There are myriad psychology models and theories on what motivates us to do the things we do: how we respond to incentives, achievement theories, and so on.
I look at motivation as excitement. So how can you remain motivated in a simple way that works every single day? Here are 10 ways.
1. Take a break–you deserve it.
The only way we can perform at an optimal level is create time for rest. The moment you know you can’t take any time off is usually when you need it most.
So take that long delayed vacation, and return to your business with renewed enthusiasm.
2. Keep your cards close to your chest.
Finally running that marathon? Excited about your new diet? Bursting at the seams over your new project? Good. Keep it to yourself.
Announcing your intent to do these feats will backfire. Resist the urge to reap the barrage of Facebook likes, and gushing comments. The positive feedback you receive from your network will trick your brain into thinking you’ve already accomplished your goal, sabotaging your once-motivated brain to do said feat.
So keep it to yourself and share the good news once you’ve already done it.
3. Confront death, and define your legacy.
Death is a powerful motivator. We get bogged down in mindless activities. They make us feel like we’re accomplishing things, when in reality we’re just spinning in circles.
Knowing that you have finite time on this planet helps sharpen your focus. Everything we do is another step in defining our legacy. This may seem like heady posturing, but both can be powerful motivators.
4. Celebrate the little wins, no matter how small.
Little wins may seem like just that–little.
Celebrating these wins can help to create positive habits. You break the inertia of mediocrity by teaching everyone around you how to win. They get the chance to bask in that emotion.
Vishen Lakhiani, CEO of Mindvalley, has gone so far as implementing what he calls the “awesome bell.” Which he rings (you guessed it) anytime something awesome happens.
5. Slash your to-do list in half.
Slashing your aggressive to-do list in half will allow room for success. Knowing that it’s realistic for you to complete the list is empowering.
6. Be gentle with yourself.
Stop comparing the accomplishments in your life with those of your neighbor. The story you create in your head will never be as good, and the reality will never be as bad.
There are many people who are smarter than you. The moment you can embrace this notion, you’re free. Free to explore. Free to follow what excites you. Free to ignore what they do, or how they do it, and focus on you.
7. Hack the way your brain perceives your new habits.
Recently, I began waking up two hours earlier than usual during the week. Instead of viewing it as two hours less I get to sleep, I view it as two extra hours to my day, allowing me to add a full workday per week.
8. Embrace vulnerability.
We live in a culture where we horde Instagram followers, and Facebook likes. The perception of our lives being anything less than perfect is a daunting notion. The glossy Facebookification of our lives can create a dangerous facade of success.
Sharing defeats and admitting failure is a powerful cultivator of motivation, allowing you to move past the failure. Work through the emotion instead of taking it out on someone else. Then move on to something more constructive.
Sharing these vulnerable moments also cultivates deeper connection with peers.
9. Do what you love (sort of).
Find what it is you love to do and get proficient at it. Success dwells at the fulcrum of passion and excellence.
But be careful. Make sure that you can make a living from your passion. I’m passionate about a lot of things that I know I’m not so amazing at and that I definitely can’t make a living at. I love playing guitar. My daughter loves when I play songs from the movie Frozen. It’s fun. I’m never going to be a rock star.
There is a an anecdote I’ve heard about Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Gates’s father at a dinner party. A guest asked them what the most important quality for success was today and all three responded “Focus” at the same exact time. They all smiled and laughed to each other because they hadn’t really prepared the answer.
We are all inundated with texts and emails. These are no longer just work interruptions. Because of the mini-computers we carry around in our pockets, the flood of information distracts us wherever we happen to be, 24/7.
So turn off your iPhone, stop trolling your ex-lover’s Facebook page, and get to work.
One of those days again: Your alarm goes off, you open your eyes, and all you want is snuggling back into your sheets and sleep a few more minutes.
But duty calls, so you get up, wash your face, and grab your first cup of coffee to compensate for the lack of recovery from the night. What follows are hours of operating in automatic mode just to get through the morning before you actually feel awake.
While we all know how this daunting scenario feels, a lack of sleep doesn’t only come with short-term sacrifices. In the long run, sleep deprivation significantly harms your health and productivity.
According to Shawn Stevenson, there’s no facet of your mental, emotional, or physical performance that’s not affected by the quality of your sleep.
Contrary to what you might think, sleep is an active process. During the night, our brain processes everything we saw, heard, and learned throughout the day. Additionally, our immune system gets strengthened, our metabolism gets regulated, and our damaged cells are being repaired.
That’s why high-quality sleep boosts your entire day’s output and ultimately increases the quality of your life.
Even though great days start the night before, the majority of today’s population is chronically sleeping deprived and suffering from low quality sleep.
Yet, besides a balanced diet and sports, sleep is the ultimate key to creating mental and physical balance.
According to studies, a lack of sleep leads to less creativity, more stress, and underperformance. This lack of rest leads to millions of people not living up to their full potential because they’re tired.
While many young people get trapped in a hustle mentality, thinking they’d accomplish more if they cut down on their sleep, the reality is the contrary: If done correctly, sleep can be the ultimate performance hack.
Minimizing your sleep to have more hours to work will backfire rather sooner than later.
Yet, also lots of sleep will barely lead to an energized body and a clear mind. Instead, it’s the qualityof your sleep that impacts your recovery.
And while being awake is a state of using energy, sleeping is anabolic, it builds us up and fuels us with the needed energy to get through the next day.
“You will factually work better, be more efficient, and get more stuff done when you’re properly rested.”
— Shawn Stevenson
Even though sleep optimization might sound complicated, it can be quite simple. A few uncomplicated habits can already lead to improved recovery and more energy throughout your days.
Understand Sleep Patterns and Build Routines
Even though many successful people and books preach waking up early, getting up at 5 AM is certainly not the holy grail to a successful day or life.
For many people, mornings are the only time when they can focus on side projects or their personal growth. Yet, when you wake up and when you go to bed, don’t matter as much as you might think. The only thing that matters in terms of productivity is how you spend the hours in between.
So instead of focusing on when to wake up, aim to maximize your energy and make the most of your time awake.
Our bodies love routines; that’s why going to bed and waking up at the same time massively affects your recovery.
Abnormalities might happen every now and then, but sticking to regular sleep patterns and going to bed at the same time will help you to fall asleep faster and wake up more refreshed.
Be Aware of Sleep Phases
While sleeping, we pass five different stages of sleep. These different stages of light and deep sleep form so-called sleep cycles, and each stage has different characteristics.
Stage 1 & 2: These are the light sleep phases. During these stages, our body temperature, and blood pressure drop, and we slowly fall asleep. Stage 1 is a transition phase between being awake and sleeping and only makes up to 5% of each night. During this time, we wake up easily.
