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12 Things Successful People Do Differently

12 Things Successful People Do Differently

What does Richard Branson know that we don’t? Or Bill Gates? Or even Barack Obama?

As a writer obsessed with productivity, I’ve scoured the lives of successful people to discover what they do differently from the rest of us.

Here’s what I found out:

1. They keep healthy

Successful people recognize the importance of exercise and keeping healthy. It’s almost impossible to be productive if you’re sick, tired or generally in poor shape.

One high-profile example is the body-builder turned actor turned politician turned actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Whatever you may think about his politics or his acting, you can’t deny he’s committed to physical health. Schwarzenegger won Mr. Olympia seven times before he became a famous film actor, and even when he served as Governor of California he was regularly pictured working out.

You can learn from Schwarzenegger by making time for physical exercise.

2. They fail and fail often

Successful people fail more often than the succeed.

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One of the best examples of this is British business man and entrepreneur Richard Branson. During his career, he has set up over 100 companies.

Some of his failures include Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka and Virgin Clothing. Today, however, he’s worth over USD 4.6 billion. You can learn from Branson by taking educated risks and by following his advice:

You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

3. They work outside of the norm

Albert Einstein is the most famous scientist of all time, and he made a career of going against the grain. During the early part of his career, his peers (incredibly) refused to hire him and he struggled to find meaningful employment as a scientist or researcher.

So Einstein took a job working in patent office in Bern in Switzerland, and he conducted scientific research in his spare time, after he’d finished working for the day.

Even after he became famous, Einstein took pride in his outsider status. He spent his later years working on scientific projects that his peers had little interest in. Einstein’s life shows us that it can be good to work outside the norm and to question prevailing wisdom.

He said:

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

4. They pursue outside interests

Even if you have a passion or are committed to your career, it’s important to pursue outside interests and cultivate your hobbies.

Presidents of the United States probably don’t have much time for outside interests, but Barack Obama still makes time for regular basketball games while Bill Clinton and George Bush both liked to jog and play golf.

If they can manage some time to unwind, so can the rest of us.

5. They hold themselves accountable

The inventor and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin made a daily habit of holding himself accountable. Every night before he went to bed he asked himself: what good have I done today? 

He also examined how he spent his day, read and overlooked his business and accounts.

Holding ourselves accountable is important because it helps us work on the right things, at the right time. You can learn from Franklin’s life by getting into the habit of reviewing your day in a journal or by meditating.

6. They begin with the end in mind

Almost every productivity guru I’ve read or wrote about recommends beginning each project with an idea of what you want to accomplish. The thinking is this type of planning will save time (and pain) later on. As someone who has started and abandoned more than his fair share of writing projects, I can vouch for this.

Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, put this best. He explains the importance of having a system in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

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“We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.”

7. They are action orientated

Successful people always ask what do they need to do next to move a project forward.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, is the best example of this. He’s made a career out of getting people to consider what their next action is. You can do the same by working towards your goals through small, incremental actions.

8. They are always seeking out information

The marketer and author Ryan Halliday has written two books including the recently  published The Obstacle is the Way. To help with his writing and research, Halliday keeps information for his upcoming projects in a personal commonplace book.

I’m writing a book and I know how important it is to have a personal library or a resource of information to draw upon (it makes research easy). Halliday recommends a pen and paper system for his commonplace book. You can do the same, or you could use uses apps like Evernote and Simplenote to save your favorite articles and information that you could use for your work.

9. They seek out criticism

Successful people know that criticism enables them to improve. And they even welcome it.

As a film director, Martin Scorsese has to accept more than his fair share of criticism for the work he creates and shares with the world. He said about criticism:

“There are two kinds of power you have to fight. The first is the money, and that’s just our system. The other is the people close around you, knowing when to accept their criticism, knowing when to say no.”

10. They are mentally and physically tough

If you want to be successful, cultivate mental and physical strength.

The best example of this is Michael Phelps. So far, he has won 22 Olympic medals, he is the most decorated Olympian of all time and one of the most focused. His workout routine includes speed training, endurance training, dry land work and weight lifting. Phelps also mentally prepares for competitions, saying

“In Beijing, when my goggles filled with water, I didn’t panic. I went back to all of my training. I knew how many strokes it takes me to get up and down the pool, so I started counting my strokes. I didn’t reach the time I was aiming for, but I did win the race.”

11. They challenge themselves

J.K. Rowling could have called it quits after the Harry Potter series. She was already worth more money than the Queen of England and her legacy as an author was secure. Instead, Rowling changed her name and published the crime book Cuckoo’s Calling under the pen name Robert Gailbraith.

The media quickly discovered her secret, but her experience shows that really successful people push themselves towards new kinds of success. They are never complacent.

12. They know when to say no

Successful people recognize the importance of saying no. They don’t agree to commitments that won’t add value to their lives. Bill Gates is just one successful person who routinely says no. He keeps an empty schedule so that he can fill with with activities that he values.

We don’t all the the luxury or power of Gates but you can still take some lessons from his life. You can recognize that you can always earn more money, but time is limited commodity. I’ve tried to put this advice into practice by saying no to projects that prevent me from writing more frequently.

And finally now that you’re more successful than ever, don’t forget to consider your weekends.

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Did you find this post helpful? What lessons have you learnt from the lives of successful people? Please let me know in the comments section below.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Andy Mettler via upload.wikimedia.org

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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