Want to improve your life? Considering that we spend more waking hours at work than we do at home, it would make sense to gain an edge over both our professional and personal lives.

For work, I glean wisdom from Steve Jobs and science to help us keep more focused and productive

For improving one’s personal life, I called on Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and science to help us frame our lives with what’s most important. 

Let’s look at both sides of the life-improvement coin, starting with your work life. Which of these habits can you start putting into play this week to elevate your game and be more productive?

1. Focus on doing the things that truly matter.

If you’re stuck in a perpetual cycle of overwork with an endless to-do list that won’t go away, try this to keep your sanity: Only do the things that create value in your life.

This prophetic quote by Steve Jobs 22 years ago hits the nail on the head. Here’s what he said at an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997: 

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Without focus, your very ability to think, reason, and make decisions will naturally suffer. You just can’t maximize your efficiency or go into a state of flow if your mind is wandering off in 1,000 directions.

2. Work in intervals.

Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, co-authors of Peak Performancediscovered that what separates great performers is how they practice “with full attention, focused on high-quality work, and in chunks of 60 to 90 minutes separated by short breaks.”

In their research, Stulberg and Magness found plenty of evidence that adopting an interval-based approach to productivity isn’t just for gifted artists, jocks, and docs and other brainy types. It can transform the workplace for employees as well.

In one study, the most productive people apply the rule of 52 and 17: They spend 52 minutes engrossed in their work and then break for 17 minutes before getting back to work.

3. Master your morning routine.

You arrive at the office and, as if on cue, distractions start to pile up and fires need to be put out. If that sounds familiar, productivity psychologist Melissa Gratias recommends this morning routine the moment you sit down at your desk. 

  • Map out the first 30 to 60 minutes of your day. What do you need to do to start the day well, and how much time should you allocate to each task?
  • Avoid jumping into email. Once you open your inbox, you may be sucked into a whirlpool of others’ needs. Do this last, even toward the end of the day.
  • Minimize interruptions. Mute your phone and make sure your email notifications are off. Schedule morning huddles rather than interrupting others (or being interrupted).
  • Avoid tasks that steal your productivity. Your “opening ritual” is a time to look at your calendar, update your to-do list, note your top priorities for the day, and clear off your desk.

Here’s the other side of the coin. Did you ever consider how these life strategies could drastically improve your outlook and put you on the path you’ve always imagined?

1. Measure your success in life by one word: love.

In Warren Buffett’s biography The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, Buffett lays down sage advice counterintuitive to most of us:

Basically, when you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you.

I know many people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them. 

That’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life. The trouble with love is that you can’t buy it. You can buy sex. You can buy testimonial dinners. But the only way to get love is to be lovable. It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money. You’d like to think you could write a check: I’ll buy a million dollars’ worth of love. But it doesn’t work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.

The third-richest person on the planet says the most important lesson and “the ultimate test” of a life well-lived has nothing to do with money and everything to do with the most powerful emotion a human being can feel: love

2. Treasure your friendships.

If you’re not aware, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are really close. Gates once said the biggest lessons he’s learned from Buffett over the years are more personal than dollars and cents. And the most important thing he’s learned from Buffett over 25 years?

What friendship is really all about.

Gates writes, “It’s about being the kind of friend you wish you had yourself. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend who is as thoughtful and kind as Warren. He goes out of his way to make people feel good about themselves and share his joy about life. To this day, every time I go to Omaha (which I try to do whenever I can), Warren still drives out to the airport to pick me up.”

Who are your true friends? Whom can you really count on in a crisis or when the chips are down? Those are the friends you should treasure for life. Just remember: It’s a two-way street. 

3. Give.

We’ve all heard the cliché that it’s better to give than to receive. Now science says the very act of giving away your money leads to more happiness. But there’s a catch.

Harvard Business School report concluded that the emotional rewards of giving are the greatest when our generosity is connected to others.

In other words, donating to an unfamiliar and anonymous charity doesn’t raise your happiness levels as much as contributing to a cancer-stricken friend’s GoFundMe campaign does.

The findings, published in the International Journal of Happiness and Development​, strongly suggest that “social giving” makes people happier, plain and simple. 

This was the first study of its kind to examine how social connection helps turn generous “prosocial” behavior — the type that benefits another person — into positive feelings for the donor.

The bottom line? It’s the social connection tied to the giving that gives the giver the greatest psychological benefit and boost of happiness.

Originally published in Inc.

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