It’s hard work maintaining both the standards you set for yourself and your company and the effort level required to do the sort of quality work you demand of yourself. Holding yourself up to an exacting example is difficult in the face of potential shortcuts and the onslaught of other demands that would almost beg you to put forth less than your best effort in order to save your energy and focus for these new challenges. And complacency can set in after time, dulling your attention and automating your responses. All of these circumstances conspire to take you off of your best, to have you do work that’s merely good enough as opposed to as good as possible.
What can forestall that sort of denigration, to prevent ourselves from slipping into a place where we are content to simply complete tasks to check off boxes rather than making sure that everything is the best we’re able to produce at the moment? It’s our strongly embedded good habits that, as in life, prevent us from giving way to our worst impulses or the easiest paths. Habituation is what guides large portions of our life, for better or worse, so it’s to our advantage to try and set forth good habits automatically follow to ensure the best version of ourselves.
There are of course countless habits that people pick up, so which are the best ones? Which are the most important? That’s a matter of opinion and debate, and the utility of each can vary depending on the individual. For the purposes of this article, I’ve chosen three that I aspire to set and ingrain in myself, though as with most people I am guilty of straying from the mark.
Timeliness. Most of life is simply showing up and showing up on time. A Board member once said, “if you are five minutes early for a meeting, you are on time; if you arrive only at the start time, you’re late; if you arrive five minutes after the start time, you’re forgotten.”
Punctuality can seem like such a small thing, but it makes all the difference in the world not only to your work but also to how people see you. Being on time for meetings or appointments sends the message that you value others and their time, and combined with the timeliness of your work lets them know that you’re someone that takes the work seriously and can be relied upon. If you’re infrequently on time, or perpetually late, it can suggest something else entirely. There are of course exceptions to the rule; we’ve all run into an accident on the freeway on the way to work that makes us late, and if you have one or more small child at home it can be counted a small miracle that you make it into work at all. But broadly speaking, you should drill it into your head to be on time as a matter of course and not as an occasional happy accident.
Attention to detail. An eye for the small things is often what differentiates the best businesses from the merely average or worse. It’s easy to get the biggest things correct, but the truth often comes out in the finer points that you may have overlooked but others will not. Inattention to detail can be the result of sheer business, of having to juggle too many things at once to give any one of them your full attention, but consumers and customers aren’t going to judge you on those circumstances or the level of difficulty involved; they’re going to measure the final product and find it wanting if you’ve made mistakes. No one’s perfect, and mistakes happen despite our best efforts, which is why it’s important that you go over your work with a fine-tooth comb and then send it along to others to review as well. It might be a lengthier process, but it’s a less costly one than dealing with mistakes in the final product.
Self-care. Hopefully taking care of yourself is becoming more the standard than the exception in the startup world and beyond, but it’s a point worth reiterating for the holdouts. It might seem like you’re doing the most good by pouring maximum effort into your company at all times, but it’s really not helping much if you’re an overtired mess trying to do the work. Taking care of your body and mind is crucial to being the best version of yourself for your company and employees every day, and no one’s going to begrudge you the time needed to do that; if anything, it’s preferable to all involved if you’re mentally sharp and in good spirits as opposed to tired and cranky. So take the time away as needed to relax and get a nice meal and a decent night’s sleep; the work will be waiting when you return, and you’ll be all the more ready to tackle it.
We’re all going to slip on our good habits from time to time; it’s simply human nature. But the most important thing is that those slips are the exception and that you’re not letting those negative tendencies creep in to become bad habits that might replace the good. You might be surprised what you can accomplish based solely on the force of habit. #onwards.