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10 Smart Habits

First-class tricks I’ve learned while working with amazing people.

10. Recognize opportunities to be remarkable. I couldn’t really get into Seth Godin’s Purple Cow book but the premise is that you should aim to be a standout in your field. Often opportunities to flaunt your stuff come as stretch or bonus assignments, on top of your already-heavy workload. It’s worth putting in the time to surprise and delight people.

9. Recognize opportunities to be helpful. On the other hand, I liked the spirit of The Power of Nice, written by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval of Kaplan Thaler. Anyone who’s seen a pregnant woman standing on a crowded train appreciates that common courtesy is an old-fashioned concept… gone the way of the thank you note. Stop lording over your own skull-sized kingdom once in a while.1 Even a miniscule unselfish act will come across as rare and valuable.

8. Leave it better than you found it. My personal pet peeve is an untidy hand-off. For example, let’s say I ask for a list of career counselors at local universities and I’m given an Excel doc with names, titles and links to web site, but then I have to click thru and forage for phone numbers. Annoying. Take the extra step and put gas in the car so the next person has a full tank.

7. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Simply put: Your need for flawless results shouldn’t serve as reason to procrastinate. This principle comes into play whenever a project is perceived to be a huge undertaking. A diet, for example. Many people fail (or don’t even start) when they hold themselves to rigid constructs, e.g. spend every day at the gym or no carbs. In reality, any effort they make is better than none. Just start.

6. Batch process instead of multi-task. Ever been on the phone with someone clearly distracted by their Inbox? Multi-tasking to the point of distraction is irritating and unproductive. A University of California, Irvine study found that office workers switch tasks every 3 minutes, and it takes 25 minutes to return to the original task. OMG! Clearly, managing two tasks at the same time reduces the brainpower available for either.

Still, it’s exhilarating to get a million things done at once, so here’s a better way to do it. Group all like tasks together, set a timer and bang them out as fast as you can. E.g. Move all emails that require your response to a folder. Then answer them in a 30-minute period. Pay all your bills or sort your mail once a week, rather than piece meal. You get the idea.

5. Take a lap. Or take a nap(!)… when you’re mind is foggy and you can’t string a sentence together. If you’ve worked yourself into a stupor, then take a break to recharge the batteries. There’s no use in continuing to work at half mast when you can get there much faster once the wind returns.

4. Just the facts, ma’am. Every once in a while, just for kicks, practice brevity. Respect other people’s time. Take a page from Twitter and get your point across in 140 characters or less. No editorializing, no tangents, just the facts and support points. Get it out in as few words as possible. It will give you more time to listen.

3. Listen. You should be able to play back or teach in your own words whatever is said to you. Be able to tell someone what they were talking about if they lose their train of thought. If something is incongruent or confusing, ask them to elaborate.

2. Look for lightness. If you have something tough to communicate, or need to ask your team to do the impossible, make it your job to instill humor. It humanizes you and makes it easier for others to relate.

1. Keep inspiring company. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to be your best. These are your “brokers of dreams.”2 You aspire to live with the same richness, integrity and purpose that they do. They routinely ask you to go beyond what is familiar or easy, help you develop and achieve your ideas, and tell you when you’re being lazy or obstinate. Make sure to be a dream broker to someone else too.

Got a good habit? Don’t keep it to yourself! Post a comment.

1David Foster Wallace

2Bruce Feiler

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