Success is a habit. Or better phrased, success is choice to make changes to your daily routine. Changes that are difficult, even uncomfortable.
Develop good habits outside of work, and that is bound to improve your performance in the office. Figure out areas of improvement, make plans and stick to them. Developing good habits can have a lasting impact, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
Here’s how to build habits that last a lifetime.
Develop a plan with measurable goals
All these strategies to develop good habits rest on two things: building a plan, and sticking to it.
While people do build plans, few stick to it in the short to long term.
Planning doesn’t have to be a lengthy exercise but it does need some thought. For every goal in your plan ask yourself: ‘what does success look like?’ Is it being more efficient at your role? Is it learning and applying a valuable new skill? Expanding your network by a certain number of people each month? Think about what your goal is and how you can measure your progress.
Planning measurable goals alone will take you a step further. For example, someone with a goal to increase muscle mass by X kg is more inclined to achieve the goal. One who has a bit of vagueness to the goal, will fail in the long term.
In most cases it’s helpful to build a spreadsheet that you can reference over time.
If you’re trying to get more efficient, time yourself and record the entry in the spreadsheet. Enough entries over time will allow you to objectively track your progress.
Get in the habit of updating your progress at least once a week. If you don’t have updates for a few weeks in a row, maybe you need to work harder. Once you’ve completed a goal, move on to the next one.
Develop the infrastructure to track and measure your progress.
- Think about what success looks like
- Build a plan with measurable goals
- Create a simple infrastructure to measure/track
- Track your progress over time
Find a mentor and be ready to learn
Most leaders point to a few common factors for their success. Right from tenacity, grit, passion & a lot of others. Some also talk about having great mentors who guided them whenever required. A good mentor can tell you on how to be the best version of you and help navigate potential career pitfalls. If you don’t have a mentor, it’s time to find one. But how do you go about that process?
The bad news is that there’s no formal process for finding a mentor. That’s also the good news. There are a few criteria for finding a mentor. A mentor can be anyone senior to you in the industry or maybe even an adjacent industry. A mentor also has to have a vested interest in your success. They’re investing in you because they know you or admire your work.
Approach experienced leaders you look up to and seek their coaching. The conversation itself doesn’t need to be awkward. Just say that you would appreciate their insight or guidance from time to time. Make a habit of setting up periodic meetings and keeping in touch. Ask your mentor for help with more difficult problems. If you nurture that relationship, having a good mentor can make all the difference.
- Even the greatest leaders have mentors
- Identify a possible mentor and reach out
- Be sure to keep in touch and nurture the relationship
Constantly expand your working knowledge
Success is tireless learning of new things .
Take Warren Buffet, the “Oracle of Omaha” and one of the most successful investors of all time. Of his most frequent pieces of advice for students is to constantly read. Buffet reads five to six hours a day and includes topics beyond business and finance.
This wealth of knowledge gives you new tools and new ways to add value. You could just read more books about your industry but it helps to build a more targeted plan. Taking steps to build, improve working knowledge now can pay dividends in the future.
It’s helpful to identify several areas where developing your working knowledge would be beneficial. It might be learning more technical concepts relevant to your job or anything relevant.
If you’re a financial analyst, it can be helpful to learn SQL or a programming language. If you’re a lawyer, being savvier with Excel can help you stand out.
Commit to reading one new book a month. You might even read biographies of notable people in your field. You can take notes if it’s helpful but even passive reading can provide benefits.
Expand your knowledge to take on more challenging assignments. Be comfortable while conversing with senior leadership.
- Learn constantly to expand your working knowledge
- Carve out time to learn skills that make you stand apart
- Learn on your schedule
Colin Powell: “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”
Get into the office early
Getting up early sounds like the standard self-improvement advice. One can find that on any health blog. While there are general benefits to getting up early, getting into the office first can help keep you fresh.
Most people get into work right on time (or late) and are always rushing to their first meeting. They’re stressed & not properly prepped. And they don’t look their best, first thing in the morning.
Try something different and get into the office 30-45 minutes early. That extra time in the office can be the cornerstone of developing good habits at work.
Here’s how to put that time to good use.
Most offices are empty before 9am. Getting in early gives you almost an hour of uninterrupted time. Use that time to plan your projects for the day. Get ahead of emails, and make sure you’re ready for your first meeting. Some people like to use this time to just sip a cup of coffee and read the news. Either way, this window of time can help you relax and get centered before the real workday begins. This is your opportunity to “meditate” at the office and start your day on the right foot.
- Start your day relaxed and ready to make an impact
- An extra 30 minutes before work starts can keep you fresh
- Use that 30 minutes to plan out your day and get a head start
Take the time to exercise regularly
Work can be stressful. That comes with the territory and everyone has their unique ways of dealing with stress. Some people take a walk around the block, others just grab a cup of tea. Another alternative is to exercise regularly, even when you’re pressed for time.
It doesn’t matter what your role is or how crowded your calendar gets. Everyone can scrape together thirty minutes to get a solid workout. That workout can help you clear your head and keep you operating at the top of your game.
Pick three days a week and commit to a good workout. It’s not worth it to put a work out on your calendar if you’re going to cut it short or skip it altogether. It’s three, thirty-minute blocks of time on your calendar. Some people get up early and go to the gym before work. Others rush to the gym after work, which can be difficult after a long day. If you’re in a large city there’s more than likely a gym within walking distance. Put together a simple exercise plan that mixes cardio and weight training.
A solid thirty-minute workout releases endorphins, gets the heart pumping. It motivates you when you’re back at your desk. The discipline it takes to commit to these workouts spills over into your other daily tasks.