Stage 2 is accountable for up to 55% of our sleep time. That’s when our brain activity slows down, and waking up becomes harder.
Stage 3 & 4: These stages are considered deep sleep. Our brain activity drops to a minimum, and recovery processes are at a high. Thus, these stages are the most important for getting the ultimate rest and recovery.
Stage 5: The last stage is also called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase. During this phase, our eyes move, we dream, and our brain activity is at its high.
After completing these five stages, a new sleep cycle starts.
Each cycle lasts for around 90 minutes, which means we usually repeat these cycles four to six times per night.
Four such sleep cycles would lead to six hours of sleep while six cycles account for nine hours.
Okay, but why does that matter?!
Well, understanding sleep cycles matters because when you wake up influences your energy levels. Waking up in the middle of a deep sleep stage will make you feel worse for wear, waking up during a light sleep period will lead to an energized morning.
In short: Being ripped out of deep sleep will cause you to feel less energized than waking up during a light sleep period.
How to do it:
As you know that each sleep cycle takes around 90 minutes, you can set your alarm accordingly. Instead of waking up in the middle of a cycle, ensure that your alarm rings when a cycle is fully completed.
Rather than aiming for the standard eight hours of sleep, make sure you complete your sleep cycle and don’t get ripped off of a deep sleep phase.
The easiest and most effective way to understand and take control over your sleep cycle is by using smart devices such as a watch or ring to track your sleep. Yet, even most smartphones can track your sleep if you place them close to your pillow.
If you, however, don’t want to make use of devices, work with the 90-minute rule and calculate when your alarm should ring based on getting a full sleep cycle rather than waking up in the middle of a deep sleep phase.
So, if you go to bed at 10.30 PM, rather set your alarm for 6 AM, instead of 6.30.
Soak Up Sunlight
Studies show that getting more sunlight throughout the day can help to sleep better at night.
We have a built-in 24-hour clock, the so-called “circadian timing system” inside our bodies that helps us to regulate day and night time.
Sunlight signals alertness to our brain and triggers the production of daytime hormones, which are responsible for regulating our biological clock. Thus, too little light during the day and excessive light exposure (e.g., through screens) at night influence the quality of your sleep negatively.
How to do it:
Whenever possible, get your body out and soak up some sunlight early in the morning. This will help to regulate your inner clock and differentiate between daytime and nighttime more easily.
You can, for instance, get to work a little earlier and walk the last mile, take your breaks outside or at least close to a window, or implement a short walk as your new morning routine.
Avoid Blue Light
The artificial blue light emitted by our screens has a negative influence on our sleep patterns as it harms the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us to fall asleep with ease and sleep well.
Due to the exposure to artificial lighting, our bodies can barely differentiate between day and night. Thus, falling asleep is more difficult after staring at our screens late at night.
Engaging with our devices late at night keeps our brains alert and harms the quality of our rest. And even though watching your favorite movie or typing a few messages might not seem like a big deal, it is.
Browsing through the web is keeping your brain active while all you need after a busy day is to disconnect and unwind.
“Disconnecting from our technology to reconnect with ourselves is absolutely essential.”
— Arianna Huffington
How to do it:
Whenever possible, avoid screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Experts even recommend avoiding artificial light through screens 90 minutes before bedtime.
Instead, practice activities that help you calm down, such as reading, stretching exercises, meditation, or any other calming hobby.
If you really can’t stop using your devices, install a blue light blocker on your screens (e.g., f.lux). By doing so, the blue light of your screens will turn into a red light, which is less harmful to your body and sleep. Most phones already have a “night feature”, which also reduces the blue light that is emitted.
Alternatively, you can also grab a pair of blue light blocking glasses.
Darken Your Bedroom
In addition to avoiding screens, dimming the lights of your bedroom will also improve the quality of your sleep.
If exposed to too much bright light, your body doesn’t know if it’s day or night. Thus, sleeping becomes harder, and the quality of the rest drops. Sleeping in an utterly dark room, however, will help you to fall asleep faster and wake up fully recovered.
How to do it:
If possible, completely darken your room through (roll-up) curtains. If that isn’t possible, grab a pair of sleeping masks. These are cheap and effective, plus, you can take them wherever you go, which makes them a great companion during travels.
In addition to light, also minimize noises in your bedroom. If you have any digital devices in your bedroom, unplug them and ensure silence during the night.
How to do it:
Close all doors and windows that might lead to unnecessary noises during the night. Additionally, make sure to mute or unplug all devices that might be noisy.
If avoiding noises isn’t possible, get used to earplugs: Just like sleeping masks, these are cheap and effective, plus, you can take them wherever you go, which makes high-quality sleep during travels easier.
Similar to light and sounds, our body temperature has a significant influence on the quality of our sleep.
When we go to bed, our body temperature usually drops so that we can fall asleep easier. If the temperature in the bedroom, however, is too high, falling asleep becomes challenging.
According to studies, the ideal room temperature for high-quality sleep is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Celsius.
However, in addition to the temperature of your bedroom, you should be cool too, meaning you should let go of all negativity and tension in your mind and body.
We all face negative experiences throughout our days. Even if you are an unbroken optimist, you’ll come across annoying people. And it can be hard to control our emotions throughout the day. Yet, at the latest, before going to bed, let go of all the negativity you faced during the day.
How to do it:
Make sure to cool your bedroom down before going to bed. Also, don’t wear thick clothing for sleep. Instead, let your skin breathe.
Additionally, do things that help you cool down mentally before bedtime.
Activities such as meditation or journaling can help you to let go of negative experiences and focus on the positive, even if you had a tough day.
If you want to take it one step further, you can write all your anger down on a piece of paper and burn it down. Literally, burn the piece of paper, but be cautious (e.g., do it in the sink). By doing so, you physically let go of the problem.
Other activities to calm down before bedtime are reading or listening to audiobooks.
Sleep at the Right Hours
One of the least known “sleep hacks” is the fact that our bodies recover most by sleeping between 10 PM and 2 AM.
Sleeping during this time will amplify the quality of your rest and help you feel more energized in the morning.
According to Shawn Stevenson, that’s based on the fact that we are part of nature. We are simply designed to sleep when it gets dark.
How to do it:
The 10 PM to 2 AM recommendation might vary depending on time zones, the time of the year, and other influences. Yet, the core idea is simple: Get to bed within a few hours of it getting dark outside.
“Timing your sleep is like timing an investment in the stock market — it doesn’t matter how much you invest, it matters when you invest.”
— Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary
Avoid Excessive Exercising
Heavy exercising before bedtime isn’t favorable as it boosts your metabolism, pumps your heart rate, and makes it difficult to calm down right before bedtime.
While an excessive workout in the evening might harm the quality of your sleep, a massage, and some stretching can be priceless.
