This post by Eric Ebert was originally published in tech.co on July 7, 2015.
When we think of how high income earners became so successful, we often think about their work philosophies inside of the office, but what they do outside of the office is equally important. Their philosophies regarding their free time enable them to actuate their full potential when they return to the office. The simplicity of these philosophies is astonishing and adopting them into our lives will translate to better professional development.
1. Stimulate your creativity
Successful people are able to innovate creative solutions to problems. 75% of high income earners believe that creativity is critical to financial success and say that being intellectually gifted is not as important as being creative. The 1% train their minds to be creative. Creativity, contrary to popular belief, is not something that only comes naturally; it can be honed and trained like anything else. A young Steve Jobs said “If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative … you have to not have the same bag of experiences as everyone else does or else you’re going to make the same connections [as everybody else], and then you won’t be innovative, and then nobody will give you an award.”
What you can do
Mind-expanding enjoyable free time activities are all around you, they add color to your life and make you a better problem solver. Learning an instrument or a new language are the most commonly cited examples of what to do if you want to get creative in your free time.
There are many less-thought-of ways to be creative and people of all different backgrounds and interests can find something they enjoy. You could start a small, aesthetically pleasing garden, take a cooking class and come up with your own recipes, learn origami, or just do your hair differently for the day.
2. Keep centered
Successful people are usually described as cool, calm, and collected. They are very difficult to disconcert and are generally not fazed by the fresh problem of the day. We can attribute some of this to a center that most of them find within themselves through some sort of mindfulness practice. Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices are in style among wealthy people in part because they are so beneficial to our wellbeing. Warren Buffet subscribes to this centered approach to leisure activities, “I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions, than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.” Finding time to just sit and collect ourselves gives our brain a rest, something it never gets, even while we sleep.
What you can do
Adopting some of these practices can make you a calmer more collected person and can mitigate some of the emotional ups and downs of the day, making you steadier and more reliable. These practices are generally free and only require around ten minutes a day for you to see results. You do not need to belong to a gym that offers yoga classes or go to a meditation circle, most mindfulness can be done inside of your house. You could try sitting in a room, steadily breathing, and focusing only on the present, not thinking about the past or future. You will leave more focused and relaxed and your performance at work should improve.
3. Learn how to think critically
Critical thinking, something taught in most university programs, is another great tool the 1% utilizes. Critical thinking is about challenging popular thinking and finding ways to rethink problems. It is a unique way of thinking about any subject, problem or challenge and improves the quality of our thinking by aptly analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is a personal activity because most times when we critically think it challenges our way of approaching problems. We need to figure out what assumptions we bring to a problem before we start solving it.
What you can do
A great way to start thinking critically is to find activities in your free time that train your mind to approach problems in a critical manner. The easiest thing to do is read something that you know challenges popular beliefs or your current knowledge. Sometimes we are surprised to find information we have always assumed to be true is actually false when we take the time to research it.
This is about education, finding resources that teach us to see there are other possibilities. Malcom S. Forbes once said that “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with and open one.” Questioning your assumptions through targeted learning will encourage you to look at issues from different angles and see solutions where others cannot.
4. Use your off time to actually relax
You might think that top income earners work day and night, poring over the business of tomorrow to get a head start. Surprisingly, top income earners usually prepare for important meetings and presentations at the office and not at home. Successful people are at their best when it counts and that time is usually during regular business hours. While extra hours are sometimes necessary for success, most top income earners use their leisure time for leisure.
What you can do
It is no surprise that Bill Gates rents out a $300 million yacht at $5 million a week to unwind. Now, you do not need $5 million a week to relax; sometimes the best relaxing is free. You could take a nap on the couch, go for a walk in nature, or watch your favorite TV program. Just make sure you are free of the office when you are away, turn off the work phone, do not pull up your work emails, and let your brain clock out. This enables you to be refreshed and ready to tackle the difficulties of the workday. This also prevents you from burning out, you cannot be successful at the office if you are too stressed to function at your full potential.
5. Be present for your family
Staying focused at work is often difficult and concerns about your family can intrude on your valuable work time. Sometimes these concerns are unavoidable but usually we are able to mitigate familial issues with a little bit of effort. Successful people focus on their families when they have free time, and this helps them concentrate at work and continually perform at their best. Statistics speak to this: the divorce rate for Chief Executive Officers is 9.81%, well under the nearly 50% average rate. That is because successful people often put their families first in their free time. Walt Disney once said “A man should never neglect his family for business,” something we should keep in mind as we approach our careers.
What you can do
Your family can be your stability and strength in a business environment that is too often unpredictable and trying. If you need to be at your best when things are at their worst then you need someone who is there for you when you are at your lowest point.
Instead of answering emails in your home office, use your valuable off time to work on the relationships that last a lifetime. Take time out of every day to spend quality time with members of your family.
6. Keep a healthy social network
Successful people have very large social circles and they utilize them when their career necessitates it. Most of us have heard the saying “it’s not what you know but who you know” and this is accurate. More than often a position is found because of a direct or indirect contact. Statistically, the best way to find a job is through your social network, an astounding 80% of new jobs are found through social networks. Moving up through today’s corporate ladder requires moving from company to company in different, career enhancing positions. Your social network is a great resource for this.
What you can do
Building a large social network can have significant benefits for your career. In addition to securing new jobs, friends insulate you from hardships and criticisms, and people with more friends tend to be more confident. Also, friends can give you an outlet to vent your work frustrations and this a healthy way for you to deal with difficult issues. Be careful though, your social circle is important for your happiness and confidence, so continually bringing up new business proposals or asking about opportunities within friends’ companies will create distance between you and your social network.
