What is it that separates the extraordinary from the mediocre?
How can you escape the mundane middle and ascend toward a more successful career?
Start by cultivating these seven underrated habits.
1. Making your bed early in the morning.
Adm. William H. McRaven opened his 2014 University of Texas commencement speech with a jarring statement: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
McRaven reasons that by completing this menial task first thing in the morning, you set a productive precedent for the day. If you complete an objective right away, your momentum will propel you toward another item on your list.
Also, once you return home—even if you’ve had the worst day ever—you still get to enjoy the simple pleasure of a tidy, made bed. This is an easy way to condition yourself to reap the benefits of productive behavior.
2. Creating lists.
Writing out lists can help you visualize, clarify and consolidate your goals.
Many people approach work reactively, spending each day scrambling to extinguish fires as they pop up. These folks are blown about by the winds of endless requests, projects, emails and meetings. There’s no long-term strategy or goals; it’s just workplace survival.
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Successful people create lists—including goals for the day, the week and further into the future. Whether you use a planner, email or a tool such as Evernote, become a note taker and list maker. Let lists shape how you slice and divide your day. Set objectives, measure progress and augment your priorities.
3. Exercising charismatic behavior.
One prevailing myths about charisma is that people either have it or don’t. This notion is dispelled in Dale Carnegie’s iconic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” According to Carnegie, anyone can be perceived as more charismatic by:
- Showing interest in people
- Remembering people’s full names
- Talking about what interests others—not you
As Robert Brault once said: “Charisma is not just saying hello. It’s dropping what you’re doing to say hello.”
4. Actively listening.
Learning to become a patient, empathetic listener is a savvy start toward becoming a more successful person.
When you actively listen to colleagues, you build trust, establish rapport and bolster your internal support and influence. You’ll also start gathering more useful insights and feedback.
The best thing about listening is that you can become better at it right now. Start listening to your neighbors, co-workers, colleagues and managers. Ask questions, and let people elaborate.
You can even improve your listening online by visiting sites such as Reddit and Quora. You’ll be amazed by how many fresh content ideas you’ll stumble upon, just by offering a listening ear.
5. Knowing when (and how) to blow off steam.
Successful people prioritize self-care and mental health.
We all need to blow off steam every now and then, so block off time every week for exercise, hobbies or whatever activity you enjoy. Go on a short walk to break up your workday. Take a longer lunch break to recharge. Go get coffee with a colleague who energizes you. If you work in an office, organize fun team outings.
However you prefer to blow off steam, just be sure to prioritize your well-being. Ensconce free time into your schedule so it becomes part of your routine.
6. Being self-aware.
You might have heard the term “play within yourself.” This sports cliché pertains to the professional realm, too, as it’s wise to focus on the things you do best. Don’t venture too far beyond your skillset.
Most misguided workplace decisions come from lack of self-awareness. Not wanting to look weak or unhelpful, we often take on more than we should. Many of us simply overestimate our abilities, capacities or skills. Sure, believing in yourself is important, but don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Successful people are keenly aware of their abilities and limits, and they are not afraid to delegate.
7. Learning how to say no.
Do you feel compelled to accept every request, offer or project that comes your way?
This is an easy way to quickly burn out and disappoint those around you. If you want to succeed, you must summon the courage to say “no.”
If you accept work that you’re ill-equipped to handle or understaffed for, botching it will only multiply and magnify problems.
Be accommodating, but aggressively and honestly assess your capacity to handle every request that comes your way. If you’re unsure whether you can do an excellent job on something, err on the side of taking a pass.
A version of this post first appeared on Business 2 Community.