Stretching and massaging your body with a foam roller will not only improve the quality of your sleep, but also help to calm down, connect with your intuition, and let go of tension.
Particularly if you have an office job and spend most of your days sitting, your body will thank you for releasing muscle tightness at the end of your day.
Besides the benefits of typical stretching exercises, a foam roller helps ease muscle pain, increase flexibility and blood flow, and help you relax.
How to do it:
If you want to do something good for your body right before going to bed, choose yoga or stretching exercises. Turn on some calming music and help your body to let go of tension. Not only your body, but also your mind will calm down, which is highly beneficial to have a night of high-quality sleep.
Avoid Big Meals and Caffeine Before Bedtime
Eating late can lead to inflammation and impairments in blood sugar regulation. Thus, whenever possible, avoid eating late at night. Your sleep, your body, and your performance will undoubtedly reward you.
However, if you should need to eat close to bedtime, make sure to consume protein-rich foods instead of carb-loaded, fatty meals.
In addition, avoid caffeinated drinks in the afternoon so that your body can get rid of the caffeine until bedtime.
Overconsumption of caffeine often leads to sleep problems, which leaves you tired, which again leads to more caffeine consumption, and soon you find yourself in a doom loop between coffee and bad sleep.
How to do it:
Instead of a late-night snack, you can drink herbal teas that help to sleep better. Chamomile tea, for instance, is known for its antidepressant qualities, and lavender tea reduces stress and anxiety.
Additionally, ensure to have some high-protein snacks at home in case you get hungry and want to eat something close to bedtime.
Depending on your body and what precisely you consume, caffeine usually has a half-life of around 5–8 hours. This means that half of the substance will be removed from your body in 5–8 hours. That’s why you should stop drinking coffee at noon or in the early afternoon to ensure your body gets rid of the caffeine until bedtime.
Preparing for high-quality sleep doesn’t need to be complex, long, or exhausting.
On the contrary: It can be short and fun. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all these ideas about what you could do to improve your sleep, have fun experimenting with them at your own speed. Keep what works for you and screw the rest.
What to avoid:
Avoid or reduce blue lights that are emitted by screens.
Avoid excessive exercising shortly before bedtime, choose yoga or stretching instead.
Avoid big meals for at least two hours before bedtime.
Avoid caffeine in the (late) afternoon.
Avoid waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle and being ripped off of a deep sleep phase.
What to do:
Understand your sleep patterns and build a consistent sleep schedule.
Get some sunlight early in the morning.
Darken your room and minimize all noises.
Cooldown the temperature in your bedroom.
Calm your mind and let go of negativity, for example, through meditation, reading, or journaling.
Get to bed within a few hours of it getting dark outside.
Take your time to experiment with different rituals until you find one that fits your needs and helps you to live a happier, more joyful life.
Choose one or two new routines and try different combinations until you find a pattern that helps you maximize your wellbeing and performance throughout your days.
On July 4th, the United States of America will celebrate its Independence Day. If you were born in America or live there now, this is the perfect occasion to celebrate the country in all its glory. Not sure what the holiday means and how to celebrate? Western Union has got you covered! Take a look below to learn everything you need to know about the Fourth of July.
All the way back in the year 1776 on July 4th, the United States was formed. Back then there were not 50 states, but thirteen colonies that claimed their independence from Great Britain. One of the country’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, drafted the Declaration of Independence and the rest is history. The country grew and grew to where it is today and Jefferson would go on to be America’s third President!
The historic meaning behind this amazing holiday is one of freedom and independence. It is a special time for Americans to recognize how fortunate they are to live in “the land of the free,” as it is sung in the Star Spangled Banner, the United States’ national anthem.
How To Celebrate
The Fourth of July is quite an exciting and spirited time in the United States! One of the biggest ways to celebrate is by watching a colorful firework display at your local park or stadium. These beautiful fireworks light up the sky with colors of red, white and blue and help make the Fourth of July celebrations memorable for the entire family.
Before the firework display however, the real fun begins! Many families will take a stroll to the beach or head to the park for a mid-day barbeque. Others might find themselves entering a watermelon-eating contest or visiting a local Fourth of July parade, full of live music, cyclists and fun!
What to Eat
We mentioned that many families celebrate with a big barbecue and it is a feast you will surely remember! Some typical dishes you might find at a Fourth of July barbecue are hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, with a side of corn on the cob and Coleslaw!
For dessert, this is a great opportunity to flex your creative muscles and cook up something fun and festive! Many will bake fruit cakes in the shape of the American flag, while another fun idea is to enjoy red, white and blue popsicles that are fun to look at and even better to taste!
No matter how you celebrate today, the Fourth of July is all about spending time with family, friends and loved ones. It’s important to celebrate your country’s Independence Day and recognize the significance of your culture and its history. If you are recognizing the Fourth of July, make sure it’s full of family, fun and fireworks, too! How does your country celebrate its Independence Day?
If taken seriously, short quotes can help us live healthier, happier, and more peaceful lives. Yet most of the time, all we do is get inspired for a few seconds and then move on with our busy lives.
Even though a spark of inspiration can be valuable, quotes only become truly powerful when we take time to reflect on their meaning and see how we can make use of them.
If used correctly, those tiny lessons can have a lasting effect on how we live, love, and make sense of life.
They can help us overcome challenges and spark hope when everything seems meaningless.
“If you resist change, you resist life. “ — Sadhguru
Most people waste their lives trying to “play it safe” because they fear changes and unexpected challenges.
Yet the truth is, you can’t run away from change because it’s a crucial part of life.
Life is an unpredictable journey and we can’t ever know what will happen tomorrow, next week, or even next year.
How to use this:
Instead of looking at change with fear, embrace it as a vital force in your life.
Things change all the time anyway — whether you like it or not. But instead of trying to resist, you can choose to welcome new opportunities with joy.
“If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you can be.” — Maya Angelou
We often hold ourselves back because we’re afraid of standing out and being different.
Instead, we try to fit in, even if that means feeling miserable deep inside.
The truth is, you were not born to “fit in.”
Yet, that’s not what society tells you. Instead, they tell you to live life a certain way: Go to school, graduate, get a “safe” job, get married, have kids, please everyone around you but yourself, retire, and die without ever fulfilling your own dreams.
According to most people, that’s the formula for a perfectly “safe” life. If you follow it, your parents and their friends might be proud of you.
But what about you?
Is that how you want to live?
Why do we normalize a certain way of living and demonize anyone who steps out of that boring pattern to live life according to their own rules?
How to use this:
Normality often seems the safest way, but it can quickly become the most dangerous path — especially if it doesn’t align with your needs.
You deserve to make your own choices based on your dreams, goals, and strengths.
Just because others are living life a certain way doesn’t mean that’s how you need to do it.
