Work is central to life. Every living being must do work in order to remain alive. Human beings are no exception. However, humans have more advanced requirements for work than do animals. To be satisfied with our work, it must have meaning to us. With meaning, the following habits supercharge the quality of our work, allowing us to manifest our greatest creations and achieve bountiful success.
This article is going to elaborate on 5 work habits of successful people. By the end of the article you will know what concrete steps you can take to make your work more effective. Also, if you lack the discipline to implement these habits, I will also provide links to articles which can help you with that.
So read on if you feel that this is something for you.
Good Work Habits Demand A Strong Foundation
What do I mean by “a strong base”? I mean a foundation of meaning. Our work needs to have meaning to us, otherwise we will do a poor job, get frustrated and give up.
Meaning sustains our work. It’s what gets us up in the morning and impulses us through the dark days of exhaustion and creative depletion. Without it, we’re lost.
Human beings are creatures of meaning.
But what is meaning? Ah, now that’s an impossible question to answer. What’s certain is everyone has their own unique meaning to find/create/perceive in the world. What’s more, doing meaningful work is like being in love. You don’t know how you’re in love, you just know it; head to toes, balls to bones (to paraphrase The Oracle from my favorite movie, “The Matrix”).
I’m telling you all this because the habits I’m about to share with you are hard. We live in a civilization which wants to keep us married to mediocrity. Practicing these habits is an antidote to doing mediocre work. But without a strong foundation of meaning to power us through the day, practicing these habits is impossible.
I know this because for several years I found no meaning in my work. Back then, applying these habits consistently would have been impossible for me. Now that I have created meaningful work for myself, sticking to these habits is second nature. They’re no longer hard.
You can read these articles to learn how I created meaningful work for myself. They might give you some clarity if you’re currently struggling with meaninglessness in your own work.
- From Curiosity To Success – The Journey Of Self-Discovery
- How To Discover Your Gifts
- Be Your Own Mentor – Read Yourself To Greatness
Now on to the habits.
1) Freedom From Distraction
Out of all the habits I believe this one is the toughest to implement, but also the most powerful. See, the people who run the richest and most powerful companies in the world, the tech companies, have inundated our civilization with technology designed to distract us.
These people figured out that the more of our attention they capture, the more money they make.
By feeding our user data into machine learning algorithms, these companies develop a unique and highly refined model of our interests, likes and dislikes. They then rely on these data to precisely calibrate the content they show us. Their intention is to capture our interest and maximize the amount of time we spend on their platforms.
The more time we spend on these platforms the more advertising these companies can show us and the more money they make.
It’s this financial incentive which has driven the development of technology which is increasingly sophisticated in its methods of distraction. Those Facebook notifications you get when someone likes your photo? Everything about them is calibrated to maximize the odds of you stopping what you’re doing and logging into the platform.
Yes, everything. From the person who left the like, the photo which was liked and the time the notification is delivered. Every measurable variable is accounted for. All to get you to unlock your device and log into the platform.
Our Technology Is Becoming Intelligent
This is the first time in humanity’s existence that our technology has “intelligence.” These platforms are powered by supercomputers designed for one thing: knowing us. By knowing us, our hopes, dreams and desires, these companies can manipulate us.
And it’s not just Facebook which does this. Every one of the tech giants does it. It’s a great way to find relevant content, but if we are unaware of how these platforms work we are liable to become addicted to them.
So if you own a smartphone, tablet, desktop, laptop, smartwatch or any other bit of tech created within the last two decades, you are exposed to their power to distract.
That’s why being free from distraction is so powerful. These days, few people are able to focus consistently on one thing for extended periods of times. Their attention has been eroded after years of misuse of technology. And the younger they are the more flimsy their attention span.
Distraction increases the risk of making mistakes in our work and prevents us from coming up with creative insights. I see it in my writing all the time. On the days I take care to minimize the distractors in my life, my work flows elegantly and effortlessly. When I fail to insulate my attention, my work suffers; it takes me longer to write and it’s not as good as when I’m fully focused.
Simply by detoxifying your attention from all the technological distractors, you will be raising the quality of your work to the uncommon. This will be hard to do if you’re addicted to your technology. But if that’s your case then it’s even more important that you do it!
How To Implement
- Don’t use your devices first thing in the morning. This one is essential. Our mornings set the tone for the rest of our day. What do you think happens when the first thing you do when you open your eyes in the morning is check your phone? You begin to rely on it to jump-start your day! From there, the odds of being distracted by your technology throughout the day shoot up.
- Leave your phone or other devices in another room while you work. The common excuse people come up with when I tell them this is that “they need their phone to work.” Do you need your phone to work, really? Or is that just the rationalization of a person addicted to their phone?