- Exercise helps you relieve stress and stay focused
- Find 30 minutes to exercise, no matter your schedule
- Improve physically & mentally with exercise
- Let the discipline spill over in your work
Study the great ones
Every industry has pioneers and notable leaders. Given your industry and seniority, you might even know a few of them. How did they move up the ladder and become successful? That’s your job to find out. For everyone you admire, there was a path to the top and a lesson to learn. It’s time to do a little research.
Make a list of five to ten top leaders in your field. Study their backgrounds. Check out their bios on social networks and other information you find online. Start looking for patterns in their success. Did they get into a particular field of study or executed a series of successful projects. Often you’ll find that these leaders have shown grit and tenacity. A willingness to take on projects outside of their area of specialty. Once you have some early findings start thinking about your own roadmap. Are you taking a cue from these leaders that you admire? Are there things they did that you could do too? Use their experiences as guideposts to measure your own development over time.
- Studying the career path of industry leaders can provide useful insight
- Read their company bios and any other information you can find
- Think what skills or experience they’ve developed and use that experience as a guidepost
Learn from your mistakes
Even office rock stars make mistakes. Maybe you handed in an assignment after it was due. Your Excel model might have had a rounding error that wasn’t spotted until it was too late. There are plenty of reasons why you screwed up.
One of the most important good habits is taking the time to learn from your mistakes. If you don’t, you could just as easily make the same mistake again. Being known for careless mistakes and repeatedly getting it wrong is not the reputation you want to cultivate. Spend time to figure out what you did wrong to make sure you get it right the next time.
If you’ve made a mistake recently, document it. The more rigorous your tracking, the easier this process will be. Document the full breadth of errors in a project. Then try and pinpoint the moment things went wrong. Were the instructions unclear? Was there a change in priorities that wasn’t reflected? It’s possible that there was a simple math error too. Identify the actual problem & plan to prevent an encore performance. If instructions were unclear, how can you increase clarity the next time. If priorities changed, could there have been better communication. Taking a hard look at your mistakes demonstrates your thoroughness and attention to detail.
- Mistakes are an incredible learning opportunity
- Document everything and pinpoint where you went wrong
- Determine why you made the mistake and build an action plan to improve your performance
Vince Lombardi: “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while… you don’t do things right once in a while… you do them right all the time. Winning is habit.”
Use your time wisely
Most people come to work each day and just pick up where they left off. This may be a reason for many to be inefficient at work. This habit doesn’t let them add as much value as they otherwise could. Just slogging away until project completion isn’t a great use of your time. Develop a system to ensure you’re spending your workday as efficiently as possible. This needs some concerted efforts but it’s well worth the time.
Build a list of your most common tasks each week. It might be building financial models, managing projects, or conducting research. Think about how long each of those tasks should take.
Maybe you like to check your social media at work. You might stop what you’re doing from time to time to get coffee or socialize. Find out if with your full attention certain tasks can be completed quickly. Assign a target completion time for each of your core deliverables. Start tracking your progress. Record how long each deliverable actually takes to complete each week. At the end of the month, check your progress. You should see that recurring projects gradually take less of your time, especially if you’re willing to focus. Using your time wisely and becoming more efficient frees you to find more ways to add value.
- Planning your time is the first step to make its efficient use
- Start timing how long it takes you to complete routine tasks
- Track your progress over time and use that efficiency to free up time to add more value
Learn to branch out and meet new people
One good habit is expanding your network. It doesn’t matter whether you just started or are an industry veteran. Developing a strong network is critical for success. A broader network helps you meet future colleagues, bosses, and customers. Most people don’t want to hire or vouch for people they aren’t comfortable with. Depending on your field, the best jobs aren’t going to be posted on a job board. The short list of candidates is formed before anyone knows there’s an opening. Consciously take steps to expand your network. Here’s how to start making those connections.
Like most of these work habit tips, you need to make a plan. Start with setting a target for the number of people to meet each month. For most people, three or four seems reasonable. The next step is to put together a list of people at your company that you want to meet. They may be in similar roles in different divisions or people with completely different backgrounds. Once you have your list, send a few introductory emails. You can say that you saw their LinkedIn and found their path to the company interesting. You could also say you want to better understand their department. Ask for a 30 minute coffee chat and be flexible about scheduling. Afterwards, be sure to send a thank you note and periodically keep in touch. Building your network doesn’t have to be stressful, you just need to develop your list and get in a good rhythm.
- Expanding your network is critical for success
- Build a list of people you want to meet and reach out
- Thank them for their time and remember to stay in touch
Think about your “hall file”
Everyone has heard the phrase that reputations are hard to make and easy to break. This can be especially true in the workplace. Your reputation determines what projects you’re assigned, what access you get to management. Even your chances of promotion. Your reputation is built up over months or years of work and daily interactions. That reputation is more than a resume or a paycheck; it’s your “hall file”. It’s the answer someone gives when a trusted colleague asks what they think of you. Its good if conversation always ends in your favor.
Decide what your personal brand will be. You have to be able to narrow it to just a few quick sentences. Maybe you want to be known as a subject matter expert in a particular field. Maybe you want to be the social media marketing guru who’s on top of industry trends. Whatever your personal brand needs to be, you can start building it today. Start developing that subject matter expertise or social media skills. You’re already building a reputation, whether you know it or not.
- Reputations are hard to make and easy to break
- Your reputation is what people say about you when you’re not in the room
- Start building the reputation you want, today
Developing good habits at work can have a lasting impact on your career trajectory. You need to find ways to be better, faster, and smarter than the next person. These strategies can help you develop those good habits and make sure you get noticed. Some strategies help you develop new skills, some help you find a mentor to guide you, and some just help you blow off stress. Not all might be relevant to you; pick and choose what works for you. It’s all about building the best version of you at work. If you’re reading this, you’ve already started that journey.