We hear a lot about the things successful people do. Over the years there have been countless articles, books, TV shows, podcasts, and newspaper column inches dedicated to the subject. So when I saw Jeff Haden’s article on Inc.com, I couldn’t resist. He lists eight things you shouldn’t do each day. I agree with all of them. Here’s his list with my take:
- Check my phone while I’m talking to someone: As someone who remembers what life was like before the constant interruptions caused by cell phones, I agree with Haden when he says, “Stop checking your phone. It doesn’t notice when you aren’t paying attention.” He adds, “Other people? They notice.” This is particularly distracting in the middle of a meeting or important discussion. Haden suggests, and he couldn’t be more right, if you really want to stand out in a crowd, ignore the stupid phone and treat the person your talking to like they are the most important person in the world by actually paying attention to what they’re saying. The phone can wait.
- Multitask during a meeting: “The easiest way to be the smartest person in the room is to be the person who pays the most attention to the room,” says Haden. I can’t count the number of meetings I’ve been in where everyone was checking email, texting a colleague, or otherwise distracted by doing something else. I’ve often wondered why we even bother to have meetings because so few people are really paying attention. See #1 above and ask yourself, “Do I check my email and text on my phone during important meetings?” Do we really have attention spans that short? For the last several years I’ve taken notes to keep me focused and capture the bits of data that I’ll likely need down the road. I started in a Moleskin (which I still carry around with me), but over the last eight or nine months I’ve embraced the idea of taking notes in Evernote. It keeps me engaged in the meeting and provides reference for future discussions. Besides, nobody multitasks very well. The idea of multitasking has pretty much been discredited as a bad idea by study after study.
- Think about people who don’t make any difference in my life: I’m sometimes surprised at the smart people who go on for hours about the lives of their favorite reality TV stars. Haden suggests, “Trust me: The inhabitants of planet Kardashian are okay without you.” Focus on your friends, your colleagues, your family, and your employees. I once worked with a guy who suggested there were two types of people, those who spent all their time and energy watching and talking about professional sports, and those that actually do things. A broad generalization to be sure, but hits the nail on the head for those who are glued to reality TV or ESPN.
- Use multiple notifications: “If something is important enough for you to do, it’s important enough for you to do without interruptions,” he says. “Focus totally on what your doing. Then, on a schedule you set—instead of a schedule you let everyone else set—play prairie dog and pop you head up to see what’s happening.” I once had a boss who gave a hierarchy to the type of communication we used and what was more urgent than others. Email did not require instant response. Sometime today worked. Instant or text messages were a little more urgent. As soon as you get a break. A phone call needed to be addressed right now. We successfully used that hierarchy and I spent a lot less time in my email than I do today. Wean yourself off the compulsion to check every time your phone chirps or your computer dings. Most of the time it can wait. If it can’t, you’ll likely get a phone call.
- Let the past dictate the future: Mistakes happen. Move on. I can’t even count how many times harsh words have been said, feelings have been hurt, and progress has been stopped by over-reacting to someone’s mistake. “When something goes wrong for someone else, turn it into an opportunity to be gracious, forgiving, and understanding.” Too touchy-feely for you? The alternative is to alienate people, force mistakes (sometimes costly mistakes) underground, and spend more resources fixing problems that should have been addressed early on, when the mistakes were small and easy to correct. “The past is just training,” says Haden. “The past should definitely inform but in no way define you—unless you let it.”
- Wait until I’m sure I will succeed: I’ve talked about it before, but I really like the Marine Corp’s approach to this. If you’re 70 percent sure you have the right solution, you’re 70 percent sure you have the resources you need, and your 70 percent sure you will be successful, go for it. They feel a well executed plan, even an imperfect one, has a better chance of success than doing nothing. How many projects are paralyzed because they aren’t perfect? What’s good enough for the Marines is good enough for me.
- Talk behind someone’s back: Raise your hand if you’ve NEVER been thrown under the buss or discussed behind your back by a colleague at work. This is not something that is even remotely productive. “Spend your time on productive conversations,” Haden argues. “You’ll get a lot more done—and you’ll gain a lot more respect.” This is a great reminder for all of us.
- Say “yes” when I really mean “no”: It’s hard to say no or deny a colleague’s request, but most of the time they’ll deal with it. Far worse to say “yes,” ignore the request, and eventually get called out for not doing what you said you’d do.
Most of these suggestions are simple, common sense. Nevertheless, if I were completely honest I’d have to admit that I’ve been guilty of doing every single one of them at one time or another. I’ve also been on the receiving end of some of these behaviors, and it’s definitely made it harder for me to do my job.