TIME psychology

4 Life Lessons That Lead to Happiness, Success and Longevity

University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky details the things research shows the happiest people have in common.

Via The How of Happiness:

  1. They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
  2. They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
  3. They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
  4. They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
  5. They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
  6. They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
  7. They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values).
  8. Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.

I guess the blog post could end here. You’ve got your answer. But did you just want trivia? Or do you actually want to get happier?

The internet has become a firehose of ideas we never implement, tricks we forget to use.

Reading a list of things is easy. Implementing them in your life can be hard.

But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s get down to business.


“Happiness Subscriptions”

Here’s an interesting fact about happiness: frequency beats intensity. What’s that mean?

Lots of little good things make you happier than a handful of big things.

Research shows that going to church and exercising both bring people a disproportionate amount of happiness. Why?

They give us frequent, regular boosts.

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker says it’s really that simple: the things that make you happy, do them more often.

We have designated work hours. We schedule doctor appointments. Heck, we even schedule hair appointments.

We say happiness is the most important thing but fail to consistently include it in our calendars.

Research shows 40% of happiness is due to intentional activity. You can change your happiness by up to 40% by what you choose to do every day.


And much of what you do, you do on autopilot. 40% of what you do every day isn’t the result of decisions, it’s due to habits.

Via The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.

See where I’m going with this?

Happy things need to be a habit. Part of your routine. Part of your schedule.

Stop waiting for random happy events, you need a “happiness subscription.”

So how do we take that list and make them things we actually do every day instead of more forgotten trivia? Let’s get started.


1) Wake Up And Say ARG!

Even scientific happiness advice is often corny. I’ll say that now so we can get it off the table…. But it works.

And this is why you might want to say ARG when you wake up. It’s an acronym that stands for:

  1. Anticipation
  2. Recollection
  3. Gratitude

I’ve written about the importance of a morning ritual and how research shows your mood in the morning affects your entire day. So start right.

Anticipation is a powerful happiness booster. It’s 2 for the price of 1: You get the good thing and you get happy in anticipation of the good thing.

So think about what you’re looking forward to. Got nothing you’re looking forward to? Schedule something.

Recollecting great moments has a related effect. Memories allow us to relive the good times and kill stress.

Via The How of Happiness:

People prone to joyful anticipation, skilled at obtaining pleasure from looking forward and imagining future happy events, are especially likely to be optimistic and to experience intense emotions. In contrast, those proficient at reminiscing about the past—looking back on happy times, rekindling joy from happy memories—are best able to buffer stress.

And gratitude is arguably the king of happiness. What’s the research say? Can’t be more clear than this:

…the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.

And the combo often leads to optimism. Another powerful predictor of happiness.

So, corny as it may be, wake up and say ARG! And then do a quick bit of anticipation, recollection and gratitude.

(For more on optimism click here.)

All that’s fine and dandy. But what do you do once you’re out of bed?


2) Savor Your Morning Coffee

Take a moment and really enjoy it. Smell it. Taste it. Appreciate it. Corny? Maybe.

But other research shows savoring — appreciating the good moments – is what separates the happiest people from the average Joe.

I imagine some of you are saying, “Well, I don’t drink coffee.” And please imagine me saying, “That’s not the point.”

It can be anything you do every morning.

And embedding savoring in our little daily rituals is powerful becausestudies show rituals matter.

Here’s Harvard professor Francesca Gino:

You can think about rituals that you yourself might engage in prior to consumption experiences. What they do, they make us a little bit more mindful about the consumption experience that we are about to have. Because of that, we end up savoring the food or whatever we are drinking more, we enjoy the experience more, and in fact, we’re also more willing to pay higher prices for whatever it is that we just consumed. Once again,rituals are beneficial in the sense that they create higher levels of enjoyment in the experience that we just had.

(For more on how savoring can make you happier click here.)

So what other habit can we build into our schedule that boosts joy? How about one that can make you as happy as sex does?


