Success doesn’t just magically happen without hard work, but that doesn’t mean you have to work yourself to the bone in order to achieve it, either. By being conscious of your patterns of behavior, stepping back to look at the big picture, and paying attention to your body’s needs (as well as your professional ambitions), you’ll be able to build the career you want without breaking your back to get it. Want to learn more? We’ve rounded up some solid advice from seven productivity experts to show you how it’s done:
1. Set “SMART” goals
“Those who write their goals down accomplish significantly more than those who do not write their goals… Few things in life pay such rich dividends for such a modest investment.”
Research shows not only that setting goals is linked to higher achievement, but also that people committed their goals to writing were 33% more successful in achieving them than those who formulated outcomes in their heads.
In his beginner’s guide to goal-setting, professional and life coach Michael Hyatt says that it’s best to formulate five to seven goals, write them down, review them frequently, share them selectively, and keep them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound—that is to say, they have a deadline.
Not only will goal-setting help you build your dream career faster, but according to Hyatt, it also makes us happier with our lives in general. Win-win!
2. Don’t worry about finding your passion, follow your curiosity
“If passion is a tower of flame, then curiosity is a modest spark—and we can almost always summon up a modest spark of interest about something.
Many people think that a dream career means finding and following your passion in life—one thing that will give a life meaning. That sounds great in theory, but what if you don’t have one grand passion?
Author and creativity expert Elizabeth Gilbert recommends forgetting about passion and paying attention to a gentler, friendlier, less grandiose voice: our curiosity. It may be nudging us towards a tiny step but a step may ultimately lead to a whole new path. The author speaks from experience: she took up gardening out of curiosity and ended up writing an entire novel inspired by her new hobby. You never know where your curiosity will lead!
3. Get more sleep
“The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep.”
Studies show that a lack of sleep impairs our ability to be innovative in decision-making and leads to us take greater risks. Although the amount of sleep a person needs is highly variable from person to person, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the right amount for most people between 18 and 64 years of age is between seven and nine hours. So next time you’re staying up late in order to complete a to-do list or perfect a task, consider whether your time wouldn’t be better spent catching up on Zs ready for a more productive day tomorrow.
4. Move your body
"I definitely can achieve twice as much by keeping fit. It keeps the brain functioning well."
Richard Branson wakes up at 5am in order to maintain a fitness regime that includes regularly running, swimming, weight lifting, yoga and the odd spot of kitesurfing. This lifestyle doesn’t just help him stay fit and trim, there’s also a body of evidence showing that it boosts productivity and brain power.
Aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain. This increases the production of neurons in parts of the brain that control memory and thinking. The benefits of physical activity include not only improved concentration, sharper memory, faster learning and mental stamina, but also enhanced creativity, elevated mood, reduced chance of illness and lower stress levels. All this can have a big impact on performance in the workplace, as well as making you a more positive person to be around.
5. Schedule time for your top priorities
“It's about looking at the whole of one's time and seeing where the good stuff can go. Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we've got.”
Even women who don’t have a single spare moment in their week, Laura Vanderkam points out in her TEDWomen talk, will magically conjure up seven hours out of nowhere if a boiler breaks and she has no other choice but to deal with it. Vanderkam recommends that people divide their top personal and professional priorities into bite-sized steps. These should then the steps should be slotted into weekly calendars and treated like that broken boiler: an immovable object that everything else must be scheduled around.
6. Take a social-media hiatus
“A [social media] hiatus can allow you to take a step back from interacting with followers, maintaining your aesthetic and getting caught up in the world of the internet[... It] can offer a much-needed chance to be present.”
A recent study showed that the average American wastes 382 hours a year on social media. Divide that by the eight hours in a working day and that’s the equivalent of almost 48 days—more than two months you could save by if you quit scrolling. Of course, some people gain enjoyment and connection from these platforms, but it’s easy to let social-media use become habitual and out-of-control.
Productivity writer Kayla Matthews recommends having a break to reset those habits. The best way to stick to this break, she says, is to decide how long you want it to last before you start, use apps that block the sites most responsible for wasted time, and replace your screen time with more nourishing and enriching activities.
7. Deal with emails in batches
"The one technique that I would say is life and productivity changing is your approach to emails. You do that and your productivity will change so significantly that it will take your breath away."
Checking and responding to emails periodically throughout the day makes you unable to sustain focus on your most important tasks, and means your time is being allocated reactively rather than proactively. Morgenstern recommends marking your calendar with 30 to 40 minute time slots for when you will check your inbox, and ignoring it at all other times.
While not every person will be able to implement all this advice at once, it’s not too daunting to choose the tip that resonates best with you and immediately put it into action. Dream careers don’t happen overnight, but with a series of small steps in the right direction, they can materialize more quickly than you might think.
Want to learn more about how to increase your productivity? Skillshare has dozens of personal development classes that can help you boost performance, work more efficiently, and create a better career.