Originally published September 9, 2018. Modified on October 2, 2020.
Whether you are an executive during a job transition or long-time asset of the company, the most valuable habits that lead to a productive day require consistency and commitment.
Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar asks this question, “Have you noticed that you accomplish about twice as much as normal on the day before you leave for vacation?” Why is that? These six habits of successful executives will help you grow your productivity on a daily basis as you are capable of doing – and have done – on those days before you take time off.
1. Personal Goals
Set personal and professional goals (both long-term and short-term). Write down the things you need to do to accomplish those goals each day and then prioritize by the level of importance. And then, periodically – but regularly – pause (even if for a whole day each quarter) to assess whether the goals align with your bigger plan, and if so, what progress has been made, what mistakes have been made and what you learned from both. Do not be afraid to fail – as learning and success cannot be achieved without it.
“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.” —Orison Swett Marden
2. Focus on the Essentials
Avoid burnout by compartmentalizing and focusing on what is essential to your goal achievement and when you are resting or vacationing, allow yourself to unplug. In focusing on the essentials, separate the urgent tasks from the important ones and make sure you accomplish the important ones first. Build effective daily habits based on the premise that you cannot do everything that you – or others – want you to do. Do not consider that failure and do not allow it to affect your capacity for success.
3. Perfect vs Good
Be excellent in your work – but do not allow the “perfect” to become the enemy of the “good.”
Being a perfectionist is an all-or-nothing mentality. Something is either perfect or a failure; there is no-in-between and increasing your chances of burnout.
4. Be a Completionist Not a Multi-Tasker
To develop effective daily habits means to guard your time wisely. Structure your day and manage your time by avoiding the daily “vortex” that sucks you into tasks, conversations, meetings, etc. that limit your ability to achieve your goals. To do that, control the schedule (the “clock”) rather than allowing the schedule to control you. Interruptions are one of the biggest challenges to your productivity. Researchers at UC Irvine concluded that the average office worker is interrupted on average every three minutes and 5 seconds and it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain focus.
Operationalizing this principle will require that you learn to politely say “No” to many things that other people want you to do (especially on their timetable) and scheduling time to focus intently on your high priority tasks. If you can just pick up an hour a day avoiding small 2-5-minute conversations that do not advance your goals (like you do the day before vacation), you will add six weeks of work time to your year. And, when you attack the day you have structured, if possible, try to accomplish first the things you most dislike. Set specific time(s) aside during the day to check email, handle impromptu meeting requests and return phone calls rather than allowing them to interrupt your planned work-flow. Your belief that you are multitasking is hurting your productivity rather than helping it. A high functioning executive embraces effective daily habits and understands the needs to become a “completionist” rather than a multi-tasker.
5. Schedule Breaks Into Your Day
In addition, it’s equally important to schedule rest into your day, whether you take periodic screen breaks or schedule a half-hour block for internal reflection, they’re essential to your success as an executive. Even Charles Darwin recognized the correlation between periodic rest and increased productivity. When you examine Darwin’s daily schedule “you see he worked – conducting experiments, doing things a university committee or project leader would recognize as labor – about four hours a day.”
6. Turn off the Alerts
In an ever-connected world, your brain needs a break from the constant buzz of your phone. Try to avoid stacking meetings back-to-back without any break to allow you to regroup and focus. When in meetings, do not check your phone or answer calls. In fact, today’s phones are deceptive in their ability to kill productivity with email, voicemail, texts, IM, social media alerts, news notifications, etc. So, if possible, turn off the alerts and notifications and even place the phone on do not disturb during the times when you are working so that you can schedule 2-3 times per day to check it without it negatively affecting your work.
If you train yourself to regularly focus on cultivating these effective daily habits, you will be amazed to find that every day can be as productive and successful as that day before you take a vacation!
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