3) Sweat Your Way To Joy

When you study people to see what makes them happiest you get three answers: sex, socializing and exercise.

Via Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life:

Their findings confirm what had been found previously: happiness is high during sex, exercise, or socializing, or while the mind is focused on the here and now, and low during commuting or while the mind is wandering.

People who exercise are, across the board, mentally healthier: less depression, anger, stress, and distrust.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

A massive Dutch study of 19,288 twins and their families published in 2006 showed that exercisers are less anxious, less depressed, less neurotic, and also more socially outgoing. A Finnish study of 3,403 people in 1999 showed that those who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress, and “cynical distrust” than those who exercise less or not at all.

Don’t like exercise? Then you’re doing the wrong kind.

Running, lifting weights, playing any sport… Find something you enjoy that gets you moving.

(For more on how sweating can increase smiling — and make you smarter too — click here.)

Okay, time to head to work. What’s the best thing to do when you start the day? It’s not about you — but it will make you happier.


4) The Five Minute Favor

Who lives to a ripe old age? Not those who get the most help, ironically it’sthose who give the most help.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest. Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

And a great way to do that without taking up too much time is Adam Rifkin’s “5 Minute Favor”:

Every day, do something selfless for someone else that takes under five minutes. The essence of this thing you do should be that it makes a big difference to the person receiving the gift. Usually these favors take the form of an introduction, reference, feedback, or broadcast on social media.

So take five minutes to do something that is minor for you but would provide a big benefit to someone else.

It’s good karma — and science shows that, in some ways, karma is quite real.

Yes, some who do a lot for others get taken advantage of. But as Adam Grant of Wharton has shown, givers also succeed more:

Then I looked at the other end of the spectrum and said if Givers are at the bottom, who’s at the top? Actually, I was really surprised to discover, it’s the Givers again. The people who consistently are looking for ways to help others are over-represented not only at the bottom, but also at the top of most success metrics.

(For more on the best way to get happier by being a giver, click here.)

Alright, you have to start work for the day. Ugh. But there are ways that work can make you happier too.


5) Life Is A Game, And So Is Work

Like the research shows, the happiest people have goals.

Via Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life:

In his studies, the psychologist Jonathan Freedman claimed that people with the ability to set objectives for themselves—both short-term and long-term—are happier. The University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has found that working hard toward a goal and making progress to the point of expecting a goal to be realized don’t just activate positive feelings—they also suppress negative emotions such as fear and depression.

Many of us feel like work can be boring or annoying but the research shows many of us are actually happier at work than at home. Why?

Challenges. And we reach that state of “flow” only when a challenge presents itself. So how can work make us happier?

Three research-backed things to try:

  1. To the degree you can, do things you’re good at. We’re happier when we exercise our strengths.
  2. Make note of your progress. Nothing is more motivating than progress.
  3. Make sure to see the results of your work. This gives meaning to most any activity.

(For more on getting happier by setting goals click here.)

Enough work. You’ve got some free time. But what’s the happiest way to use your free time?


6) Friends Get Appointments Too

You have mandatory meetings in your schedule but not mandatory time with friends? Absurd.

One study says that as much as 70% of happiness comes from your relationships with other people.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People:

Contrary to the belief that happiness is hard to explain, or that it depends on having great wealth, researchers have identified the core factors in a happy life. The primary components are number of friends, closeness of friends, closeness of family, and relationships with co-workers and neighbors. Together these features explain about 70 percent of personal happiness. – Murray and Peacock 1996

Why does church make people so happy? Studies show it has nothing to do with religion — it’s about the socializing. It’s scheduled friend time.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

After examining studies of more than three thousand adults, Chaeyoon Lin and Robert Putnam found that what religion you practice or however close you feel to God makes no difference in your overall life satisfaction. What matters is the number of friends you have in your religious community. Ten is the magic number; if you have that many, you’ll be happier. Religious people, in other words, are happier because they feel connected to a community of like-minded people.

