You’ve read enough cookie-cutter business advice to know when a tip or trick just doesn’t apply to your situation. The problem is, even advice that seems sound at first might fall flat when you finally try it in the real world.
How can you tell the difference?
The short answer is you can’t, not really. As is so often the case in business, you usually have to try it first. If it works, great. If it fails, you know not to try it again.
Such is the life of a business leader.
With all that said, some bits of business advice work better than others. They’re less likely to fail in real-world tests.
If you’re looking for tips with a higher probability of success, you’ve come to the right place. These are seven strategies that many, many business leaders before you have used to get ahead. And if you choose to use them, you surely won’t be the last.
Cross Something Off Your To-Do List Every Day
You probably have a personal to-do list. You probably refer to it every day.
Do you really use your to-do list, though? Do you cross at least one item off it every day?
You should. Your to-do list isn’t exactly a measure of your productivity, but it’s certainly a tool to keep your workflow on track. Attacking and completing at least one action item every single workday is an achievable goal that ensures you take your to-do list for what it’s worth.
Make Time to Eat Healthy
You’re tempted to live on drive-thru and energy bars. This diet fills the tank, it’s nutritious enough, and most importantly, it’s fast.
It’s not the best diet for your health, though. You’ll feel better and perform better if you take just a bit of extra time to eat whole foods, preferably in meals you prepare yourself (or a member of your household prepares for the whole clan).
Some CEOs swear by this tip.
“I try as much as possible to carve out time to ensure I eat well,” says Oceans Behavioral Hospital’s Stuart Archer. As a father of four and leader of a health system with dozens of facilities, Archer is a busy person; if he can do it, you probably can too.
Unplug at Least Once During Your Workday
Give yourself 10 minutes once every workday.
That’s all it should take for you to unplug from whatever you’re working on, re-center yourself, and gather the strength you’ll need to carry on with the rest of your day.
You can unplug in your home office, in a parked car, riding the train – wherever you’re able to carve out a quiet moment for yourself.
Be Passionate About What You Do
Being passionate about what you do helps you get through the day.
It can also make you better at your job. Many high-powered professionals swear by passion for their work; some call it the secret ingredient in their success.
Even those who don’t frame it in quite such glowing terms know that loving what you do is great for business.
“If you can make an emotional connection with the buyer and take the time to know who they are and what they want, an initial sale becomes a long-term customer,” says Kara Golden, founder and CEO of Hint. Golden credits her own professional passion for helping her establish and strengthen those connections.
Carve Out 30 Minutes a Week to Maintain Your To-Do List
Back to your to-do list for a moment. If you can cross at least one item off it every day, it’ll shrink over time and eventually dwindle down to nothing. Right?
Of course not. You’re always adding things to your to-do list, often when you’re in the middle of doing something else. Left unchecked, your list would likely grow faster than you could winnow it down.
A solid 30 minutes of to-do list maintenance every week can really make a difference here. This is an ideal task to pencil in on Sunday afternoon or evening as part of your pre-workweek preparation.
Stay Curious, Always
If you’re the sort who naturally wonders how things work, you’ve already got this covered. If not, you might need to schedule some time for “enforced curiosity,” like reading trade journals, operations manuals, or professional development books.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Tough Questions
Eternal curiosity helps with this one, too. Asking tough questions is more than repeating, “So, how does this work?” over and over, though.
You have to be prepared to make people uncomfortable. If your questions don’t generate pushback, they’re not doing their job.
Should you put members of your team on the spot simply because you can? That’s a separate question. But you shouldn’t be shy about the prospect. This is one way you can be sure you’re making everyone around you better – and improving your own leadership skills in the process.
Learn From Today’s Leaders So Tomorrow’s Can Learn From You
The business cycle is not driven merely by dumb, blunt forces of macroeconomics. It waxes and wanes in response to a far more complex set of inputs – inputs generated in many cases by business leaders like you.
The business leaders whose work drives the business cycle work according to a larger-scale cycle as well. Call it a “knowledge cycle” or even a “career cycle.” It’s the rhythm of a professional life, one characterized by increasing knowledge and real-world experience over time.
Every professional life draws to a close, of course. And it’s what happens next that’s arguably the most important part of the entire cycle.
Leaders who plan well in advance to transfer not only duties and responsibility to the next leadership team but industry and institutional knowledge and expertise as well – those leaders are the ones who truly leave a lasting legacy.
Right now, you’re more concerned about growing into your role as a leader and setting your organization or team up for success. But soon enough, you’ll find yourself in a different position, one where transferring intellectual capital is your highest purpose. Be ready for that day when it comes.