How To Be Successful At Everything: An Idiot’s Guide To Winning Habits

Evaluate your life.  Take just a moment, to really evaluate your life.  Are you where you want to be?  When you were 18, is this where you thought you would be today?  If not, why?  What happened that prevented you from reaching your dreams?  What derailed you from that path to success? Where you ever on a path at all?  Where clear targets, milestones defined?  Was a path written as to how to be who in your mind you wanted to be?  Have you been driving through life without a map? 🙋‍♂️

Achieving anything in life takes practice. Working out, eating healthy, writing, relationships, music, are practices that get better with time.  Consider the following habits that have been proven components in the success of others and learn how to apply them to your own life.

Vision.  Let me ask you this.  Think about where you are, your present situation.  What would you do differently today if you won the lottery?  If in one instant you had millions of dollars in the bank, what would you do?  What if you found out this morning that you only had 6 months to live.  What is the rest of your week going to look like now?  What if its not you, what if your wife is diagnosed with terminal cancer?  My family recently went to see Aladdin.  In this story, a common thief finds true love in the form of a princess, which he cannot even approach because he is just a thief.  But then he finds a wish granting genie that makes him a prince.  I can guarantee that this is not going to happen to you, but let me ask you this.  If you were granted only 1 wish today, what would it be?  If there was one thing you could shoot for in this life, one dream that you know will come true if you only say it out loud, what is it?  I ask these things to get to the root of your vision – what the best version of yourself looks like.  What is your physical condition – your health, fitness, etc.?  What about your relationships – your friends, family, are you in love?  Where do you want to live?  Do you know what your house looks like?  What do you do – do you own a business, are you a CEO, are you drawn to ministry?  What is it that you want to do with your productive time?  Do you want to make a name for yourself?  Do you want to help others?  Do you just want to be able to support your family?  Close your eyes for a moment and really think about this.  We must get a clear vision of who we want to be if we ever want to reach our goals.  How can we ever arrive at our destination if we don’t know what it is?  Look at some of our articles on vision to help you with this step.  https://onfirelife.com/?s=vision

Goals.  Once we have a picture in mind of our destination, lets talk about goals.  This is something that comes natural to me.  In fact, it is really hard for me to get into this habit.  Bambi has been very inspiring to me on this point.  She recites and handwrites her goals every morning.  This is something I have only recently began implementing. 

So, to have the best chance of reaching our goals, 1st we have to set goals and 2nd we need to write them down.  Just as we may create a vision board to remind ourselves of our destination, we need to remind ourselves of our goals on a regular basis.  Writing our goals every morning is a great way to do this.  They need to be highly specific as well.  If you have a certain car as a goal, don’t just write down the brand, don’t just write down the model, you need to know the color, the interior, the options package, think about the new car smell, etc. If you want to hit a certain level of income, write the exact dollar amount.  Being a millionaire isn’t specific at all.  How much do you want to make in a year?  In a month?  In a week?  In a day?  In an hour? 

I was just listening to a podcast talking about how to get the most out of our sleep, specifically, utilizing our subconscious mind, and they suggested reviewing goals at night just before bed.  This allows our subconscious brain to be working on our goals in our sleep.  Now I don’t know if that really works, there is evidence to suggest it does, but the main thing is that we are reviewing and updating them regularly.  Start with our “end” self, and work backwards – setting goals in intervals.  Having milestones that we hit will build our confidence and even release endorphins that will motivate us to keep moving forward.  Write down how achieving each goal will make you feel to put an emotional tie to it.  By writing the goal rather than just thinking about it or reading it, the mind is forced to focus on it more intently in order to produce the words.  Over time they will become “seared” into our brain.  Grant Cardone, best-selling author of The 10X Rule and self-made millionaire has a special trick: he writes his goals down twice a day — once in the morning, and then once again at night.  I plan to implement this myself.  It couldn’t hurt. 🤷‍♂️

The bottom line is, organized plan of action is key to success.  Psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, at the Dominican University in California, led a study on goal-setting with nearly 270 participants. The results? You are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.  If you do not have clear goals for your life, you are condemned forever to work for those who do.