And if you have the cash, pay for dinner with a friend. Money definitely can make you happier – when you spend it on other people.

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

By the end of the day, individuals who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who spent money on themselves — even though there were no differences between the groups at the beginning of the day. And it turns out that the amount of money people found in their envelopes — $5 or $20 — had no effect on their happiness at the end of the day. How people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.

Harvard professor and author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, Michael Norton explains in his TED talk:

Don’t have the cash for that? No problem. Take turns paying. Duke professorDan Ariely says this brings more happiness than always paying half.

(For more on how to have happy friendships click here.)

What’s the final thing happy people have in common? They cope with adversity. So what should we do when life gets tough?


7) Find Meaning In Hard Times

Research shows that a happy life and a meaningful life are not necessarily the same thing.

It’s hard to be happy when tragedy strikes. But who lives longer and fares better after problems? Those who find benefit in their struggles.

Via The How of Happiness:

For example, in one study researchers interviewed men who had had heart attacks between the ages of thirty and sixty. Those who perceived benefits in the event seven weeks after it happened—for example, believing that they had grown and matured as a result, or revalued home life, or resolved to create less hectic schedules for themselves—were less likely to have recurrences and more likely to be healthy eight years later. In contrast, those who blamed their heart attacks on other people or on their own emotions (e.g., having been too stressed) were now in poorer health.

In many cases, Nietzsche was right: what does not kill us can make us stronger.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

A substantial number of people also show intense depression and anxiety after extreme adversity, often to the level of PTSD, but then they grow. In the long run, they arrive at a higher level of psychological functioning than before… In a month, 1,700 people reported at least one of these awful events, and they took our well-being tests as well. To our surprise, individuals who’d experienced one awful event had more intense strengths (and therefore higher well-being) than individuals who had none. Individuals who’d been through two awful events were stronger than individuals who had one, and individuals who had three— raped, tortured, and held captive for example— were stronger than those who had two.

So when you face adversity, always ask what you can learn from it.

(For more on how to make your life more meaningful — without terrible tragedy — click here.)

See that? I took the eight things happy people do and squeezed them into just seven habits. You can thank me later.

Now how do we tie all of these happiness boosters together?



If you want every day to be happier try including these seven things in your schedule:

  1. Wake Up And Say ARG!
  2. Savor Your Morning Coffee
  3. Sweat Your Way To Joy
  4. Do A Five Minute Favor
  5. Make Work A Game
  6. Friends Get Appointments Too
  7. Find Meaning In Hard Times

We’re all quick to say happiness is the most important thing… and then we schedule everything but the things that make us happiest. Huh?

So what’s going to make you happy today? Have you thought about it? Is it on your calendar?

Reading happiness information is useless trivia unless you use it and you won’t use it unless it’s part of your routine.

If happiness is the most important thing then make it the most important thing.

Join 85K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

4 Lifehacks From Ancient Philosophers That Will Make You Happier

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Parenting

Kids Value Success Over Caring Because Parents Do

The co-author of a new Harvard study reveals what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient

Last month a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education issued a study—based on a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students—which showed that teenagers value achievement more than caring, in large part because they think their parents do. The authors described a “rhetoric/reality gap” in which parents and teachers say they prioritize caring, but kids are hearing something different.

The study drew quite a lot of attention—most of it focused on this key finding: Eighty percent of the students chose high achievement or happiness as their top priority. Only 20% picked caring for others.

I recently circled back to co-author Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist, co-director of Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project and a father of three, to explore what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient.

1. Given economic realities today, it seems understandable that parents are focused on their children’s success. And yet the underlying premise of your study is that focusing on success is a problem. Why is that?

We are not making the case that achievement and success are not important. It is “Success at what cost?” that we are concerned about. We are seeing a rise in depression, anxiety and drug use in kids, especially in affluent communities. And a big factor is the pressure to achieve.

