The start of a new year is the time when most of us take stock of where we’ve been and how we want to improve ourselves. Chances are good your inbox and social media feeds are full of exercise plans, diet tips, organizational hacks and professional advice to get you to the next level at work.
Given that simply surviving 2020 feels like a feat in and of itself, setting lofty goals and making firm resolutions for 2021 may feel like a reach. In the spirit of self-improvement and growth in the days of Corona, at Newbold, we’re encouraging one another to “build habits” instead of make resolutions. Yea, maybe it’s a nuanced form of resolution, but framing your betterment efforts as habits can help you remember that improvement is a process of repetition, not a declaration that happens at the start of a year.
In the spirit of good habit-building, consider taking it back to basics and making a concerted effort to lay the foundation for achievement. Consider each habit you identify as an opportunity to control the trajectory of your day. We’re not talking about setting the course for the year, or even the month! We’re suggesting setting the course for today. Tomorrow, you’ll acknowledge your targeted habits to set your course again. And, you’ll do the same thing the day after that.
Here are a handful of basic habits that most certainly will give you agency over a good day at work, at home, at school and everywhere else you exist.
Set yourself up for productivity.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca, this quote reminds us of the importance of being ready for greatness. Readiness will vary, of course, depending on what you are preparing for. But since many of us go from meeting to meeting throughout the workday, you cannot go wrong with these seven meeting preparation tips:
- Bring a notebook and pen to every meeting, conversation and video call. Oh, and use it.
- Review every meeting planner and invitation beforehand to see who has been invited and who has accepted.
- Review the agenda, if there is one – if it’s your meeting, create one!
- Be prepared with one note or one question to ask.
- Get dressed.
- Yes, you read the previous tip correctly. In this world of work-from-home wardrobes of sweatpants and pajamas, it has to be said: dress from head to toe for work every day … even if you are not leaving the house.
- Determine next steps and deliverables you are responsible for shepherding through to completion. Write them down!
Give yourself TIME to be great today.
Be habitually early. Leave your house 10 minutes before you think you need to – or, in our new world, walk down the hall from your bedroom to your home office 30 minutes ahead of your work-start time, giving yourself time to settle, browse the internet and get your game face on. One of the biggest mistakes professionals make in managing their day is giving off the vibe that they are “just so busy.” Joining meetings four minutes late, dialing in to conference calls two minutes after start time, accepting meetings and not showing up at all because of “a conflict” are all signs of someone who is not managing the day appropriately. They don’t signify a busy, important professional; they signify someone who is not the captain of their ship (read: day).
Build a time buffer. Giving yourself time is, indeed, a habit you need to cultivate. The best way to do that is by building in a buffer to everything you do: meetings, deadlines, deliverables. Here are a few scenarios:
- Manage how you participate – even if you aren’t setting the start and end times
- Dial in early – use the wait time to get your head wrapped around how you will contribute to this particular call or meeting
- Exit three minutes early – be graceful, as in “Sorry to interrupt all, but I’m jumping off and will look forward to next steps!”
If you’re the one setting the meeting times, suggest starting at the hour and ending all meetings 10 minutes before the hour. Even as we are working remotely, think of the extra time as “walking down to the conference room time.” Those organizations that schedule meetings back to back know they will neither start nor end on time – and that’s a systemic issue that you can remedy with your own approach to participating and organizing. Be four minutes early; exit three minutes early. Try it.
Shoot for excellence in messaging.
In a world where we use email, text and group messaging apps more than ever, quick-fire communication is the norm. But assuming typos and tone don’t matter is a mistake. We’ve all seen (and used?) the standard disclaimer at the end of our email when sent via mobile that asks for forgiveness for typos. Stop using that cop-out! Instead, make pristine communication a habit.
Spellcheck and autocorrect are lifesavers in many ways. They’re also part of a crutch that is more likely to hold you back than help you be stronger. Instead of relying on your technology to make it right or make excuses, put yourself in the proofreader’s seat and review your communication. Every. Single. Time. Yes, reading over your email or text takes time but it’s worth it. In-person, face-to-face communication has taken a backseat to the video call, and email is more important than ever. Make the accuracy and tidiness of your writing a priority by simply reviewing before you hit send.
A few proofreading tricks from professionals:
- Read your message, word by word, from the end to the beginning. You’re more likely to find typos
- Read your message aloud. If it doesn’t make sense, or if you’ve omitted words or punctuation, you’re more likely to hear it
- Whether reading silently or aloud, pause at each punctuation mark to check for clarity. Consider each comma, period and semi-colon a little proofreading speed bump
Proofing your texts and emails won’t take more than a few minutes at a time. It’s time well-spent and a habit worth developing.
Be open to understanding.
Doing a self-check for understanding is one of the most important professional lessons you can incorporate into your workday (and perhaps your personal life as well). Very early in my career, I was once asked in a job interview to describe my top two functional skills and how they would help me succeed in the role. I was immediately thrown because I didn’t know what a functional skill was! Instead of saying to the hiring manager, “Can you please explain what you mean by functional skill?” I launched into a random monologue – nothing to do with my communication prowess and enhanced problem-solving skills (both functional skills, by the way).
Asking questions in a meeting can sometimes seem disruptive or uncomfortable, but if you do not have a full understanding of something being discussed or simply need clarification, there’s a better-than-good chance you are not the only one. Ask for understanding of the direction the team is going. Ask to be better prepared for delivering on expectations – and to exceed them.
Put on a genuinely happy face.
Ok, so this habit is an interesting one. Most of us are working from home and the idea of walking from your refrigerator to your home office with a smile on your face seems odd. Science tells us a smile can project not only happiness but confidence. Smile during your video meeting. Smile while you are speaking on the phone. Smile when you realize the work you are doing on creating positive professional habits is paying off in a more manageable, productive and … dare we say it … enjoyable workday.