Check out some of our other articles on goals.  https://onfirelife.com/?s=goals

Plan.  Action without planning is the key to every failure.   Every day we are looking at our vision board or otherwise reminding ourselves of the big picture of how we see our lives in the perfect sense.  We are writing our goals once or twice a day.  We also need a plan for each step towards those goals (along with everything else we do).  I would suggest that each Sunday evening we plan out our week.  Make a list of the things we need to do during the week.  Then, each night (including Sunday), make a list of what we need to do the next day. 

Prioritize.  If we stick to the prescribed 8 hours of sleep each night, then 1/3rd of our life is taken right off the top.  We spend probably another 1/3 doing what I call “background processes” – eating, using the bathroom, etc.  We only end up with about a third of the day to work with.  We need to use it wisely.  Apply the 80/20 rule.  Focus on the 20% of our work that brings 80% of the results.  Work on the trivial few vs the trivial many.  Give each task a letter grade and put them in order.

  • A – Must do
  • B – Should do
  • C – Nice to do (if all B’s and C’s done
  • D – Delegate
  • E- Eliminate

Concentration/batching.  This is another hard one for me.  Well, Bambi might not say so… I have usually worked jobs in environments with lots of distractions.  Jobs where priorities often shift throughout the day based on unexpected “emergencies” that present themselves.  Today, I work from home, which can be a very similar environment.  Especially with kids around.  One thing I have found is that when I have periods of frequent interruptions, I don’t get anything done.  I need focus on what I am working on and every time I have to stop to go get something off the top shelf, or go look at something, or answer a quick question, or even “look at this”, it takes me a few minutes to get back on task.  I know there is always going to be some of this, but we are much more efficient when we can really put our head down and knock it out.  For some this may mean working really early or really late, or it may mean letting everyone know when you can’t be interrupted during work but can take care of other items during certain times of the day.  These are good times to take a quick (planned) break from the intense concentration of your work, and still help others.  Whatever works for you, try to get periods of good uninterrupted focused work in 1\2 hour – 2 hour intervals.  I recently read about something called the 52 and 17 rule.  Apparently, this is something known as “interval training” in sports that can be applied to other tasks.  In the book, Peak Performance, authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness explain that working all out for 52 minutes followed by a 17 minute break period will produce the highest level of productivity.  Obviously this may not work for everyone’s situation, but it is certainly interesting and something worth trying.

This goes hand in hand with the method of batching tasks.  This means to do a set of tasks to completion before starting something else.  For many of the things on your priority list, this may mean breaking items into smaller blocks or chunks.  Focus on one chuck, mark it off your list (satisfying), and move on to the next chunk.

Deadlines and rewards.  Much of the work we do has a built-in deadline, whether it be a project for a client or doing taxes.  One way to ensure we will meet that deadline (which we should strive to always do) is to create mini deadlines to go along with our task planning and batching.  As we meet each mini deadline, we should reward ourselves.  

Much like we reward a dog with a treat when they do what we want, we should reward ourselves, when we do what we want.  Now, we need to be reasonable with this.  If we are taking a shot after every 30 minute deadline is met, we are going to have a problem!  Maybe after getting a big chunk of the project done you go out to dinner, or see a movie.  Maybe an hour of productive work earns you 5-10 minutes on social media.  Maybe hitting a sales goal earns a massage.  You know you better than I do, tailor this to you.  What rewards will motivate you?

Overcome procrastination.  This one is a biggie for me.  I tend to put things off, sometimes indefinitely.  I can promise you, you will never accomplish your goals if you don’t get this one under control.  This is one of the biggest wrecker of dreams out there.  If we say we want to get in shape, but we need to wait until “Monday” to get started, we will probably never get in shape.  When we catch ourselves tending towards procrastination, we need to call it out immediately.  Get in the habit of audibly counting down from 5, and on 0 taking immediate and massive action.  Start when you have that thought of hitting the snooze button – count down and get up!  If you don’t feel like working out, work out harder.  Don’t let that little voice saying later rob you of what you want.  Be in charge of what you do and when you do it.   

Delegate.  Some people are better at this than others.  It is something I have always struggled with.  For me I think some of this has to do with learned behaviors, a deep-rooted desire to serve others, and on the other hand it might me an insistence on perfection (even in small details) and a lack of trust in other people to live up to the same standards.  There is a lot to unpack in that one statement, but let’s focus on delegation a bit more generally.  

