If you’re a high performing, upward trajectory kind of worker, then you know how difficult it can be to find some semblance of balance between work and life. Whether you’re competitive, driven or motivated it is easy to get burnt out by business, especially with visions of executive grandeur.

How can someone actually work smarter, not harder and still achieve their goals?

What does it mean to get ahead in your career and not behind in life?

The secret is in building specific habits to maximize productive work hours, thus allowing you to enjoy the downtime you allow yourself (and whatever that means to you). The tried and true habits below don’t take into account important self care moments in time, like healthy eating and exercise, or my newfound obsession for Mab Tabs*, they focus on actual, implementable habits you can start tomorrow.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Start work an hour before anyone else

This doesn’t mean working longer hours, it means working better hours. Study upon study shows the benefits of telecommuting from a productivity standpoint, but there’s also truth behind the old adage, “the early bird gets the worm.” You get more worms when there are less birds around. In this case either an early-morning work-from-home routine or early office arrival means no one to interrupt, commandeer or otherwise ruin your mojo.

Using your hour wisely is essential. Think about it as O.R.R. Time — organize, respond and recap. Breaking down your hour into 15 or 20-minute helps maximize your efforts, gives you focus and builds a reliable routine. Here’s a recommended breakdown:

  • 15 minutes: organize all of your tasks for the day, rank them in priority
  • 30 minutes: respond to the most urgent and important emails
  • 15 minutes: recap to your clients, superiors, etc… what you accomplished yesterday and what you’re working on today

These three morning habits will increase your entire day’s productivity and reduce the amount of “fires” that need to be put out (because of effective communication) from the day prior. I have been doing this practice for more than two years and it has increased my productivity exponentially.

Starting work early doesn’t mean you work more, it should be done with the intent of giving you more time back. Whether that means leaving the office an hour early, being able to take a late afternoon break or actually reducing the amount of time spent working is up to you and those you work with.

Communicate progress and results, daily

This is so important it is mentioned twice. Not only is it recommended that you build it into your morning routine, but keep it as part of your daily best practices.

If you think about where you spend the majority of time communicating, it is likely spent responding to customer, management and other stakeholder questions. They’re asking because they do not have the answers.

Proactive outreach to stakeholders means less time putting out fires and more time getting to the meaningful work. It’s not the most glamorous side of work, which is an identifier that a habit needs to be made.

A very simple way to stay on top of outstanding questions is to write them down. Dedicate a page in your writing tool of choice called, “WHO NEEDS ANSWERS.” Set aside time each day to provide answers to whoever needs them. Answers can be as simple as:

  • status on a project
  • confirmation that something has been completed
  • request for more time to finish something
  • customer service status

Answering these questions proactively will help reduce the amount of daily interruptions. Once people trust that you will provide answers and follow up, they may begin to ask for updates because they simply no longer need to.

This is a definite sign of responsibility and leadership — and a trait that will get you noticed by executives or clients. Reliability is a priceless commodity and one that is great to be known for.

Make synergistic introductions

Set a goal to connect others. Whether it’s one introduction per day or week, it makes a difference. If you work in a large organization and have a penchant for making a lot of connections, bring people together who should know one another. The same goes for others you know professionally.

THINK: Where can you bring people together to create serendipitous opportunities?

One of the greatest ways you can build influence is to build up influence for others.

The more introductions you make between people who truly should know or work together, the more you become known as someone who makes a difference. That difference is an asset to any organization and over time builds your internal brand as not only a team player, but as a champion of people. Inherent in this is an opportunity to lead a more fulfilling life through meaningful relationships.

Develop processes for broken models

One of the worst things any company can do is to become complacent in the broken, wasted models that cost time, money and overall employee satisfaction. No one has to tell you what these processes are because you live them, you know them and you know they’re broken.

It feels scary to say, but someone needs to do it or things will remain as they are. If you say something and nothing happens, let it be a clear indicator that this is likely not a place you want to remain long term.

Instead of voicing opposition as a squeaky wheel, use every broken process as an opportunity to make change. “This hasn’t been working for some time, so I came up with three other ways we could do it.” You can even develop your own, internal model for seeking buy-in and input from others around you to create a group plan.

At the very least, showcasing your strategic thinking and unique problem-solving capabilities allows you to demonstrate skills outside of your current role. And, if you like how it feels, continue to work in a capacity that isn’t limited by your job title — work as the person you want to be within your organization, not just the role.

Know how you impact your goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)

At some point we need to address numbers, progress and goals. Having a clear understanding of your company, department and individual goals is game changing. It makes every decision easier — does this project/task/idea positively impact my KPI? Then it’s absolutely a place where I want to spend my time.

You can actually get out of doing more and hone in what will move the needle internally. Arming yourself with key phrases that show you have a clear grasp where the company is going and your part in that makes it much easier to get out of all the things that no longer have purpose or impact goals.

Don’t know your goals? Ask your superior, start the conversation with executives, be a change agent internally. Once you know the goals, post them where you can see them. Visual representation keeps them top of mind and is great to reference when you’re tasked with work that no longer supports your key areas of influence.

You’ll be a strategic force of nature within your organization and likely become a role model for other high performers.

It’s far too easy to get bogged down in work. If you’re an entrepreneur, then there is literally no “off the clock,” and if you work for a company, it can be difficult to simply find a stopping point. Working more does not mean that you’re working better, producing more results or simply a more high performing employee. What you do with your time, the ability to find purpose and meaning in your role and true sense of results make all the difference.

*Mab + Stoke is a third-party client.