These kids are strung out. We’re also troubled that achievement comes at the cost of caring for others. In life we always have to balance our concern for others with our concern for ourselves. If you are playing basketball, you have to pass the ball. If you are studying for a test, it is important at times to help a classmate. But we are moving too far in the direction of self-interest.

2. You and your colleagues have created a guide to help parents raise “ethical caring kids,” Your first suggestion is to “make caring a priority.” How would you advise parents to do this?

It begins early in kids’ lives. When you’re at the playground, it means tuning into other kids and encouraging your kid to do the same—to reach out to a child who doesn’t have anyone to play with, for example. Ask your kids to write thank you notes; require them to be respectful to you and other adults; don’t let them fudge their community service; make them honor their commitments (if they’ve RSVPed yes to a party, make them go even if something more preferable comes along). It is the quiet, subtle, daily, steady stream of messages that parents give their kids that matter.

3. You say parents should “provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.” Can you explain?

Kids should pitch in as a part of everyday life and not expect to be rewarded. This means they should set or clear the table, do the dishes, pick up their clothes, take the garbage out. Save the rewards for uncommon acts of kindness, like helping a few neighbors dig their car out from the snow. Caring is like playing an instrument or a sport; you have to practice it all the time. That’s how it becomes deep in your bones—it’s how it becomes a part of who you are.

4. Kids naturally care about their family and friends, but you say parents need to expand “children’s circle of concern.” How do we do that?

It is harder for kids to care for people who are different from them: Boys may not care about girls. Privileged kids may not care about kids who are struggling. Kids may not care about people with disabilities. Teaching them to care for those who are vulnerable or marginalized is important in and of itself, and it also is the basis of justice. There are always opportunities to talk because these issues come up all the time—it’s about what’s on your radar. It’s not letting your kid treat the bus driver, or custodian or waitress as if they are invisible. It is the way in which you steer a conversation about the new kid at school, or point out an unkind act you witness on TV. It’s just noticing and having the conversation day to day.

5. You suggest that mom and dad each “be a strong moral role model and mentor,” for their children because kids learn by watching the actions of adults they respect. Can you elaborate?

One of the big pathways for kids to become moral people is that they want to be like their parents. Parents have to live these values—they can’t just espouse them. Teens especially have razor-sharp antenna toward hypocrisy; they are attuned to when we are not doing what we say. You have to be appreciative of the bus driver and the waitress. You have to help a neighbor. You have to not tell “white lies” a lot. And you need to listen to your kids and connect your beliefs and values to their moral questions. You also have to be willing to learn from them. Sometimes they are going to have a more mature moral understanding than you do. As parents we need to be able to admit our mistakes and talk about them. The goal is not to demonstrate that you are perfect. The goal is to demonstrate that you are an imperfect human being who is committed to becoming better.

6. Your final suggestion is that parents need to “guide children in managing destructive feelings.” What do you mean by that?

When parents around the country are asked how they help develop their kid’s morality, they usually talk about teaching kids right from wrong and core values. But the reality is that by the time kids are 5 or 6 years old, they usually know the values and have a general sense of right and wrong. The problem is that they sometimes have trouble managing their behavior when they feel angry or envious or ashamed or inferior or helpless. That’s what causes them to violate others. The key is to give kids a range of strategies to help them manage these difficult feelings—from teaching them to take a deep breath or a time out to learning how to ask for help from a trusted adult.

7. You and your colleague reported that 96% of parents from earlier studies say that developing moral character in children is “very important, if not essential,” but that 80% of the teenagers you surveyed said parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Besides role modeling the right behaviors, what can parents do to make sure their kids are getting the message they mean to be sending?

Parents often tell kids, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are happy.” They are not saying, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are kind.” Changing course is about changing the steady stream of messages—verbal and otherwise—that parents are sending their kids. The truth is, our children’s moral development is much more under our control than their happiness.

8. The irony about your study is that although happiness is rated as more important than caring, most experts agree that caring leads to happiness. So should kids be more caring because it will make them happier?