- Put a barrier between yourself and your devices. It sounds hard to believe, but simply by putting our devices in a plastic bag decreases their power to distract us. That extra barrier between us and our device unconsciously discourages us from using our device.
Being free from distraction allows us to practice the next habit.
2) Deep Focus
What is focus? It’s paying attention to something. What is deep focus? It’s paying attention to something so intensely that you lose yourself in it. It’s another name for being in the flow state; the psychophysiological state of optimum human performance where action and awareness merge.
Deep focus is the pinnacle of creativity. It’s the silencing of our inner critic while we immerse ourselves fully in the task at hand.
Deep focus is a hallmark of high creative achievement. Every virtuoso describes that they perform their best work when the muse inspires them, using them as a tool to work miracles in the world of mortals. The word “inspire” comes from the Latin “inspirare” which means “blow into, breathe upon.”
The muse inspires the creator and acts through them.
Naturally, deep focus can only by achieved by being free from distraction. This means no disruptive technology which takes us out of the flow of our work. It also means minimizing the influence of disruptive colleagues and customers.
Being alone isn’t necessary to focus deeply; elite athletes enter deep focus even while surrounded by thousands of cheering spectators. What is necessary is that we create a mental and physical environment which allows ourselves to enter deep focus.
How To Implement Deep Focus
- Train your attention by meditating. If I had to choose one habit which supersedes all other habits, it’s meditation. The ultimate goal of meditation is to liberate us from suffering. As we liberate ourselves from suffering, countless things improve. This includes our digestion, our sleep, our relationships, our health, our energy levels and our focus, too. Even meditating a few minutes a day has benefits.
- Perform Six Degree Flow. This is an exercise masterfully designed by martial arts champion Scott Sonnon to put us in the flow state. I’ve been practicing it for almost three years now. It has utterly upgraded my life. I used to believe flow (or deep focus) was unachievable for me. After I started doing Six Degree Flow, I began noticing that I stopped thinking as I did my work. I started flowing! I now experience flow regularly, thanks to this exercise. There is nothing more rewarding than experiencing flow.
- Honor your body and mind. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. Our bodies and minds are tools for our spirit to use while it inhabits this plane of reality. The healthier and stronger our body and mind, the more effective we are at expressing our soul’s intention. So, if we want to focus deeply we need to eat nutritious food; drink enough water; avoid sugar, alcohol and nicotine; sleep 7-8 hours a night; exercise; socialize and clear out our stagnant emotions. We do our best work when we are at our physical and mental best.
By getting a handle on what goes into our bodies and minds we begin to control what we create. That’s where the next habit comes into play.
3) Focus On What You Achieve
Let’s do an exercise. Please take a minute to perform the following mathematical operations:
What did you notice?
Was your answer to the previous question “The third operation is incorrect”?
If that wasn’t your answer you’re an outlier, congratulations!
If it was, then you allowed your negativity bias to focus your attention on the one wrong operation.
What about the other three operations which are correct? Why focus on the one that’s wrong? The vast majority of the operations are correct, yet you chose to focus on the single one which was incorrect.
That’s the negativity bias. It’s built into us humans. We are more likely to focus on what’s wrong than what’s right.
Make it a habit to appreciate what you accomplished after a day of work. Experience shows that the highest achievers focus on what they did right, rather than what they did wrong.
This habit might seem like common sense, but it still amazes me how few people are aware of it.
Take My (Wonderful) Girlfriend As An Example
She works tremendously hard every day. Every day she fills her to-do list to bursting; any ordinary human would have a heart attack at the sight of it. In fact, she puts so much on her plate that she never accomplishes everything she sets out to do. It’s impossible. So at the end of the day she beats herself up about not accomplishing everything she set out to do.
When I ask her about her day our exchanges are as follows:
I ask “How was your day?”
She responds “Good, but I didn’t finish everything I wanted.”
I then ask her, “What about everything else you did accomplish?”
She says “I know, but it I wanted to be more productive.”
I then say “So instead of being grateful for everything you did, you’re disappointed over the few things you didn’t accomplish?”
She remains silent.
By focusing on what she didn’t accomplish, my girlfriend is sending the message to her subconscious that her work isn’t good enough. That everything she did do counted for nothing.
What does that set her up to experience?
Permanent dissatisfaction with her work. By focusing on her lack she creates more of it. She’ll never be satisfied, no matter what she accomplishes.
Instead of being happy for what she achieved, she worries over what she didn’t do. Worrying is exhausting. Worrying undermines any work she will do in the future, because she’s using her energy to worry now, instead of resting to do focused work tomorrow.
Our attention is creative. Focus on what you do right. It’ll upgrade your work and your self-esteem.