Step out of boring patterns. Do you.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four-hour days.” — Zig Ziglar
When we say “I don’t have time,” we usually mean “It’s not a priority” or “I can’t make time for it.”
Yet the truth is, we all have enough time if we’re just careful about how we use it.
Surveys show that we spend almost 4 hours per day on our phones.
Just imagine how much more we could do if we minimized the hours spent scrolling through news feeds every day.
How to use this:
If you feel like “you don’t have time,” start to religiously plan your weeks and days.
On Sundays, plan the week ahead and set three core priorities that’ll help you achieve your long-term goals.
Each evening, set three specific goals for the upcoming day, which will help you accomplish your weekly priorities.
If you have no idea how you’re using your time, start tracking your productive hours with a simple time tracker.
“Only put off until tomorrow what you’re willing to die having left undone.” — Pablo Picasso
We often keep ourselves busy “doing things” yet procrastinate on the few tasks that would truly matter.
Most people are so afraid of facing the truths in life that they choose to keep themselves busy, so they never “have time” to do the hard things.
They don’t follow their heart, stay stuck in careers they hate, and barely show love.
Even though we all have goals and dreams, most of us never dare to fight for them and thus stay stuck in daily lives we don’t enjoy.
How to use this:
Instead of fighting through endless to-do lists, pause and ask yourself which important moments and conversations you’ve been putting off for too long.
Each week, make time for at least one such conversation or activity.
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” — Gandhi
So many people believe they need to be bold and relentless to achieve anything valuable.
And quotes like “Nice guys finish last” just make our insecurities worse because we start to think we need to be mean to “win” in life.
Yet, as Gandhi preached more than 50 years ago, we can shake the world by being gentle, soft, and kind. And that’s mostly because shaking the world starts by shaking ourselves and those around us.
How to use this:
If you want to impact the world, start by first impacting your own life.
Stand up for yourself and show us what to do by doing it first.
Contrary to common belief, we can influence millions of people by being kind, compassionate, and caring.
In the 21st century, we’re all lacking love and deeper connection, so if you can show up and convince even just a few people of your good intentions, you’ll soon be able to start an entire movement that might shape more people than you ever thought possible.
“Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful.” — Marianne Williamson
Our energy shapes every aspect of our lives: It influences how we communicate, how we show up for ourselves, how we take care of our loved ones, how we get things done, and how we ultimately feel.
You can add energy and enthusiasm to the most mundane tasks of your life and ensure you stay on top of your game regardless of external circumstances.
How to use this:
There’s a saying that goes, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”
The truth is, the majority of our lives aren’t exciting.
Most of our days are spent with basic, boring activities like work, cooking, eating, running errands, cleaning up, and so on.
Yet regardless of what exactly we do, we can always decide to show up and infuse our desired energy into our days.
Instead of being frantic, we can choose to be peaceful and calm.
Instead of being annoyed, we can choose to be compassionate and kind.
And instead of blaming ourselves when things go wrong, we can choose love and forgiveness.
“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.” — Robert Holden
We often blame others for “not treating us right,” yet we’re usually the ones who treat ourselves worst.
We don’t take our needs seriously, prioritize others instead of ourselves, and barely take time to nourish our deepest needs.
And instead of looking within, we get mad at our partner, friends, or family for not taking care of us.
How to use this:
If you want to be treated with respect and love, you must first love yourself.
We’re teaching the world around us how we want to be treated by showing them how we treat ourselves.
Take time to explore your needs by reflecting and journaling.
Cancel appointments if you think they’ll make you feel worse instead of better.
Speak the truth and show up for your desires, even if they might sound ridiculous to others.
This is your life, and you only have one shot at creating a reality you truly enjoy. Trust yourself and give yourself the love you deserve before expecting anyone else to do it for you.
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” — Pablo Picasso
I’m an online writing coach and teach new writers how to build an audience by sharing their expertise or passion online.
One of the questions I hear a lot is: “What if it doesn’t work?”
And I usually reply by asking: “Well, what if it *does* work?”
Most of us are so used to “playing it safe” that we want to know our efforts will be “worth it” before even lifting a finger.
We don’t want to give more than we might receive. That’s also why so many people struggle with their relationships.
They expect 50/50, but the truth is, strong relationships aren’t always balanced.
Sometimes, you need to give 80 and only get back 20, while other times, it’ll be the other way around.
If you can’t deal with the fact that you’ll never know whether your hard work will pay off or not, you’ll struggle to break out of your existing patterns.
How to use this:
Big goals usually require big action and risks.
Whether that’s building your own business, getting a new job, or making fundamental changes in your relationships, you always need to do the work without knowing whether it’ll be worth it.
But instead of wondering, “What if it doesn’t work?” you can ask yourself: “Well, what if it *does* work out exactly how I want?!”
“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” — Dalai Lama
We want to “succeed” at all costs and ignore everything we need to give up to achieve our goals.
You can always go “the extra mile” and do a little more, but the question is: What do you need to give up?
The truth is, every decision we make comes with its own sacrifices.
Whenever you say yes to something, you’re saying no to many other things.
How to use this:
Next time you’re setting or reviewing goals, ask yourself what you’ll need to give up to achieve them and whether it’s still worth it.
If you have to give up your peace of mind, favorite hobby, and quality time with your loved ones to get a raise or build a side hustle, you might want to rethink that goal.
Each decision comes with its own effects. The earlier we consider those effects, the sooner we can avoid frustration in the future.
Be aware of your goals, but also be mindful of what you’re not willing to give up.
Did you ever scroll through social media profiles of influencers sharing their picture-perfect lives full of glamour and success and wondered how they got there?
If you’re anything like me, you later looked at your own life full of struggles, fears, and unaccomplished goals and felt frustrated about your own progress.
You might think of all the things you still need to take care of and wonder why your life feels so miserable while others seem so happy.
And most importantly, you feel like you’re massively behind in life.
You start to feel a little anxious. You believe you’ve made wrong choices and start to feel like a “failure.”
Sadly, wondering whether we’re “enough” is a common thought because comparing ourselves to others is now easier than ever before.
Social media and societal expectations make it hard to acknowledge our own progress because we’re so focused on what others are doing and achieving.
Yet the truth is, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, even if it might seem so at first sight.
We usually think that others are doing better because we only see the bright sides of their lives. And that’s partly because our perception of what a “good life” should look like is so screwed due to unrealistic expectations.
You might see someone’s big house and their fancy vacation photos, but you have no idea how peaceful or miserable they actually feel in that house or during that vacation.
Ultimately, “good” and “better” are based on your perspective. You can be happy with very little or own anything yet feel miserable.
The good news is, whether we’re doing well in life is mostly defined by small elements of our daily life:
You know what you *don’t* want
Most people will tell you, “you need to know what you want in life,” but the truth is, knowing what you don’t want is equally powerful.