If you are the sales manager, does it make sense for you to make all of the copies for the office? The coffee for all of the bosses? Sweep the floors? Take out the trash?  Why not?  Hopefully, as a sales manager your time is more valuable than that.  Now that is not to say that you are too good to do that or it is beneath you, please don’t walk away from this with that attitude.  If we take an honest look from a business perspective, you want the higher skilled (higher paid) people doing their specialized tasks that make the company the most money.  The tasks that require less skill should be delegated out to workers with less skill – in this case a janitor, a secretary, an intern.  Would it make sense if the Seahawks made Russell Wilson work as a waterboy in between plays.  Of course not, as the highest paid (at time of writing) player in the NFL, it would not be a good use of his talents.  He is trained and skilled as a QB and no matter how good a waterboy he would make, he will be a QB as long as this is where he is most skilled (or until someone better takes his place).  So why are you spending so much time doing tasks that someone else could do (maybe even better)?  If you have any control whatsoever over your work situation, and if you don’t you better learn to work differently, you need to learn to delegate those tasks that are:

  • Routine – if you could do it in your sleep, someone else could do it awake
  • Outside your skill-set – Let’s face it, we can do just about anything, but with most things there are others that could do it better.  Just because you are good at running the business and have done it all yourself in the past doesn’t mean you should continue to do it all.  You may be good at making decisions, but awkward and inconsistent on social media.  That’s ok, there are thousands of young stars in the digital space that would love to be your VA.  
  • Loathed by you – If you hate to do something, you are either going to routinely procrastinate doing it or do it so quickly it isn’t right.  Thankfully for you there are people out there that make a living doing that one thing.  
  • Tasks for which you are not responsible – People often accumulate tasks which they aren’t actually accountable for.  If you find yourself doing work that is unnecessary for you to do, find a new home for it.
  • Good for employee skills development – Sometimes it makes sense to cross-train employees or to train someone up to take a particular position.  Start delegating tasks to help build the necessary skills.
  • Time-consuming tasks – Sometimes you just need more time to focus on a higher priority task or planning.  Find your big time drainers and let someone help you with them.

Especially if you work from home or otherwise have your own business, there are many tasks around the home that can be delegated:

  • Landscaping and lawn maintenance
  • Pool cleaning
  • Small engine maintenance and repair
  • Gutter cleaning
  • Painting
  • Power washing
  • Housekeeping
  • Laundry
  • Grocery shopping – many stores now provide online order and delivery
  • Pest control
  • TV & appliance installation
  • The list goes on and on

You might be thinking, yeah but, those things all cost money.  Sit down and think about how much your time is worth and what even 5 hours a week out of your paycheck would look like because I can almost bet that hiring out 5 hours of house work would be less.  If you delegate some of the more menial tasks out and spend that time making an income, you actually make money by paying others.

On the flip side:

If you are delegating tasks within your business, never assume that they will be done correctly or on time unless you are checking up on it yourself.  You may have to do this for awhile until you get the right people in place.

Tasks not to delegate:

  • Crises – if an emergency pops up, don’t cut and run (unless it requires a call to 911).  Step up and take charge.  This is where being a leader counts the most.
  • Tasks for which you are directly responsible – higher level tasks, or those which the business would be better served by having your personal touch should be done by you.
  • Planning – whether it is setting corporate strategy or developing a team, if this is on your desk then you need to do it.
  • Confidential matters – some things are best not to risk getting out.
  • Praise or reprimand – if you are in position to be a leader, step up and deal with these in person.

Meetings.  Have a clear purpose for every meeting. If you are running the meeting, always state the purpose of the meeting along with the end time. Do not hold unnecessary meetings.  If the purpose could be satisfied with a meeting, do that.  Always assume stragglers are not coming – start on time.  Everyone’s time has value, including your own.  If you are not running the meeting, try to get out of the ones that don’t directly affect you or at least the parts that are not pertinent.  Always ask for the purpose of the meeting if it is not clear.