How To Implement
- Be grateful. By taking time throughout the day to be grateful you shift your focus to the good things in your life. This magically creates more of the things you’re grateful for.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Taking the time to write out the things we’re grateful for is a powerful habit. It puts us in a positive frame of mind and primes us to see the good in our lives, rather than the bad.
- Feel gratitude before going to sleep. As you’re in bed take a few minutes to go over the events in your day for which you are grateful. Ending the day on a note of gratitude sets us up for a wonderful night and a strong start to the next day.
These gratitude practices lead us gracefully into the next habit.
4) Periodic Relaxation
If we want to do great work, making time to relax is not an option. It’s a necessity.
Whether you’re a student, an athlete or an employee, relaxing is when all the hard work you do becomes internalized. It’s when our brains learn, when neuronal patterns are reinforced and muscles are strengthened. Ask any elite athlete about their resting habits and they will tell you that it’s a core part of their training.
Roger Federer, the dominating Swiss tennis player, sleeps for 12 hours a day. He sleeps for 10 hours at night and then takes a two-hour nap during the day. He says that if he doesn’t sleep that much he hurts himself.
This comes from one of the most formidable athletes of our time.
Always working is unsustainable. We are physical systems. We take in energy and we output work. It is physically impossible for us to solely work without putting anything back in. If all we do is withdraw from our bank account, we will eventually end up with an empty bank account. We burn out.
We cannot only give. We also have to take.
Take time to relax. I understand it’s difficult to do this in a world that seems to be speeding up more and more, but that’s just the fear-reactivity herd instinct. So many people are afraid that if they stop moving they’ll fall behind. That’s nuts!
When we rest, we grow. We need to balance work and rest to be at our best. Go against the current and prioritize your rest and fun. Paradoxically, you will become more effective at your work.
How To Implement
- Make time to rest. It’s so simple, yet so few people take legitimate time off to rest. Watching television does not count as resting. Nor does drinking or smoking. If you want to be a lazy achiever (and you want to be, trust me) you need to rest. Take naps. Go to sleep early. Take time off to go to a park and relax. It’ll rejuvenate you and leave you ready to do deep work.
Now on to the final habit.
5) Ask For Feedback And Implement It
I believe that there is no faster way to improve at anything than asking for feedback and immediately applying it.
Getting feedback on our work from those who are skilled in our field allows us to target our deficiencies and resolve them with laser precision. It’s the fast road to improvement. Read this article to learn about how critical feedback makes Pixar movies great.
But even though feedback is such a powerful mechanism for improvement, why are people reluctant to ask for it?
The answer is ego.
By tying up our ego to our work, we become sensitive about the criticism we might receive when we share it with someone. We believe that our work reflects our value as a person. So when someone criticizes our work we feel as though our value as a person is being criticized.
I know the feeling. You feel worthless.
But our value is uncriticizable. We are precious and unique beings. Nothing we do or don’t do can change that. God loves us exactly as we are.
By not identifying with our work we can remain at peace whether it’s praised or criticized. Creators who view themselves as conduits for their work, rather than the originators, can then relax and go with the creative flow. There is no ego involved, so there is no reason to fear failure or criticism.
It all becomes a game! Which is how life is best lived, I believe. Alan Watts said:
“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”
So take a breath, relax, your work is not a reflection of your value. It’s OK to fail. And it’s OK to be criticized. We can choose to accept criticism and integrate it into our work, or disregard it and keep on going.
How To Implement
- Request for feedback on your work. This is pretty self-explanatory. Ask for feedback from your supervisor, friends, romantic partner, etc. Ask them if there’s any way you can improve. They will certainly have feedback to offer you. Often we can’t see our own faults, we need others to point them out to us. As you receive the feedback keep in heart and mind that it does not reflect your worth. Then choose whether you implement the feedback or not.
If the feedback does inflate/deflate your ego, then you are identifying with your work. It’s up to you to keep your ego in check (meditation is great for that)
Now Apply This Knowledge To Your Life!
I hope reading this article brings value to your life. I have distilled into it the major practices which have allowed me to improve as a creator. Now that you have the knowledge don’t wait to implement it! Do it while it’s fresh in your head! That way it’ll get stored in your heart, which is where real knowledge resides.
It will take months to fully see the returns on these habits. But I guarantee that if you include even one in your life and remain consistent with it, you are bound to see returns eventually. It takes a while for behavioral change to take root and give fruits. The key is to be patient and consistent!
We all have it in us to do breathtaking, astounding and valuable work. If we aren’t able to it isn’t because we lack the potential. It’s because we haven’t learned how to tap into it. I created this website to empower my readers, so more of us can unlock our potential and create dazzling lives.
Are you going to take up any of these habits? Let’s discuss in the comments section!
To our wealth and success.