contribute to the business of your company, you will have to learn how to stand up for work that really matters.
Spend 80% of your time doing 20% of the work that produces 80% of the results
Another good work habit is to use the Pareto Principle, which most people know as the 80/20 rule. There is a difference between knowing and doing. That’s why I use the word “spend,” not “know” here. In today’s world where we all get bogged down in doing more to achieve more, it could be challenging to actually be able to spend 80% of your time doing 20% of the work that produces 80% of the results. You need lots of skills and courage. Dealing with distractions, finding focus and saying no are just a few of them.
Set up your smartphone to work for you
Our smartphones follow us everywhere now, even when we go to the toilet. It has everything we need for work and life. Our email and other communication happen there. Chances are that most (if not all) our favorite distractions are right at our fingertip these days. Another good work habit to have is to set up your phone to work for you, instead of against you.
Work without digital distractions
Which of these apps do you not have on your phone? Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, and LINE are just a few communication apps that cause endless distractions to our day. Worse, there are also emails, Microsoft Teams, and Slack. Most people might already enable the do not disturb mode when they need to focus. However, it’s not enough. You need to build your focus muscle by making it a habit to turn off notifications during most of your workday. Just like you should schedule email time, consider checking your communication apps only twice a day: once at 11:30 a.m. and another one at 5:00 p.m.
Dealing with distractions is a habit that we need to develop to be fearlessly productive. While most of our external distractions come from our phone and computer, there are many other sources we need to be aware of. These could include the way you collaborate as a team. You might work on your priorities from 8 to 10 a.m. while your colleagues won’t get to them till after lunch, leaving the morning for admin and logistical work. Other major external distractions could be team’s emergencies, others asking for help, and unproductive meetings.
The more difficult distractions to cope with come from within. Some just find it so difficult to stay at a task for long. They keep reaching for their phone or check their email every couple minutes, especially when they get stuck. Even when I can deal with external distractions well enough, my mind still gets distracted thinking about a million other things that I need to do when in fact I’m supposed to be writing.
The ability to focus is a must-have work habit for elite performers. It requires more than just being able to address distractions. You can put your phone away or turn off all notifications on your computer while working. You know that your mind is pulling you to other tasks that you plan or need to do. But without deep focus, we can’t expect to produce amazing work that we wish we would. The level of connectivity that technologies give us makes deep focus very difficult. Meditation and mindfulness practice are important habits to adopt to improve our ability to focus.
Have high integrity
Not just at work, integrity matters in life too. What would you do if your boss isn’t watching you? Would you tell your client that the property you are selling is good when in fact you think otherwise. Oftentimes, it takes a great deal of courage to stay true to our values. It might not make you rich but you will be sure to live free of the mental and emotional burden that would come as a result of a lack of integrity. You’ll be happier.
Learn to accept negative thinking well
Others might tell you to think positively. I’ve learned that we can’t always do it. If you have just had a big fight with your spouse or your colleague, how can you maintain positive thinking? That’s impossible. But what you can do instead is to learn to accept it. Know that you are having a negative thought. Breathe. Stay with it long enough until its effect becomes less painful for you.
"Perfectionism is like a 20 ton shield we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight." ~Brené Brown
I am still learning but if you’re like me, you’d realize how perfectionism has stopped you from actually getting started on lots of projects. Probably some of them would have changed your life. Looking back, I’ve come to understand how perfectionism has cost me lots of time and money. I could have used them to be a better person than who I am today.
Schedule the Priority
Most people prioritize tasks on their schedule when in fact, a better way is to schedule your priority. The things on your schedules are usually someone else’s priority, not yours. Your priority on the other hand should be something important for your long-term goal or job. If you want to publish a book, writing is your priority. If you’re an in-house legal counsel for a life insurance company, your priority should ensure that the new product your company is developing is legally sound and compliant with the relevant law and regulations.
If possible, you should schedule to work on your priority as long as possible every day. Even on a very tight schedule, aim for at least 60 minutes.
Know how to manage their time effectively
Time is money and gold. Effective time management is a crucial work habit to have for elite performers. They value their time so dearly they are very careful not to get distracted unnecessarily. All their working hours are usually planned and you can’t steal them.
Schedule time for emails and communication
Email remains an important communication tool at work. However, most professional workers spend too much time on email, leaving little time for their priorities. In my experience, if I don’t schedule time for email, I would leave my emails open and make it easy to get distracted all day long. My email time is 1100-11:30 a.m. and 5:00-5:30 p.m. towards the end of my work hours.
Be well organized
This work habit is very important to get things done and cope with stress at work. If you are not well organized, you cannot find the focus you need to produce the quality outcome you desire. Low-value tasks will get in the way of your priorities. And even if you are working on your priority, you can’t focus your mind. Besides, it takes you more time to complete your tasks. When you spend two minutes to find an email piled up in your inbox, an organized professional can do it in a couple seconds. Every time you need a work document from the pile that you stack on each other without classifying them, you are wasting time. Being unorganized can result in several minutes (if not hours) wasted unnecessarily.
Use to do lists
All of us plan and prioritize all the time, but it is better to get our tasks off our head. Using a to do list makes it clear what your priorities are. While it is enough to use just a pen and paper for this, I recommend Todoist. It is a more sophisticated and advanced task management app for those who are willing to put in a bit of effort to learn the tool.