Neatness.  Again, this one is a toughy for me.  Some of it must be learned behavior – both of my parents have abysmally untidy offices.  My mother would always get bent out of shape if someone organized her office because she could find things when her desk was covered 3ft deep.  They say this is a sign of intelligence, that the brain is capable of locating items in chaos.  But you have to think that people like this are intelligent despite having this disorder.  In fact, even for those that wear a messy desk as a badge of honor, having a clean desk – defined as having nothing but the one thing being worked on – will increase efficiency by 20-40%.  I don’t know about you, but I could use that boost.  

Set up a filing system if you don’t have one already.  Before stuffing all of those papers into file folders, run them through the TRAF filter.

Toss – Be honest, if it is useless put it in the waste bin. 

Refer – It may need to be on someone else’s desk.

Action – These items need immediate action.  Queue them up.

File – Place in appropriate, organized file folders.  But have a system to toss after a predetermined length of time.

Self-advancement – This is one I have excelled at over the years.  Get off of Facebook and Candy Crush.  You should strive to be continually learning, soaking up at least 1-2 hours of knowledge every day – knowledge that will take you to the next level.  Read and study books that will advance your skills and ultimately your career (or prepare you to launch a new one).  If you are like me, audiobooks offer an extremely efficient way to multitask, but make sure you are still able to fully listen and absorb the information.  Trying to listen to an audiobook while doing tasks requiring a lot of thinking or reading is often fruitless (unless you are gifted to handle both).  Just taking time to read during coffee breaks and lunch time will be enough in most cases to make you stand out amongst your peers – if you are reading the right content.   If you have commute time, as so many do, listening to audiobooks is a great way to pass the time.  I used to look forward to my long commutes sometimes for this reason.  When not reading, there are some awesome podcasts out there on various topics as well as some incredible videos on YouTube.  

Focus music – I really like audiobooks, but when I am working on tasks that require a lot of focused cognitive function, I seem to better with music.  In recent years, research has proven correlations between certain music and performance.  I have listened to many streams of music specifically geared towards helping to maintain focus.  There is some on Spotify, some on Amazon Music, some on YouTube. 

One I am checking out right now is supposedly scientifically optimized to help you focus.  They don’t just have a “focus” music genre, all of their music is specifically curated for promoting focus and success based pm years of data and research.  The recommended music on Focus At Will is tailored for maximum effectiveness for your personality.  They have a 2 week trial (which I am in) which then turns into a paid subscription plan.

Increase efficiency – At some of the companies I have worked for, there was a high emphasis on Continual Improvement.  This means always looking for ways to improve the process.  This is typically done through data-driven methods, meaning that much data on the process, steps, efficiency, etc. is collected and analyzed.  With the right data, problems come to light that weren’t seen before, even by those that were directly part of the process.  Sometimes we can’t see what is in front of us and need to step back a look at the whole picture.  The same applies to you and your work.  Take the time to review and analyze what you are doing and how it can be improved.  Often, our workflow can be reorganized and whole tasks discarded.  You may be able to reorganize your business and improve your bottom line.  Don’t discount the value of optimizing your home office space.  Maybe you can reorganize your home gym and squeeze in another workout in the same allotted time.  Maybe you can change your attitudes and actions and even improve your marriage?

Accountability.  Though it is best to have the integrity to do the things we need to even when no one knows about it, that isn’t always how we work.  If we tell ourselves we are going to quit smoking, start working out, eating vegan, whatever, and keep that thought to ourselves, it is much easier to back out of that commitment than if we had announced it as a solemn oath to our friends, family, and on social media.  Knowing that someone else knows can be a powerful motivator.  This is called the power of social expectations, and it can be drawn upon to keep us on track with our personal development.  

Just announcing your goals, however, isn’t enough.  If we really want to be successful, we need someone that will monitor our progress and regularly check up on us to make sure we are on track.  Someone that will give us a kick in the pants when we get off track.  If we do this our chance of success will increase by up to 95% according to the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD). 

Take specific actions to advance your goals.  Document your progress.  Be honest with your accountability partner about what you are doing and not doing.  Tell others about your plans and progress.  If we keep it to ourselves, that will likely be as far as it goes.

 

There is an old adage that says we reap what we sow.  Plant the seeds today that will produce the fruit in years to come!