Just be natural and do not try to push anything about your career to your friends, just show your genuine interest towards their careers and try to be there for them. As Dale Carnegie once said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Sites like Linkedin help you walk that fine line between friend and business connection by allowing you access to your friends’ business contacts with minimal facilitation by your friends.
7. Enjoy business shopping
The top 1% of income earners look the part, their clothes and accessories reflect not only their current station but also their career ambitions. Most make it in the corporate world where appearances make a difference. Zig Ziglar claimed “You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.” When we dress a certain way, we make a strong statement about our motivations. Appropriate attire expresses respect for the companies for which we work and sends signals to our superiors and clients that we are serious in our ambitions. We have all heard the saying that you must “spend money to make money,” and successful people learn how to use their free time and money to invest in themselves.
What you can do
Enjoy shopping, but enjoy buying the things you need to succeed in your career. Buy the equipment that makes you look like you belong in the next position in the company, not the job you already occupy. This is really about choices, if you have the choice of upgrading your old TV to the sharp new 4k or buying 4 suits you need to look sharp, make the business choice. Shopping in this manner is no different from investing in stocks or bonds, you can see a return on your investment if you do it right. You may wonder how business shopping can be an enjoyable activity, and the truth is it will never be as enjoyable as shopping for things you really want. Once you have committed to the goal of progressing in your career, some of the things you enjoyed about personal shopping can be just as enjoyable in business shopping.
For instance, if you enjoy shopping for casual clothes then some of the same aspects that made it an enjoyable activity can be transferred to shopping for business clothes. The approach is relatively the same, you search for stores, try on clothes, look around for great deals, and eventually test out the items in public. Buying on a budget is no problem either, just make sure you dress in darker colors (it hides the quality) and find a great tailor to spruce up your mid-range suit. This process will be enjoyable if your priorities are in order and will help you progress in your career.
8. Methodically tackle chores and personal tasks
Yes, even successful people have to renew their driver’s licenses, organize their paperwork, go grocery shopping, change lightbulbs, etc. Some one-percenters even do normal household tasks like take out the garbage, clean their kitchens, and walk their dogs. Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen even packs his own lunch every morning. What distinguishes successful people in their menial tasks is their methodology for taking care of them. By using their free time wisely when it comes to chores and personal tasks, successful people are able to focus on work and not feel anxious to leave the office early and go to the post office to mail their taxes before closing time!
What you can do
When you have chores to do in your free time, make sure you are not procrastinating. If you find out that you need to collect some paperwork for your taxes, do it that day and do not wait a day longer. This will free your mind of this task, and when the next task comes along you will be more likely to take care of it immediately instead of letting it pile onto the other huge amount of work you have to do. When you have a list of chores to do, tackle the easiest one first, this can get the ball rolling when all you want to do is watch TV and dread the biggest task you have.
Instead of multitasking, try doing your chores one at a time. This is a new method called “singletasking” and it forces you to sustain your focus and work through complex problems. You will be surprised to find that you do tasks more efficiently and thoroughly when you focus on one of them at a time. You will not save any time if you have to redo one task because you were too distracted by a different task. This trains you for the office as well, you will be more productive if you are more methodical in all of your tasks. You can also use chore time to recharge, slow down, and simply focus on what you are doing.
Reflecting gives us an opportunity to learn from our failures and successes. Reflecting on our successes is enjoyable but is only helpful if we critique what we have done right and try to improve on it the next time. Reflecting on our failures is much more productive and will help us improve immensely. Bill Gates once said that “it’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Looking back and figuring out what we have done wrong and how we can improve for the next time is something for which successful people excel. Many successful people take time to reflect one day out of the week and others do it whenever an important meeting, presentation, or project ends. Whenever they reflect on their work, they ensure that they will improve the next time something important comes along.
What you can do
One way to track what you have done in your career is keep a journal. This does not have to be a daily journal or even a long journal, it can simply track one event a week if necessary. It should be just enough to tell you what the situation was and what you did wrong or right. A great way get this started is to take a few minutes every Sunday and dissect the most important event of the week. Even if this was something that just stood out in your mind and was not incredibly important, it is good to get used to figuring out better ways to do it. The United States Army developed what is called the After Action Review or AAR in the 1970’s and it is an efficient tool that many business leaders use today. Microsoft uses this strategy at the end of every project and it has been very successful. The AAR can serve as a template for those wanting to reflect on what they have done. The process is an active reflection centered on these key questions:
- What did I intend to accomplish (what was my strategy)?
- What did I do (how did I execute relative to my strategy)?
- Why did it happen that way (was there a difference between strategy and execution)?
- What will I do to adapt my strategy or refine my execution for a better outcome or how do I repeat my successes (if there were any)?
As you can see, this not only gives you a good template to reflect and learn but is also a great way to get you to start thinking more strategically. The next time you do something important, you might first take some time to think about what you want out of it, instead of jumping right in.
10. Be generous
As you progress in your career, earning higher and higher incomes as you go along, you will have more disposable income, and how you choose to spend it will have real consequences in how you continue to earn it. Many top income earners donate a large portion of their incomes to charities or find time to volunteer for various causes. The methods in which they do this are very important and they will keep you along the right path for continued success. Richard Branson saidthat “No one has ever become poor from giving.” Being generous can give you the motivation to continue progressing in your career because you are able see a positive impact from your hard work. It can also make you happier and enrich your social life.
What you can do
Make sure you are being generous in a way that makes you feel generous. Simply filling out an online form and sending money to a charitable organization is not enough for most people. The key is to donate to something where you can see your money in action. If you are someone who cares about animal rights, it is better to visit a shelter and see the animals you are helping rather than just sending money. By watching your money in action, you create positive memories of what you have done and you get a great sense of accomplishment. This can be especially important for those stuck in jobs that seem like just paychecks. It can be a big motivator if the paychecks go to something that feels like an accomplishment.