If you know that you don’t want a typical office job, you’re a huge step ahead — even if you don’t know exactly what kind of job you want instead.
You might not know what your ideal relationship would look like, but you might know exactly what you don’t want based on your previous experiences. This information alone will help you make the right decisions too.
You can celebrate the wins of others
If you have a pure heart, you’ll be able to wish good for others and celebrate with them instead of feeling bad about their success.
So many people believe they need to constantly compete with their colleagues and friends while the truth is that we all can win.
We’re living in an abundant world full of options and opportunities for everyone, and it’s possible that we all do well in life.
You’re not hyped about every new trend
Here’s a truth most people will never accept: You don’t need to be up to date on every trend, and you can say no to materialism.
So many people’s purchasing decisions are based on what society and random ads tell them to buy. Similarly, their big life decisions are also shaped by those trends.
Escaping that cycle isn’t always easy, but it’s possible: You can live your life according to your own needs without following every new trend.
I used my last phone (a Samsung Galaxy S8) for almost five years until it broke down.
Phones are useful devices, but they can also be our greatest enemies. Most people spend way too much time staring at their screens anyway, so I consciously decide not to prioritize having the newest devices.
And I never understood why I should pay thousands of dollars for a new phone if I could get an older model for almost no money.
Once my old phone broke down, I extended my contract and got a new phone for free. It’s not the latest model but is a lot better than the previous one and does everything it should do. I’ll use it until it doesn’t get the job done anymore, and then I’ll get the next one.
The same is true for any other device I use in my daily life.
Most people live paycheck to paycheck because they’re drowning in small monthly payments for items they purchased to prove their social status.
If you can ignore those stupid games and make more thoughtful (and sustainable) choices, you’ll be able to detach yourself from that pressure to constantly buy things you don’t even care about and instead use your money to create a life you enjoy.
So many people think their material possessions will help them be happier or feel “more successful,” yet what truly happens is that they end up feeling miserable and drowning in consumer debt.
Luckily, genuine happiness isn’t rooted in “things” but in relationships and our inner emotions.
You’re a little skeptical
A healthy dose of skepticism helps you seek truth instead of shallow information.
Questioning life helps you look beyond the surface and find new paths you’ve never thought about before.
Most people do whatever they’re told to do without ever asking why. They act like puppets because they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions.
By doing the opposite, you’re stepping up for yourself and showing the world that you want more than the ordinary.
You feel connected
Research proves that meaningful connections are one of the most important elements of happiness. Plus, they even influence our health.
The good news is, you don’t need dozens of friends. In fact, the number of relationships we can nourish at a given time is finite anyway, and it makes more sense to maintain a small number of meaningful relationships instead of having shallow conversations with hundreds of people.
And if you don’t feel that sense of connection yet, you can now start to consciously build your circle with like-minded people. You could, for instance, join local events and clubs to meet people with similar interests.
If that feels too hard, you could even just start by joining online communities, which might later lead to real-life friendships as well.
You know how to step back to enjoy life
Even though a good life isn’t necessarily defined by what you accomplish, having certain goals and a vision of the future helps you stay energized and motivated.
Researchers even found that having a purpose can prolong our lives.
Having a strong purpose is also one of the common attributes of blue zones, which are five specific regions of the world where a great percentage of the population lives up to age 100 or more.
Yet, in Blue Zones, purpose isn’t necessarily defined by your work.
Their definitions are loosely translated as what makes life worth living. And if we’re honest, for most of us, our work isn’t what makes our lives more meaningful.
It’s our relationships, the voluntary work we do, or our hobbies that add meaning to our lives.
Yet more than half of America’s employees report that they lack proper work-life balance and work more hours than they feel comfortable with.
Working less and spending more time on other activities isn’t always easy because most of us grew up being told that we need to be hardworking to be worthy, yet it’s crucial.
And even just being aware of this fundamental truth is a step toward living a better life.
You’re not afraid of asking for help
Life can be so simple and good if we put our egos aside and ask for help whenever we need it.
We’re all good at certain things, yet we suck at others, and there’s no shame in being bad at something.
Whether it’s asking a friend or getting professional help — allowing yourself to get supported is the ultimate lifehack because it helps you save time and do things correctly instead of struggling on your own.
You can admit your mistakes
Peacefully accepting your mistakes and taking responsibility for your actions instead of blaming others shows that you can let go of the past. Plus, it also proves that you don’t let your ego dictate your future.
Blaming others is always easier and more comfortable, yet, it’s also what keeps us stuck.
If you can accept that it’s mostly your own choices and actions that have led you to your current life, you’re more self-aware and emotionally mature than most people will ever be.
You may not be where you want to be yet, but if you can stay patient and allow yourself to slowly discover new opportunities for growth, you’ll eventually end up exactly where you want to.
Even though we’d all like to have a little more stability and certainty in our lives, the truth is that we’ll never have it.
We’re all living for the first time, and each challenge we face just teaches us new lessons about ourselves and the world we’re surrounded by.
And even if we constantly want to improve ourselves and be happier, healthier, and wealthier, we need to stop sometimes and appreciate the progress we’ve already made.
At the end of the day, life is finite. So what’s the point of constantly chasing new goals if we never sit down and relax, never watch sunsets, or never dance until our feet hurt?
If you’ve ever felt like your emotions were “too intense” or “out of control” you’re not alone. Many people experience emotional intensity that seems excessive or disproportionate.
But the reason emotions feel out of control often has less to do with your emotions themselves and more to do with habits that magnify them…
The habit of worry magnifies normal fear into anxiety and panic.
The habit of self-criticism magnifies normal sadness into shame and hopelessness.
The habit of rumination magnifies normal frustration into anger and rage.
Mental habits take normal levels of emotion and make them far more intense and long-lasting. Which means…
If you want to feel more in control of your emotions, you must take control of the habits that govern them.
Learn to identify and eliminate these habits and you will discover that your emotions are far more manageable than you ever thought possible.
1. Relying on other people for comfort
Nothing could be more natural than to go to other people for comfort when you’re upset or in distress.
In fact, this is how most of us learn to deal with life’s difficulties — we have a supportive parent or caregiver in our life who is empathetic and comforting when we’re upset. The way they handle our painful emotions becomes a model for how we can deal with them as we mature.
Unfortunately, sometimes this process sometimes goes awry.
For all sorts of reasons, learning to self-soothe and effectively manage our own emotional struggles can get disrupted:
Some people, for example, have early traumatic events in their lives that sabotage this process of learning to self-soothe.
For others, they might learn at a young age that they can get relief faster and more easily by simply going to other people, and as a result, their capacity to self-soothe becomes underdeveloped as they age.
In any case, the core problem is this:
While it’s good to have other people as a source of comfort, it’s risky to rely on them.
