For most 20-somethings, a career is about figuring out what a “work self” even is, taking risks, making mistakes, and enduring all the confusion that comes with being a relative newbie in the workforce. Your 30s, on the other hand, are a time to put your stake in the ground and experience some hard-earned professional security. “Typically, a person’s 30s are characterized by greater career stability, whereas the 20s involve ‘figuring things out,’” Rebecca Greenbaum, Ph.D., a professor at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations, tells Thrive.
Of course, there’s not an invisible switch that turns on the eve of your 30th birthday. To experience the stability Greenbaum speaks of, there are certain skills you’ll want to add to your repertoire as you enter your third decade. Here are seven habits you’ll want to develop by the time you’re 30. (But don’t worry if you’re a little late to the party — every one of us, at any age, could always use a little boost in one or several of these areas.)
Become a master at prioritization
Of course, being in control of your to-do list is important at any age, but it becomes even more essential as you approach your 30s. This is especially true if you find yourself in a management position — which means you’ll also be helping to manage your team’s priorities. Not to mention, if you can’t prioritize and are always playing catch-up, you surely won’t have the time and space needed to stir up your next big idea. To cultivate prioritization skills, Greenbaum recommends reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. One of Newport’s tips: Give yourself a strict period of time to spend working. This keeps you focused and helps prevent burnout, because if you know you’re only working from 9 to 5, for instance, you can reap the benefits of fixed-schedule productivity. Essentially, the more you give yourself strict rules about when you clock in and out, the less room you’ll have to, say, scroll through social media mid-afternoon.
Shore up your resilience
It’s a fact of life: The more years you’ve spent on this planet, the more you’ve been through. But this knowledge — that hardships accumulate — doesn’t have to be depressing. The truth is, everything you go through is just an opportunity to further develop resilience, which is an essential attribute for thriving. People who show resilience at work are better able to deal with stresses and “bounce back” from setbacks. The key, says Greenbaum, is to allow yourself the space to feel emotion around the setback, and then move on with a clear strategy for success. Another tip: To become stronger and more resilient, make a practice of displaying gratitude. In hard times, bringing to mind what’s good in your life can help you avoid dwelling on the negative so you can turn things around.
Make time for lunch
If you’re one of the 37 percent of millennials that feel they can’t take a lunch break without facing stigma from their teammates, you’ll want to ditch that belief by the time you reach your 30s. Skipping out on a lunch break actually does a disservice to our minds as well as our bodies; lunchtime is a perfect, natural pause in the day to collect your thoughts, let ideas marinate, release stress, and be fully present. Try blocking off “lunch” in your calendar every day to help make the habit stick.
Be comfortable with incompletion
“As people enter their 30s, they are likely to face new life demands, such as parenting,” Greenbaum explains, and these extra factors that you may not have had to account for in your 20s require you to set boundaries, and integrate your work and your life in a way that honors both as priorities. This may mean declaring an end to your day — even if you haven’t finished everything on your to-do list — in order to make space for your life outside of work. Plus, when you take time to recharge and spend time on things or with people that are important to you, you’ll return to work the next day ready to seize opportunities.
Take sleep seriously
Getting good shuteye deserves to be a priority regardless of your age, but over time, the effects of a lack of sleep become more dire. Failing to get proper sleep can have a variety of adverse effects at work, resulting in everything from decreased productivity to reduced empathy for others. Inna Khazan, Ph.D., a faculty member at Harvard Medical School told Thrive that when we don’t get enough Zzz’s, “we are more likely to have trouble regulating our emotions, so we feel anxious and irritable.” This presents a clear dilemma for people in their 30s who are likely working with or managing others. If prioritizing sleep is a challenge for you, try escorting your phone out of the bedroom 30 minutes before bedtime. Disconnecting from the digital world will help you sleep better, deeply recharge, and reconnect to your creativity.
Practice compassionate directness
Getting comfortable with forthright — and face-to-face — communication is a skill. And by the time you reach your 30s, you definitely don’t want to hide behind your screen at work, even if you want to avoid conversations that have the potential to be tricky or awkward. A live exchange is 34 times more likely to be met with a positive response than one than happens over email, according to one study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and the person won’t be able to misinterpret your words when they’re looking you in the eyes while you speak.
Remember the basics
As we got older, we have a tendency to forget some of the time-tested rules of professionalism. Things like looking people in the eye, showing up on time, and shaking someone’s hand. On this topic, Liz Kaplow, the CEO of Kaplow Communications, told Thrive that “these are basics, but we’re moving past them. If you think about some of those during the course of your day, all of your interactions will cumulatively get stronger as a result.” As you set off to thrive in your 30s, remember to keep these fundamentals in mind.
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