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University of Sunderland

How successful professionals approach their work

Posted on: November 9, 2022
Four people in business dress high fiving

Much has been made in recent years about the habits of successful people, perhaps in part due to the publication in 2017 of the book Change Your Habits, Change Your Life by Tom Corley. Corley is an accountant and financial planner who interviewed 233 wealthy individuals (predominantly self-made millionaires) about their daily routines and habits. He then compared the results with the responses and habits of 128 people earning less than $35,000 per annum. From this, Corley concluded that there were nine distinct habits of these high achievers.

Another book which may have influenced this school of thinking is My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired written by Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander. This book examined the morning habits of people such as the founder of HuffPost, Arianna Huffington, Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, and Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Huffington states that a big part of her routine is “about what I don’t do.” For her mental health, she avoids going to bed late, using an alarm in the morning, and checking her phone first thing in the morning.

What are some things you can do to be more successful?

The information in Corley’s book, combined with an earlier publication (from 1989), 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey seemed to trigger many a LinkedIn article with different opinions about what habits lead to effectiveness. However, Corley’s original key habits of highly successful people are:

  • Get up early – nearly half of the wealthy and self-made millionaire respondents that Corley surveyed got out of bed at least three hours before their workday started.
  • Read a lot – 88% of wealthy respondents said that they read for 30 minutes or more each day with a focus on self-development or education.
  • Spend 15-30 minutes each day on focused thinking – Corley reported that “The rich tend to think in isolation, in the mornings and for at least 15 minutes every day.”
  • Make exercise a priority – 76% of Corley’s survey respondents make sure to protect a minimum of 30 minutes each day for aerobic exercise such as jogging, cycling, or walking.
  • Spend time with people who inspire – successful people are choosy about who they spend their time with. They also volunteer and join groups to meet like-minded people.
  • Pursue your own goals – 80% in the wealthy category were, according to Corley, “obsessed with pursuing goals”; these were both long-term goals and daily goals.
  • Get enough sleep – 89% of the respondents deemed successful people overwhelmingly made the argument for sleeping seven to eight hours or more each night.
  • Have multiple incomes – develop multiple income streams seems to be the message from wealthy people. 65% had at least three incomes before making their first million dollars.
  • Avoid timewasters – time is as valuable as money to the wealthy, with recommendations such as be selective about which apps you use topping the advice from millionaires.

What is the best way to approach your work?

There is an overlap between the habits noted by Corley of high earners who exhibit high performance, and the manner in which we approach our work. Laura Vanderkam who wrote the book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think is quoted in a 2013 Forbes article called The 7 Ways Successful People Approach Their Work. She interviewed hundreds of people to understand how they spend their days. This led her to analyse how successful people approach work and refine her observations into seven habits of people who accomplish things.

  • Mind your hours – Keep a time log for a whole week, including the weekend, to note how you spend your time. From this log, you can be more conscious about the decisions you make on how you spend your time. Social media can, of course, be a major timewaster.
  • Plan – It may sound obvious, but once you acknowledge that you want to use your time in a way that is more meaningful and productive for you, ensure you plan your work time to get the most out of it. Many people become reactive (answering emails immediately for example) and lose sight of their original plan.
  • Make success possible – It’s easy to have grand plans which fall by the wayside because they’re too big to achieve. Break projects down into smaller tasks and aim to complete three to six a day depending on how doable they are. Make sure you hold yourself accountable if you don’t follow your projected timeline for completing a project.
  • Know what is work – Checking your email is not the same as completing work. “Give email less time and it will take less time,” says Vanderkam. A technique that she suggests is attending to your inbox for 20 minutes before spending the next 40 minutes focusing on a task without interruption. Gradually you can expand the time spent between checking your emails. Meetings can also get in the way of good work and are often just a way of checking up on people. Allow people to get their work done – if you’ve hired good people, you can trust they’re doing a good job.
  • Practice – Artists and athletes spend time practising and yet we don’t often apply this ethos to our work. As well as learning new skills and incorporating professional development, flexing our core skills is an important practice. Feedback is a key to this, so be sure to ask superiors or colleagues how they think you could improve in say, your presentation skills.
  • Pay in – Vanderkam defines career capital as “the sum total of your experiences, your knowledge, your skills, your relationships.” She explains that successful people pay into their career capital account regularly because “all these things enable you to get a new job if you need one, create new situations for yourself or other people, or even let you take a break without having it ruin your career.”
  • Pursue pleasure – Successful people, it seems, tend to find joy in their work and a sense of progress, in particular, makes people happy (even more than encouragement from a boss). For this reason, it can be helpful to establish your own metrics of progress to gain the greatest sense of accomplishment, which in turn fuels the desire to work further on the projects that make you happy.

What is your work ethic?

In the wake of the lockdowns and restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has also been talk of quietly quitting, burnout, and people reassessing their values. Some of the ways that companies and forward-thinking business leaders are trying to counter this is by taking a more flexible approach to how and when people complete their work. This could take the form of core hours when all team members are available (usually a four-hour window daily) or the 4-day week.  

Work life needs to be kept in balance with personal life and paradoxically, it appears that the more freedom employees have to organise their work routine, the more hard work they put in, increasing productivity.

Gain skills for the changing work environment with an MSc Management

From encouraging others to complete challenging tasks to holding successful training sessions, understanding what motivates people to deliver high-quality work is one of the prerequisites of good management. Learn more about this fascinating area so you can cultivate successful individuals and inspire constructive teamwork with an online MSc Management from the University of Sunderland.

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