When other people become your sole means of managing your emotional distress, it erodes your self-confidence.
This means difficult emotions will be themselves painful. But more than that, you’ll also have the fear of being inadequate to handle them yourself, which effectively multiplies the intensity of every painful emotion you experience. Being afraid of feeling sad, for example, will only make you feel worse.
The solution is to practice managing difficult feelings on your own even if you could get relief and comfort from someone else. Ideally, you would start with small things and gradually work your way up.
But regardless, you must strengthen your capacity to comfort yourself.
Your emotions will always feel out of control until you develop some confidence in your own ability to manage them well.
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
2. Being judgmental of your own emotions
Just because your emotions feel bad doesn’t mean they are bad.
Unfortunately, most of us are raised to believe that this is true. We grow up being taught that painful emotions are problems — like germs we need to be rid off or problems that need to be solved:
That we’re weak if we feel sad and discouraged.
That we’re broken or malfunctioning if we get anxious and worry “too much.”
That we’re sinful or morally deficient if we feel angry toward people.
But there’s the thing:
Emotions aren’t good or bad any more than rain or snow is good or bad.
You may not like certain emotions. Some may be uncomfortable or painful. Some may make it hard to do certain things. But to place a value judgment on an emotion doesn’t make any sense.
And the reason? Because you can’t control your emotions. Not directly, anyway.
You can’t just decide to turn up your happiness meter any more than you can decide to turn down your anxiety dial.
Emotions don’t work that way!
But aside from not being realistic, there’s another problem with judging yourself for how you feel:
When you criticize yourself for feeling anxious, will you end up feeling guilty for feeling anxious.
When you worry about feeling sad, you will end up feeling anxious about feeling sad.
When you put yourself down for feeling angry, you will end up feeling angry about being angry!
When you get judgmental about your emotions, you only compound their intensity and duration.
Think about this: No one goes to jail for feeling really angry. You only get sent to jail for acting aggressively.
As a society, we don’t judge people by their emotions, only their actions.
If you want to start feeling less emotionally volatile, stop criticizing yourself for the way you feel.
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
— Joseph Campell
3. Believing your thoughts unconditionally
It’s a funny thing that we’re so trusting of our own thoughts.
Perhaps because our culture tends to glorify our capacity for thinking and problem-solving, we make the mistake of assuming our thoughts are always true and helpful.
This is especially the case when it comes to thoughts about ourselves or how we feel:
After a coworker makes a rude comment about you during a meeting, the first thought that pops into mind is “Great, now everyone thinks I’m an idiot…”
As you drive to your daughter’s soccer game, the thought pops into mind that with a single movement you could swerve off the side of the road and your whole family would die. Then you immediately think to yourself, “Oh my God, what’s wrong with me?” The assumption being that your thought about swerving off the road was somehow true or meaningful.
But here’s the thing:
Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s true.
Many people’s emotions quickly start to feel out of control because they insist that everything in their mind is meaningful. As a result, they end up thinking endlessly about every little thought, feeling, mood, desire, memory, and emotion that pops into consciousness.
But for all its wonders, the human mind produces a lot of junk too.
Often a particular thought is just random mental noise. But if you insist on telling yourself a story about it and what it may or may not mean, you’re inviting in wave after wave of emotion — and often not the fun kind.
If you want to feel more in control of your emotions, practice being skeptical of your own thoughts.
If a thought seems obviously absurd or ridiculous, remind yourself that it could just be random noise — as meaningless and unworthy of your attention as an unexpected gust of wind.
“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.”
― Marcus Aurelius
4. Not taking care of your body
Ever since Descartes, we’ve been fixated on the idea that it’s brain and body, or worse, brain vs body. Think of the common sayings “mind over matter” or “it’s all in your head.”
Of course, this is ridiculous…
Your brain is part of your body. And your mind doesn’t work all that well without a functioning body.
Of course, this is obvious in the extreme case — deprive the brain of oxygen via a heart attack or stroke and your mind dies along with the rest of your body. But it’s also true on a much smaller scale….
Building passion is also a great way to manage and reduce workplace stress. Stress is a serious drain on productivity and had a direct effect on worker health and absenteeism. Stress-related illnesses cost businesses an estimated $200 billion to $300 billion a year in lost productivity, as reported in Stress in the Workplace. A study by Health Advocate found that 1 million workers miss work each day due to stress. This absenteeism costs employers an estimated $600 per worker each year. Twelve percent of employees have called in sick because of job stress. This is not surprising because most people respond to increased stress with added caffeine and alcohol consumption, smoking, and prescription medications.
A leader’s role in reducing workplace stress
Leaders can reduce stress by helping their people better manage it. Understand that leaders don’t create stress for others. Instead, they create conditions that, taken together with whatever is going on in people’s personal lives, can increase stress levels and decrease productivity and job satisfaction.
A leader’s role, then, is to help their people by educating them about the importance of self-care (see Step 4). They should encourage people to eat properly, take regular breaks and get enough sleep. People also need to have their minds and souls “fed,” with such things as time management training, meditation, prayer and a list of personal and team values to motivate them and help them make correct, healthy decisions. Leaders can also help by pitching in; offering people opportunities to delegate; accepting excellent, even if imperfect, work; and giving people the opportunity to vent and offer constructive feedback to improve processes and systems.
Of course, leaders cannot force their people to take better care of themselves, but the very fact that they offer options and serve as a resource for stress reduction can itself be helpful. After all, who gets the blame for work-related stress if not the boss?
How leaders can reduce their own stress
In addition to the strategies listed above, leaders should consider the following tactics to manage their own increased stress levels.
Label your emotion. The simple act of labeling our emotions reduces activity in the emotional brain and increases activity in the areas of the brain associated with focus and awareness. By labeling your emotions you can better separate yourself from the experience and draft a clearer plan on how to handle it.
Record and review your leadership goals. Clarity of purpose and action is a solid defense against leadership stress.
Be selective in your work. This was discussed in Step 1. Don’t engage in tasks and efforts that unproductive or produce limited benefits. Your time and attention are extremely valuable and must be protected.
Learn to delegate. Clear your plate of all the “other” things so you can do the “right” work. We detailed how to do this in Step 2.
Seek to control only the controllable. Focus on the things you can control such as your efforts and the way you choose to react to problems.
Remain positive. Stress is part of leadership and running successful enterprises. Don’t let it poison your mindset or, more importantly, your self-perception.
Get social support. Leaders often lack social support at work. To combat this, consider joining a peer board, a mastermind group, or a leadership development group that will provide trustworthy, confidential, and ongoing social support.
Re-group on a task. When a task is stressful, look for ways to better organize and streamline what needs to be done. Take time to clearly define roles and clarify expectations.
