Some people at work just seem to have it all together. They’re the top performers, the people who excel in the working world, the most well-adjusted folks in the office.
Take Ingrid, for example. She’s always on time to meetings, organized and well-composed in presentations, always willing to lend a helping hand, and confident in her ability to solve complex problems. In short, she seems effortlessly amazing at her job.
Were people like Ingrid born this way? Do they know something we don’t? No, of course not. In most cases, the Ingrids of the world are just like you: uncertain, nervous, anxious, feeling like they’re not good enough, you name it. They’re people!
The difference is they’ve learned how to incorporate good work habits into their process—habits that have honed their abilities and prevented their flaws and anxieties from bubbling to the surface and negatively affecting their work.
Below we’ll look at four good work habits that’ll help you excel in your role. Adopt these into your day-to-day routine and in no time you’ll be the next Ingrid.
4 good work habits to help you succeed in the workplace
1. Make the most out of your calendar
Organization isn’t some inherent trait in people. After all, they’re called organization skills because they’re skills that people can learn and improve upon over time. And improving them is all about adopting good work habits to help you manage your time more effectively. Leveling up your organization skills can be as simple as making the most out of your calendar.
For the longest time I didn’t bother using my calendar for anything beyond meetings. I wasn’t a paragon of organization (I’m not at Ingrid’s level), but I figured my to-do list, along with the satisfaction I got when I crossed items off it, were enough. Then I found out about the wonderful world of color-coding. That’s when my attitude towards my calendar completely shifted.
Color-coding blocks of time by task, availability, or area of focus has made my days much smoother. I can schedule tasks around meetings during the times when I know I’m most productive (green). I can set reminders to let me know when it’s time to shift focus onto another task or head to the gym (blue). I can book out-of-office time for appointments and errands (red). And I can even block off time for fun stuff like coffee breaks and a mid-afternoon stroll along the sea wall (orange).
My calendar has practically replaced my to-do list (though I still enjoy crossing things off), and on top of that, it makes my day look like a beautiful patchwork quilt. Win-win.
2. Find the right routine to maximize efficiency
If you’re like me, you have a bit of a routine you follow practically every day at work. That could mean coffee at 9am then again at 2pm, or a 10-minute prep and debrief session before and after important meetings. Whatever your daily routine looks like, it’s important to remember that it exists because we’re creatures of habit. And not all of those are good habits.
Analyzing your day to find the right routine is something I highly recommend. Spend a day writing down how you’re feeling and everything you’re doing. Track how your focus shifts each hour, notice how your attention shrinks or expands, take note of distractions and how long you’re distracted for, etc. Do this for the duration of one day, or even better, over the course of a week.
Once you’ve kept a good record of your day’s habits, it’s time to analyze the data. Are you recognizing a pattern? Maybe your attention starts to wane around 3pm every day (which, by the way, is very common). Or maybe you notice you’re expending too much effort on a mindless task at the wrong time of day, time which could be better spent working on something more demanding.
It might sound overly exacting and time-consuming, but analyzing your typical day gives you a greater understanding of the habits that are working in your favor and the ones that aren’t—which is the first step in making yourself more efficient.
3. Make it a habit to help out when you can
Each of us is busy in our own world at work, but one of the best things you can do to become a better team player is to always be willing to lend a hand. I don’t mean strolling into other departments and offering help that has absolutely no relation to the work done in that department, simply to show everyone how generous and team-oriented you are. I mean genuinely offering your time and effort when your colleague or team needs it.
A recent study found that blindly offering help without understanding the context of your colleague’s problem or issue is actually counter-productive. Instead, you should only offer assistance when you’ve been briefed on the issue and, most importantly, understand how your contribution could help remedy it.
In a lot of cases, though, offering to help out a colleague is a little more straightforward. For instance, you can help tidy up the dishes or stack chairs after an event. These small gestures go a long way, and over time, can become a good habit. This is a useful habit to develop because it leads to team-oriented thinking: how your contribution fits into the greater purpose of your team or organization.
Nervous before a big presentation (or even a little one)? The habit that separates those who are seemingly never nervous from the rest of us is, simply put, preparation. They’re nervous too, but the difference is they’ve made it a habit to practice their presentation, anticipate questions and come up with answers, and become well-acquainted with the topic at hand. That’s why some people seem so self-assured when they’re presenting to a roomful of people.
The best way to go about preparing for a presentation (or a meeting, or a 1:1 with your manager) is to rehearse it aloud to a friend or colleague. That way you can get a sense of how it sounds, familiarize yourself with the material, and find out whether or not it needs work. Even if you know the material like the back of your hand, or feel confident in your ability to field difficult questions, over-preparing for a presentation gives you a trial run that’ll help calm the nerves and anticipate obstacles before you encounter them.
Once you do this a few times, it’ll quickly become part of your process, thereby making your future presentations that much easier.
For the soon-to-be Ingrids of the world not yet practicing good work habits, remember that these are just the foundation. Because each of us works differently, it’s up to you to discover what kind of habits are useful in your line of work. Once you notice what works for you, shift your day around to emphasize those good work habits, and eventually you’ll see a positive effect.