As ambitious leaders, we often look to and emulate the habits of highly productive people. What secret sauce do these unicorns consume daily that leads to their success?
Some high performance people will write articles, social media posts, or vlog their days that look like this:
I wake up at 2am for a two-hour HIIT workout followed by a full week’s worth of meal prepping, reading every news source available. Then I write 2,000 words of my bestselling book, hit inbox zero, and solve world hunger before I actually get to my desk to check in with my international team of 1200 employees.
If this kind of advice sounds unrealistic, or at best unsustainable, you’re not alone. What if instead we took a look at effective and sustainable habits and routines that regular humans can actually achieve? After all, an action can’t become a habit if we can’t continually perform it.
After reviewing the habits of high performers in different industries, these eight steps are the common basics we’ve found that work for extraordinarily productive people.
1. Start with analysis.
Analyze your current status, habits, and performance. Are you content with your lifestyle, business, and health? If so, celebrate! (And share your secrets with us!)
Chances are, there is at least one aspect of your life that you would like to change. If so, dig into the specifics, asking yourself:
- What does this habit look like in a perfect world?
- What are the consequences of not changing this habit?
- What can I gain if I do change this habit?
2. Define your goals.
Once you’ve taken stock of your current status, it’s time to clearly define your goals.
The common thread between high performers is the source of their drive: their purpose. High performance people know, believe, and live their purpose every day. Understanding your “why” will allow you to push through the tasks you dislike, the days when focus and energy are hard to sustain, as well providing more opportunities to celebrate when you hit your goals.
If you don’t have a specific cause to work toward, consider improving your leadership. Mentor, coach, encourage, and manage others. When you have to step up for others, you’re not only more likely to increase your self expectations, but you’re now more visible and will be held accountable by those who you’re leading.
3. Research supportive tools.
Take stock of your daily habits, interactions, and priorities. What do you do that distracts your attention? Do you need to keep doing those things, or can you live without them? If you can eliminate them but they’re ingrained in your habits, consider how you can set yourself up for success to stop them.
Do you need to put restrictions on your screen time or on certain apps on your phone? A plethora of free tools are available to help you with this. For iPhones, you can easily set up time restrictions on specific apps - or all apps if you need a total device break at specific times during the day or week. If you tend to override these restrictions, you can ask a friend or loved one to set up a passcode that keeps you from changing these settings. If you find out you need some of these apps during the restricted hours, you have to ask them to fill out the passcode so you can make the change.
Need a gentle reminder to stay focused? Download our free phone wallpaper to help you to pause before scrolling mindlessly on your phone. This wallpaper nudges you to choose a task that will really help you to rest and feel refreshed.
4. Identify your milestones.
So you have your goals and support systems locked down. The next step is to break your goals down into smaller pieces. A super simple exercise to try it is Rachel Hollis’s goal setting practice. Think about your goal as a marathon. Ultimately, you are aiming to finish the whole race, but you will see mile-markers along the way that establish how far you’ve come and how much you have left to go.
✨Extra Credit: Assign metrics to each milestone to evaluate your progress on your way to your ultimate goal. A common way to measure progress is the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) method. Set up to 3 milestones, or objectives. For each objective, define how you measure the level of success you were able to achieve.
5. Schedule your tasks.
Maybe you find yourself stuck in your inbox or in so many meetings that a rare day of tackling tasks feels like “a day when I finally got some work done.” If this is a common complaint, then reflect on what you can change about your schedule to make more time to focus on tasks that will actually get you closer to your goals.
Here are the top three ways to decide how to prioritize your tasks:
- Prioritize your most impactful tasks first. As you may have already done with your home, think about Marie Kondo-ing your tasks. But instead of asking “Does this bring me joy,” ask “Does this bring me closer to my goal?” If not, thank it and let it go. Take it off of your list. Remove it from your calendar. Outsource, postpone, or let go of the tasks that aren’t moving the needle.
- Prioritize your distribution of time. If you have flexibility over your daily and weekly calendar, you can use time management techniques like timeboxing, time blocking, or the Pomodoro Technique. These practices are helpful for maintaining focus and taking intentional rest so you can transition between tasks more smoothly.
- Prioritize your rest. Top athletes know that rest and recovery are critical to performance. Remember that you are worth more than your productivity output. Yes, your team and your livelihood are likely relying on you to have exceptionally productive behaviors. But if you’re not living healthfully or are constantly experiencing burnout, then you’re ultimately not going to be productive for very long. Take rest and reflection seriously; your future and your firm are counting on you.
6. Communicate your needs.
Clear communication about your goals, needs, and boundaries is imperative to your success. Not only does it offer your friends, family, and community an opportunity to help you (see the next section), but it establishes accountability for you. When people who care about you know how important a goal is to you, they’re willing to help you to stay on track. Maybe you need regular check-ins or words of encouragement to keep going. Or maybe you need a fire lit under you when you’re running short on motivation.
No matter what your goal is, including your loved ones and close colleagues can make a huge difference to your long term success. Communicate with this group in frequent check ins and conversation. Don’t forget to offer to encourage and hold them accountable too!
7. Ask for help.
Reflect on the five people you spend most of your time with and/or listen to the most. These people are a good reflection of the habits you’re likely to have. With this in mind, ask yourself a few questions to get closer to the support system that will help you to get closer to your goals.
Who is helping to pick up slack or take on delegated tasks? If you’re a solopreneur, you might not have anyone to outsource firm-related work to. But do you have friends and family who are willing to help you with non-work related tasks? Sometimes we need a hand with “life” tasks while we focus on growing a business.
Get creative with how you can outsource work tasks too. These tasks might be lower-value but still necessary. In the long run, would it cost you less to hire a virtual assistant, contractor, or vendor to take on tasks keeping you from your goal? Run a cost-benefit analysis, but don’t discount hiring help even if it’s for a short-term project. For a truly high performance business, it’s critical to focus your energy on your strengths first, and work on improving your weaknesses in reasonable time.
Additionally, who are good examples of people who have successfully achieved the goals you have? Whether you know them personally or not, consider thinking of them as a mentor. If you can contact them and ask them questions, then start the conversation. If they’re not reachable, but they create content that you’re able to consume regularly, then start dissecting the habits of productive people. Look closely at what they say and do, and look for tips and tricks that you can adopt.
8. Reevaluate as needed.
Anytime you find that a strategy isn’t working, dig into the cause. Do you need more support to stick with the habit? Do you need to give yourself more time to get used to the new way of living? It’s also always possible that the high performance habit you chose isn’t a good fit.
Give yourself grace. Give yourself more time than you expect to adopt these new routines. You always have the power to go back to the drawing board when you find that a habit is no longer helping you get closer to the way you want to run your business and your life.
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