Increase your determination. Commit to working through your challenges and to not let them gain the upper hand. This determination will push you through the most challenging moments when you may otherwise be inclined to pull back.
Keep a collection of inspirational quotes handy. Quotes can give us quick bursts of inspiration. Here are two:
“Permanence, perseverance, and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements and impossibilities: It is this that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.” (Thomas Carlyle)
“The obstacle is the path.” (Zen proverb)
Consider your impact. As much as you are struggling with your burden, keep in mind that you are still needed by others. Your leadership, guidance, direction and support are critical elements in your organization and folks need you to be there for them. Use such thinking to push yourself forward.
Share what’s happening. Share your situation with a few close confidants who support you and can fill in for you as needed. Just knowing that others care about you can be extremely uplifting and can keep you going during difficult moments. Having people who can step in during your absence will help alleviate the burden and make sure that things move forward as needed.
Find the silver lining. In almost every difficult situation there are silver linings, including considering how many others may have it worse. For example, if you’re struggling with a defiant child who is making poor decisions, consider how much worse off others may be in terms of their condition and disconnect.
Reflect on how others did it. Life is filled with stories of “failures” who endured challenges yet went on to achieve great successes. People like Albert Einstein (rejected from college), Thomas Edison (failed repeatedly to invent the light bulb), FDR (crippled by polio), Charles Schwab/Richard Branson (struggled in school due to dyslexia) and Oprah Winfrey (domestic abuse) all overcome personal challenges to achieve greatness.
The future is being built now with robotics, artificial intelligence, and all kinds of automation that will take over many of the skills we perform today. But there are some skills that we will need for the future, skills that can’t be automated. If you want to excel in the years to come, make sure you’re up to speed in these areas:
Communication. If you’re in leadership, how you communicate, what you communicate and—most of all—how you listen are all supremely important. In communication, it’s the tone that inspires and the spirit that motivates. No robot or machine could ever have the same effect as a leader with great communication skills. Knowing how to communicate is all about creating and clarifying expectations. It’s important to communicate not just what you want someone to do and (without micromanaging) how they should do it but also why you want it to be done and why the person you’re asking is the best person for the job. People want meaning, so communication will always be a crucial leadership skill.
Engagement. Gone are the days of a leader sitting at their desk with the door closed. That doesn’t work (and really, it never did). For any enterprise to excel and achieve its goals leaders need to value engagement, because great leadership begins with connection. When we understand that despite the ways in which we differ we’re all alike in our desire for acceptance and connection, we can recognize those needs in ourselves—and in others. That’s when we can truly make a difference, and it requires human connection.
Influence. Many sources contribute influence in our lives. Parents, other family members, teachers, friends, books we’ve read, discussions we’ve had, life experiences—all of these influences merge together to form our core values and build our character. In the years to come it’s predicted that our biggest commodity will be ourselves—that people will follow others because of who they are and what their character represents. That’s not something you could ever get from a machine, robot or automation.
Heart. Automation can never substitute for heart, care and love. When a leader demonstrates caring, it makes a difference in everyone they touch. The world is full of people who need to be exposed to a caring heart. Great leaders care about the people they lead above their own leadership; they are close enough to show they care but far enough ahead to also motivate. The future relies on this wisdom: leadership is not about being in charge but about taking care of those in your charge.
There are doubtless numerous skills you’ll need to build a successful future, but it’s these core skills that matter most.
Filling management holes that get created when the company gets bigger is important. Use these four principles to develop the leaders in your organization.
For a company to be successful, it must find a way to develop talent. It isn’t always possible to hire leadership from the outside. Being able to develop leaders within the ranks will help the company to grow and fill future needs that come about organically.
When I worked for a company that was growing, we knew we had to spend time with our staff to help them grow into the leaders we needed. I created a training format that we used over and over to coach up emerging leaders and prepare them to take on more responsibility.
This training was ongoing. We instilled four principles in their work. This translated the core values of the company into their daily actions. It gave them a foundation to build their individual leadership style.
It didn’t mean that everyone could take on a leadership role. Some people naturally make better leaders. Some people enjoyed keeping their technical focus and didn’t want to change. Others wanted the additional money but not the extra work.
To be able to take on more, the individual also had to show that they could handle their current responsibilities. The example I would use is that the third string punter on a football team wouldn’t be voted captain. While talent isn’t the only requirement, there had to be enough ability to do their job at a high level. If someone isn’t at the top of their game, they would not be viewed as a leader.
We were able to go from a staff that wanted the extra benefits of leadership (more money, promotions, authority to make decisions, etc.), to a staff willing to do what was necessary to improve as leaders. Instead of just showing up and checking off a box, they put in the work to get better.
But for those with leadership potential and the drive to grow their skills, we could provide them foundational knowledge they can rely on to be successful. Here are those four principles:
Principle 1: Take ownership
The first principle was to take ownership. They needed to own their tasks. They had to own the processes and procedures. They had to own the outcomes and the production output.
This is different than being in charge. If they are in charge but don’t own it, they will always find others to blame when things go wrong. They won’t step up to do the extra work necessary when something gets fouled up.
The reality is that there are always going to be outside factors to blame. It is easy to find a scapegoat, because today’s business processes are complex and interconnect with other areas. This gives us plenty of places to point the finger when mistakes happen.
Instead, leaders need to make it their job to keep pushing things forward. They don’t sit back and wait for tasks to be given out to them. They search for ways to improve the team and catch mistakes early to prevent them from turning into major problems.
We emphasized that this was the antithesis to the “us versus them” attitude. We broke down silos by having leaders willing to step beyond their area to work with other teams to solve problems and improve efficiencies.
When everyone takes ownership, people are willing to do what is needed without finding ways to skirt responsibility. By taking ownership, this also meant consistency. It was more than one-time effort. It was exemplified in the habits, routines and patterns, not just in the one-off.
Our leaders started to have more follow-through. They would finish what they started. They knew that a failed outcome meant we didn’t do a good enough job. They didn’t expect praise for their part while pointing to others as the problem. They owned it.
Principle 2: Use next-level thinking
How do you know you did something right? Most people look at their task. Did you accomplish the task or not? Did they do what they had to do?
For leadership, we needed to shift our thinking. Each task is important, and we constantly measured individual production versus our key performance indicators. But next-level leadership required a shift in perspective.
We taught that most people rely on linear thinking. They see a problem and want to point it back to one factor. Linear thinking follows quick, snap decisions without much analysis.
Instead, we needed to use systems thinking. We had to see the interconnection between various parts of the system. We had to see that the decision for our team to increase production caused a problem downstream. Our shortcut caused ramifications to the quality control team. Or our boost in sales by cutting prices meant we had to pay overtime to make up for the additional work, further hurting the bottom line.
Systems thinking helps see the full business systems, not just the individual parts. Solutions had to account for the full system. This would help them develop higher-level thinking. They started to see the forest and the trees instead of getting stuck in the weeds.