Use the not-to-do list to avoid distractions
The not to do list is for your favorite distractions. What usually distracts you from doing your important tasks? Mindless snacking? Social media? Web browsing? News reading? A chat with your colleagues? Add them to your not to do list. Emails, chat messages and other work-related activities should have their own time after you’ve completed your priorities.
Review your own performance daily and weekly
Another good work habit to adopt is to review your own performance daily and weekly. The daily review should be done at least 10 minutes before you leave work. It should tell you how you did and plan optimal performance the next day. Similarly, the weekly review is when you reflect on the passing week and set the intentions for the following week. 30 minutes before you finish your work week should be scheduled for your weekly review.
Be a good team player
Unless you’re a solopreneur or writer, chances are that teamwork is very important. Being ignorant of how your work contributes to the organization not only causes you to underperform but it also affects the performance of the entire team. In fact, for you to be able to get focused on your work priority, the whole team must learn to work synchronously with each other across the whole organization. For you to be productive, the team must be productive. Likewise, for the team to be productive, you must be productive.
Be independent to work with little guidance
This sounds like a cliché but it really is a great work habit to have. It took me some 12 years to be able to work as independently as I do today and you don’t have to. It is necessary to ask when you don’t know what you’re doing but once you’re clear, own it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Just do it and get help where you get stuck.
Practice meditation and mindfulness
Without proper rest and recovery, you can’t perform at your best. Meditation relaxes your mind and body. Research shows that when our brain is resting, it engages its “default network” to continue problem-solving, examine possibilities, and look for relevant information. That’s why you can get more done if you take proper breaks throughout the day, by meditating and practicing mindfulness.
It is such a great work habit that we underrate. If more people meditate or just take time to pause and breathe every hour, the number of burnouts or Karoshi, the official Japanese term for overwork death, could be lower.
Be a good role model for others
Be the change you wish to see in your workplace. If you want others to be focused, be focused yourself. If you want your colleagues to be helpful, be a role model for that yourself. Not only does complaining not solve problems, but it also makes them worse. Role modeling, on the other hand, will sure get you to rise to the level of change you wish to see in your workplace although it might not change others.
Work on priorities day in and day out
I’d emphasize this because in today’s world where we are pushed to do more to achieve more, it is very easy to get distracted from our priorities. Make it a habit to work on your most important things first thing in the morning every day. If you’re a writer, make sure you write every day. When you have all day, write all day. If you can’t, do it even just for 5 minutes.
Embrace personal and professional development
The ancient Greek poet Archilocus put it very nicely: “We don’t rise to our level of expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” I also believe in luck and timing, but those are the bonuses and out of control. The only thing under my control is self-improvement. In fact, in my experience, the better I grow, the luckier I get. There are many ways we can embrace personal and professional development at work. Reading books, peer learning/sharing, personal reflection, asking questions when in doubt… These are just a few examples.
Be open to ideas and feedback
Don't fall for the self-serving bias. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. That we are right does not necessarily mean the other is wrong. Oftentimes, it could be that we are feeling different parts of the elephant. Or we are just looking at a number 6 from the opposite angles.
Take proper rest
It might sound crazy but true. We (myself included) do not take proper rest these days. Our phone, social media and messaging apps are our favorite thing to do whenever we feel like taking a break. Work-related communication during vacation seems so necessary. It is either we do not know how to rest or underrate the importance of it. We must learn how to take proper rest should we be able to maintain our energy and experience the power of full engagement.
Master the tools necessary to perform
If you’re a real estate agent, you’ll need to know how to use the listing system. A solo agent? It’s also important to know how to use a CRM app, digital marketing platforms like Facebook, email marketing, and blogging. Office programs such as Microsoft Office and Google Docs are a must if you want to go far in your office career. Different careers need different tools so master the tools you need for your work.
Focusing on doing your best at your job is important but you need more than that. Regular networking should also be another work habit you develop. Others talk about purposeful networking but it does not have to be like that. Facebook, LinkedIn and other chat services are useful. You should block a bit of time in your day (but no more than 30 mn, I’d say) catching up with your people in your networks there but the five people you hang out with on a regular basis affects you and your career more than anything else.
Network broadly but be selective about the five people you hang out with.
Live the lifestyle of the successful people to whom you look up
I am not talking just about the way your role model gets dressed but their keystone habits that contribute to 80% of their success and… the person that they are. Observe what they do at home and at work. You don’t have to be them; you can’t. But you can learn to live their lifestyle, your way. Maybe your role model is very charismatic when he talks in front of others and that’s how he builds his audience. While you can learn to be amazing at presenting in front of others, you could also learn other ways to achieve the same thing. Maybe you are great at writing and should use it to build your audience. If you’re a video maker, produce video content that will wow others.
Your role model may wake up at 5 a.m., but it could be difficult for you as a night owl. You can still exercise, meditate and journal during the day. The idea is to do what they do, but in your own way.
Learn the art of getting help
The art of getting help involves knowing what to ask for help with, who and when to ask. Don’t ask for help with what you would not do yourself. It’s better to ask for help with what you first get started and work that you believe inputs from others are important. Don’t fall for the Parkinson's Law and let get in the way of getting help either. Get help as soon as you can so you can ship with pride the work that you do.
Now It’s Your Turn
So that’s it for my guide to good work habits to succeed in your career in 2021.
Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:
Which habit from this guide are you going to develop first?
Do you plan on meditating?
Or maybe you want to try to take proper breaks at work.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.