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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 July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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