Are Good Habits The Secret To Success?

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
At this point, most of us can agree that work-life balance is a total lie. It's nearly impossible to get it all done — but that doesn't mean we're not going to put in some Leslie Knope-level effort. Ahead, we interviewed eight successful women who shared the good habits that have made their work lives so much better. We highly recommend following their advice.
Advertisement

4 A.M. Wake-Up Call

"My truthful answer would probably be 'caffeine.' But it's really caffeine mixed with getting up stupid-early when I'm mid-script. I can get pretty distracted by all the zillions of ways to be social online, so if I'm up and writing at an ungodly hour when nobody else is up, it's very helpful for concentration.

"I know there are ways of blacking out the internet and effectively turning your laptop into a single-purpose old-timey popcorn-maker or whatever, but I can't trick my mind into believing that hype. Plus, I know my phone is right there and ready to provide me with people-access, so: not useful. But getting up at 4 a.m.-ish? Useful." —Rachel Axler, writer and producer whose credits include Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and How I Met Your Mother

Tumblr (really)

"Probably the one habit that changed my work life was using Tumblr. I know! Sorry! But I was working at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, trying to build buzz for amazing literary events with a $0 marketing budget (heyyy, nonprofits, heyyy). We were the first bookstore on Tumblr, and it was a huge audience and community builder. I basically became a digital-marketing enthusiast in the basement of a used bookstore. Now I use my online media skills to help authors, agents, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and readers connect every day all over the world, and I love it." —Rachel Fershleiser, literary and nonprofit outreach at Tumblr

Deadlines

Advertisement
"Strangers will frequently say to me at parties, their tone dreamy, their eyes unfocusing, 'It must be so great to be a writer, in your pajamas all day, cuddled on the couch under a blanket with a glass of wine...' And my quill and parchment? I hate to disabuse them of their fantasy, but six hours a day I sit at the desk where my large desktop computer is. And the very first thing I give myself when any amorphous project comes in ('We want a show...about a lady...in a city doing...stuff') is a deadline. If you’re self-employed, the best practice you can develop is setting deadlines and then pushing yourself to meet them as if you had a boss. A mean one.

"Long ago, [we] made this truth the mantra of our small entertainment company: THINGS TAKE AS LONG AS YOU DECIDE THEY WILL TAKE. If you say, 'I’m going to hand this treatment, or proposal, or lookbook for the handbag line I’m creating, back next Friday,' and type that on your calendar, you will do it. Your mental energy will naturally align with meeting that goal. And goals are important, both for motivation and momentum, and for a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, when you’re an entrepreneur a long way off from being in the black, that sense of accomplishment can be the most elusive. So set a deadline, and then give yourself the gift of meeting it. Or scary-boss you might fire blew-it-off you." —Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, authors of How to Be a Grown-Up
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

Read Everything

"Coming from state government, where I had very little staff, I learned to function as my own agency, essentially acting as briefer, assistant, and advisor. From this, I developed the habit of digesting large amounts of information and data at one time, and then synthesizing the key elements most useful to myself and my team. I keep this muscle in top form by constantly reading — I’m reading three books right now, on top of several magazines and news blogs that I read daily." —Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA

Make Friends

"I can’t point to one habit that proved to be a game-changer, but...I work hard to find time to share tips and trade stories with other women in demanding roles, and that...has proven to be incredibly valuable to me personally and has really made an impact on all aspects of my career and life.

"Through these relationships, I have learned several tips for staying in touch with my children from the road, managing my time overall, and found much solace in the shared stories of navigating our careers and life." —Kim Kelleher, publisher and chief revenue officer of Wired, and president of New York Women in Communications
Advertisement
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

Recap Your Meetings

"I used to assume that people nodding during meetings meant that we were all on the same page, but would find that wasn't always the case. Now, I recap conversations to make sure the exact work to be done by each team member is clear, and that everyone's opinions are captured. This has been tremendously helpful for me and my entire team, as it highlights differences faster, helps avoid unnecessary work, and makes our team work even better together." —Nadine Harik, software engineer at Pinterest

Run Every Day

"I try to go for a run every day. Running forces you to breathe, allows you space and time to think, plus it boosts serotonin. The pavement gives you a place to pound out the stress and helps inspire creative breakthroughs that you might not reach in an office." —Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway Foods

Stay Present

"With a daily deluge of email and thirst for keeping up with the latest breaking news and conversation on Twitter, managing it all often took a toll on my energy and productivity at work. A mentor and friend of mine once told me she was making a life change to be more present. Insightful but also challenging, so I gave it a shot.

"In adopting the habit of 'being present' in my work life, I set the stage for more focus and enjoyment. Whether I’m advising a political campaign on the latest Twitter media tactics or watching a partner’s Periscope event unfold live, I am more focused on projects and meetings — honing analytical tasks and picking up subtleties that would otherwise zoom by me. In doing so, I am freed to enjoy the moments of recreation and joy — both on Twitter and in the office — by spending time [connecting] with colleagues and friends. These moments of enjoyment become their own source of energy, keeping each day fresh. Admittedly, I may stray from the path on occasion, but by recalling that central tenet I am able to regain a sense of purpose and encourage my teammates to do the same.

"And one pro tip for staying present: Don’t be afraid to use music to tune out distraction, motivate you, and add a beat to your workday. Setting up an amazing mix can be your secret weapon, too." —Bridget Coyne, government partnerships manager at Twitter