/ Essays

The Work Habits Manifesto

Isn't it interesting that the Internet simultaneously makes our work more and less efficient? On one hand, we can video chat with remote coworkers all over the world. On the other, buzzing notifications, Facebook, emails, Slack, Google Docs, Trello, etc. Each helps and hurts in its own way. It's harder than ever to actually work.

We've started to believe that technology gives us superpowers. But, yea, it doesn't. Good work habits are the key to getting more done with less stress. Your employer might make some of the easy and they will definitely make some of this hard, but it's on each of us individually to invest in our work habits.

Here are a few I've been thinking about lately. If there's other you think would be useful additions to this list, tweet me.

  • Pay the bills. Or perhaps more accurately, understand why you are worth your paycheck. Do the work that pays the bills.
  • Work in layers, not silos. When it comes time to write, the research should already be done. Use tools like Evernote, Instapaper and your notebook to collect ideas, quotes and inspiration as you go about your work. Categorize and tag items to help your brain learn to recognize things that are helpful to your future work.
  • Overprepare. Show up to meetings with an agenda and talking points. Write down action items and do them. If email will suffice, cancel the meeting and save everyone time.
  • Take responsibility. Why do CEOs get paid 10x more than the average employee? Because they take the most risk. Take ownership of your work and you'll earn yourself harder (and better paying work) quickly.
  • Tune out. Turn off Slack and close Gmail. Measure your day by the minutes you spend in the zone and nothing else.
  • Learn productivity strategies before you embrace tools. Tools are a means to an end, not a guard against bad habits.
  • Invest in yourself. The best way to learn is to do. This is why side projects are fun and useful. It's worth a few bucks to run your own blog or newsletter. You'll learn so much in the process.
  • Write more. Writing helps you form opinions and work out ideas. You don't really know what you think until you've written about it. As Paul Graham wrote, "Writing doesn't just communicate ideas; it generates them."
  • Learn to work without a computer. Think, walk, talk, draw, sleep, read and move.
  • Know your limits. Your boss and coworkers will respect the limits you set. Know when you need to step away in micro (an afternoon walk) and macro (taking real vacations) situations.
  • Put yourself in a healthy environment. As Napoleon Hill describes in Think and Grow Rich, exposure to criminal activity over time lessens an individual's resistance to bad ideas. It works the other way, too. Purposeful exposure to success, happiness and wealth helps the subconscious believe that bigger things are possible.
  • Take notes with a pen and paper. Buy yourself a notebook and pen you love. Spend enough on them that it feels a little uncomfortable. This is a subtle way to way to remind yourself to actually use them.
  • Find a mentor. Find someone more experienced than you to learn from. Take them to lunch and ask them smart questions. Years ago, I helped a neighbor learn about Twitter. In exchange, he helped me bat around career ideas. He's older than my parents, but a great friend and someone who's helped me make several hard career decisions. And btw, he's killing it on Twitter.
  • Network. This is not connecting with people on LinkedIn. This is a) making friends in your industry by offering to help people out and b) being a genuinely nice person. Peers in your industry are likely experiencing similar challenges, so work together whenever you can.
  • Control your own calendar. Our default workday is usually squeezing in real work between meetings and other distractions. It should be the opposite. Schedule long blocks of quiet time. (Yes, actually create events on your calendar!) If meetings pop up during those hours, make a deliberate decision to attend or skip it.
  • Be skeptical of nearly everything. As I wrote last week, technology mostly sucks. Most apps and tools actually make your life worse. They want to monetize you. They want to engage you. Be insanely protective of your own time and wait until you need a new tool before you use it.
  • Be confident. It's easy for the CEO to ignore emails and block off time for deep work. Just because you are more junior, don't fall prey to the belief that you have to be responsive to every email and signed into Slack at all times. The sooner you take control of your work, the sooner you'll stand out.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, go for a run, pet your dog, get outside, be a good friend. Work is so secondary to the rest of your life.