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5 (Non-Obvious) Daily Habits That Unleash Your Best Work

Are you stacking the deck in your favor, or leaving your work to chance? A few simple rituals can improve your odds of success.

(This article originally appeared in my column at Inc.com.)

Success doesn’t occur overnight, but neither does failure. Luck aside, both are typically the result of cumulative choices, and how well you position yourself to take advantage of opportunities. By putting a handful of daily practices into your routine, you can better prepare yourself to deal with the pressures and constraints of your work, and ensure that you’re spending your finite resources wisely. While there’s no formula for success, daily practices allow you to stack the deck in your favor.

In [amazon_link id=”1591846242″ target=”_blank” ]The Accidental Creative[/amazon_link], I suggested five areas (F-R-E-S-H) in which you should consider building practices to help you be prolific, brilliant, and healthy in life and work.

Here are a few simple, daily habits that can make a big impact:

1. Focus: end with the beginning in mind.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day… you will never be stuck.” At the end of each work day, or when you pause work on a big, long-arc project, always consider exactly where you will pick back up next time. One of the greatest causes of procrastination is a lack of clear direction. If you define your next action at the end of each work session, you will set yourself up for success before you even begin.

2. Relationships: close an open loop.

Is there a decision you’ve been deferring, or an open-ended conversation that’s weighing on you right now? Over time, these non-actions accumulate. They cause undue stress and rob you of your ability to focus on what’s really important. Instead of deferring your response, dedicate time each day to closing one open loop so you can move on with your most important work. Make a decision, provide an answer, or settle a conflict, and don’t let it rob your passion or focus any longer.

3. Energy: prune something.

Commitments of all kinds can accumulate over time and begin to strangle you. Make it a habit to look at all of the projects, tasks, and other commitments in your life and ask “which of these needs to be pruned?” If you’re saying yes to everything, you’re saying yes to nothing. You have limited energy to devote to your work, so the most certain pathway to mediocrity is to try to do everything.

4. Stimuli: set time to get inspired.

What goes into your mind often comes back out again in the form of new perspective or fresh creative thinking. If you want great ideas, you must take the time to fill your mind with inspiring stimuli that will spark new thoughts and help you think more systemically about your work. The most effective people I’ve met have regular time on their calendar for fueling themselves by reading, watching documentaries, or taking in new experiences. Set an amount of time each morning, whether it’s just fifteen minutes or an hour, for study and personal inspiration.

5. Hours: engage in idea time.

Most of us are paid for turning our thoughts into value. We solve problems, we make things, we strategize, and we lead through uncertainty. However, few people actually dedicate time on their calendar for thinking about their most important problems. Instead, they expect great ideas to emerge in the cracks and crevices of their already bloated schedule. If you want to have great ideas, you must dedicate time to generating them. Set aside an uninterrupted block of time each day, or at least a few times each week, for focusing on your most pressing problems and generating ideas for them.

As author Gretchen Rubin wrote, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” It’s the everyday practices that add up to big results over time. Curate your set of daily practices to help yourself stay focused, on-course, and prepared for whatever comes your way.

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Last modified: December 1, 2022

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