Next-level thinking also meant that they had to be excellent problem solvers. We didn’t want problem finders or problem magnifiers. We wanted people who would see the problem and work out a solution.
Related: How to Think About the Systems in Your Business
When they explained the problem to their boss, they presented the research showing how it happened, along with options for solving the problem and their recommendation. We taught them that without this, they weren’t helping us, they were hurting us.
Anyone can point out problems and make them worse. True leaders can see problems and find solutions. Next-level thinking translated to honesty. They stopped throwing each other under the bus. They didn’t lie when they didn’t know something. They would go find out the answer. They learned the rules so that when they had to break them, they had good reason to do so.
Principle 3: Respect time (your time and others’ time)
The third principle revolved around time management. Leaders needed to respect their time enough to have efficient time-management systems in place. They couldn’t let others drag them down. They needed the ability to work with others to be efficient, so the work got done.
Part of this training involved learning to prioritize. We taught them how to look at tasks on a grid, comparing urgency and importance to determine what to tackle first. We talked about hitting low-hanging fruit or tackling the big tasks to knock them out of the way first. We taught them how to see nice-to-have items versus must-have items.
Related: 3 Reasons Entrepreneurs Struggle When Building Business Systems
We presented numerous ways to look at their mountain of work and slice it up, so it becomes manageable. If they didn’t get everything done, at least we knew they hit the high-priority items and didn’t get stuck diving down a rabbit hole.
By respecting their time and others’ time, they were able to be more efficient. It didn’t mean everything suddenly got done instantly, but it gave them a framework, which gave us confidence in them. We didn’t need to micromanage their day. Instead, we trusted their ability to decide what to focus on.
Principle 4: Focus on progress not perfection
Nobody is perfect. Chasing perfection means that we forego experimenting or trying new things, because we don’t want to mess up. Trial and error, by definition, means there will be errors.
We had to, instead, keep making progress. This meant continuous improvement. It didn’t mean people were afraid to try. It meant we addressed flaws and obstacles and kept moving forward. We changed the measuring stick. We didn’t look for the small mistake to criticize. We looked at the patterns to see if we were getting better over time.
Being able to develop leadership within an organization can be the difference between scaling a business and plateauing. Organic growth means there will be new needs in the future. Filling holes quickly with emerging leaders is more optimal than looking to hire from the outside.
We used these four principles of next-level leadership to develop the talent within our company, so that as the company’s revenue grew, so did the number of people stepping up to help.
The great part of it is that these are universal. They weren’t specific to our industry or our product line. They are principles that can be applied to almost any business team to improve and develop leadership. Use these if you find that your company’s growth is creating a void in next-level leadership.
Think about the last time you had a really productive day—when you made a number of important decisions, crossed off key to-dos, and reached out to a few new connections. That felt good, right? Now think about a day when you felt as if you got nothing meaningful done. Maybe you sent out next steps after a series of back-to-back meetings, spent half a day listening to your coworkers vent, or researched Slack icebreakers instead of industry trends. At the end of that day, you weren’t sure what you’d accomplished, but you certainly felt very busy doing it.
You had the same amount of hours on both of those days, but in one scenario, you were in control and crossed off tasks that had a bigger impact on your company or career. In the other, unexpected distractions and assignments that don’t clearly ladder up to larger goals took up much of your attention. The latter are what I call distractors and fillers: the extraneous tasks and time sucks that prevent you from doing work that matters.
There are three phases to taking back control of your time: assessing how you’re spending it, deciding what you should keep doing, and learning to say no to everything else while still being a team player. The last part is often the trickiest because being helpful at work and nurturing relationships with your coworkers are both vital to your career growth. The key is to be mindful and kind about the choices you make.
Here’s a simple roadmap to help you reprioritize your time while still being a good colleague:
Phase 1: Assess your time.
Before you do anything else, you’ll need to take notice of your distractors and identify your most common time fillers.
Distractors are tasks indirectly related to your work that prevent you from focusing on your priorities. They’re inevitable but not always proportionate. Women, for example, are often loaded with the additional roles of emotional therapist, culture builder, and conflict resolver. And distractors tend to revolve around people and culture—like getting stuck in never-ending conversations or recognizing that an employee needs a pick-me-up. In a silo, these tasks can serve an important purpose in helping people feel connected, but they become a problem when they take over your to-do list. Write your distractors down.
Fillers are tasks that are directly related to work but often aren’t highly valued and don’t help you advance your career. In other words, they’re not the kinds of projects that lead to recognition, raises, or promotions. Instead, they include “office housework” items like scheduling the follow-up meeting, taking the notes, or otherwise being the memory keeper, organizer, or person who keeps the trains on track but goes unnoticed. List these fillers out, too.
Phase 2: Decide what to keep doing and what to stop.
Look at your list of fillers and distractors and start to evaluate how essential these items are to realizing your career goals. As you look at each task, ask yourself these questions:
Does this support one of my personal or professional goals?
Is this a fundamental part of my job description?
Does this give me access to a valuable connection or a different part of the business?
Does it bring me joy?
If you answer “yes” to at least one of the questions, then there’s room for that item on your to-do list and it’s worth making time for it. If not, add it to your “to-don’t” list.
Now, I wish you could just add stuff to your to-don’t list and—poof!—it disappears. Some things you might be able to just stop doing. Others may require buy-in from your manager or delegation to someone else. For each item on your to-don’t list, add the first thing you need to do to get it off your plate. For instance, next steps could include: call the head of a task force to discuss stepping down from a committee role or set up a conversation with your manager to discuss your goals and priorities.
Phase 3: Get comfortable with saying no—and learn to do it kindly.
Saying no—and doing it with kindness—is the most important skill you can learn to keep time sucks like the ones you identified in the previous steps off your plate in the future.
When one of those distractors or fillers pops ups, decline with confidence. Start with, “Thank you,” instead of, “I’m sorry,” because you don’t need to apologize for turning down a request. Say, “Thank you for the opportunity,” or, “Thank you for thinking of me,” and then add that you’re at full capacity right now.
If the request is coming from a client or your boss, you might not be able to say no outright, but you can still be intentional about your workload and say, “Yes, I can do that, but it will take the place of X. Are you OK with that?” If this is coming from a close colleague, you may want to be specific about why you can’t do it. If you’re feeling generous, you can always offer a different timeline (“I will be free in July”) or a smaller assist, such as sharing research on a smaller piece of a project that needs to be done. This keeps you focused on your goals while still coming across as a team player.
It’s too easy for last-minute requests, distractions, and fillers to take control of your time and to-do list, leaving little room for high-impact work. But when you start to pay attention to these hidden time sucks, you can prioritize the things that matter most to you and your career.