Spoiler alert: overnight successes never really happen overnight. In reality, it takes years of hard work and dedication; Many spare hours spent toiling away at the computer, register or sewing machine instead of watching the latest episode of Homeland (or The Walking Dead or Mad Men - whatever your fancy). And while you may have copious working-your-fingers-to-the-bone-hours ahead to make a name for yourself and your own business, there's no reason you can't learn a few lessons from a few incredibly successful trailblazers to also help you work smarter. While it's true there are no shortcuts in life or business, these tips could inspire you to take a different path, rework your life, your time, and your habits to reach your goals.
Try one on for size.
- Work When Everyone Else is Playing — If you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment, you’re probably familiar with the August slump. August is a black hole for productivity as your hardworking (or hardly working) colleagues squeeze in last-ditch summer vacations before the kickoff of puffy coat weather and Q4 end-of-year reporting deadlines hit. Which means those left behind are subject to project stalling out of office emails. Other infamous corporate culture slack-off times include “summer Fridays” and the two weeks between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Peter Shankman famously said “Somewhere, right now, someone is training while you are not. When you race, he will win,” so make sure you're utilizing those seasonal downtimes to your advantage by catching up on projects that were de-prioritized, get ahead on next year's planning, and get reacquainted with hot industry news. Become an expert at something. Take a class, or rev up your businesses marketing during those times to take advantage of the clearer signal-to-noise ratio.
- Get Up Early — It’s been said that the early bird gets the worm, and apparently, this idiom is true in nature and in business. Just look at this list of uber successful CEOs that get up early to work out, digest the news, or put their nose to the grindstone while others are still revving up their REM cycles. It’s hard to dispute the evidence. So how do you adapt this practice yourself? Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than you normally do for one week. Keep moving the time back 15 more minutes each week until you hit your goal. Relish in your success and the pre-dawn quiet.
- Work When Everyone Else is Sleeping — Some of us may not be able to drag our half-asleep bodies out of our warm beds for a 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. wake-up call, but that doesn’t mean we’re destined for failure. Flickr, Hunch and Findry’s Caterina Fake bucked the early riser trend and created her own schedule that has her sleeping and working in two to three hour shifts. Working in the middle of the night? Why not if it works for you? The lesson here is that you don’t have to suffer early mornings or late nights to find success. Create your own schedule and design your own life.
- Organize in Blocks — Running two high-powered companies is no easy task but Square and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey makes it look effortless. Jack organizes his days by theme so he can concentrate on a single business task per day as he floats between both companies. Why is this a good idea? Well, if you breaking up your hours or days into blocks by them, it can give you greater clarity. Imagine focusing all of your Monday on coming up with new marketing ideas, or blogging all day on Wednesday so you don’t have to worry about creating any more content for the rest of the week. Focusing on one thing at a time eliminates the endless back-and-forth of jumping from task to task as things come up. Of course since you’re running a small business, it would behoove you to take a break from your epic focus to answer customer emails, tweets and deal with urgent issues at some point during the day. The trick here is to not allow yourself to get distracted - designate a block of time to do these maintenance tasks (say 11:00am – 12:00pm) and then get back to the day’s theme.
- Switch Off and Stay Off — You may brand yourself a workaholic, but the title doesn’t give you a license to ignore the rest of your life. Take it from one powerful woman, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, who switches off at 5:30 p.m. in order to focus on her family. Even if you don’t have kids to feed or a dog to walk or a partner to connect with, allowing yourself time to shut down and recharge without worrying about work is essential to keeping you sharp and focused when you are “switched on.”
- Keep Growing Your Networks — Want to grow your business? Always be growing your networks. Look to Gary Vaynerchuk for prime examples of this idea. Gary Vee is constantly engaging his audiences on social networks, making connections on and off-line, and extending his message through blogs, videos, and other types of content (not to mention incredibly successful books). Keeping your networks healthy (whether they’re digital or not) is key to being a success in business. Cause sometimes that old adage is true - it may not be what you know, but who you know that leads to a big breakthrough.