I don’t think we should tell kids to be caring because it is going to make them happy. I think we should tell them to be caring because it is the right thing to do. But I also think that caring is going to make them happier in the long run, because when you are more empathetic, you have better relationships. And it is really deep relationships with people who you appreciate and who appreciate you that are perhaps our most important source of happiness in life.

I should also note that in our study,caring was ranked second by a high percentage of teens. Almost all kids say that caring is important to them. But it gets sidelined with all this pressure to achieve. It is evident that kids—and their parents—value caring. It just needs to be drawn out more. It needs to be prioritized. That is the encouraging part of this.

TIME psychology

Here’s the Schedule Very Successful People Follow Every Day

All too often, productivity tips are a dime a dozen. Some even conflict with each other. What we need is a system.

What schedule do the pros use? What system does science say allows us to be most productive?

What’s key is feeling in control and making sure your energy levels are matched to the importance of the task at hand.

Let’s assemble the expert ideas and research we’ve covered into a more cohesive schedule you can apply to your day.

How do you do that? You may want to get your calendar out. We’ve got some changes to make.


1) The Morning Ritual

Laura Vanderkam studied the schedules of high-achievers. What did she find? They rise early. Almost all have a morning ritual.

You need to wake up before the insanity starts. Before demands are made on you. Before your goals for the day have competition.

If you want to achieve work-life balance you need to determine what is important and focus on that. (And research shows goals make you happier.)

Having concrete goals was correlated with huge increases in confidence and feelings of control.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

People who construct their goals in concrete terms are 50 percent more likely to feel confident they will attain their goals and 32 percent more likely to feel in control of their lives. – Howatt 1999

As I’ve discussed before, the second part of your morning ritual is about mood. That feeling of control is what produces grit and makes people persist.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Research comparing students of similar ability finds that the distinguishing feature between those who maintain a strong work ethic in their studies and those who give up is a sense of control. Those who express a sense of control receive scores that are a full letter grade higher than those who do not. – Mendoza 1999

(For more on morning rituals, click here.)

You’ve got your goal and you’re in control. Cool. But what about when you get to work? I recommend you find somewhere to hide. Here’s why…


2) Important Work First Thing — With No Distractions

Many people arrive at the office and immediately get busy with email and meetings, leaving real work for later in the day… Rookie error.

Research shows that 2.5 to 4 hours after waking is when your brain is sharpest. You want to waste that on a conference call or a staff meeting?

Studies show that alertness and memory, the ability to think clearly and to learn, can vary by between 15 and 30 percent over the course of a day. Most of us are sharpest some two and a half to four hours after waking.

When I interviewed willpower expert Roy Baumeister, what did he have to say?Early morning is also when you’re most disciplined:

The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.

But does this really work? In studies of geniuses, most did their best work early in the day.

“But why did you say I need to hide somewhere?”

Because distractions make you stupid. These days it’s hard to do much real work at work.

Jason Fried explains the modern workplace is an endless stream of interruptions. (Short on time? Watch the first 5 minutes):

Can’t do the work of your choice when the day starts? Get in early or work from home before you head into the office.

(For more on using your peak hours right, click here.)

So you’re making progress on the thing that matters. But you can’t sprint for miles. What do you do when your brain gets tired?


3) Regroup When You Slow Down

Afternoon brain fog. We’ve all felt it. Why does this happen? Working too hard? Food coma? Often it’s just our natural circadian rhythm:


First, take a break. Get a snack or a power nap if you can.

What you need next is a mini-version of your morning ritual. Review your goals and the progress you’ve made this morning.

Harvard research shows nothing is more motivating than progress. Appreciating how far they’ve come is what very persistent people do.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Comparing people who tend to give up easily with people who tend to carry on, even through difficult challenges, researchers find that persistent people spend twice as much time thinking, not about what has to be done, but about what they have already accomplished, the fact that the task is doable, and that they are capable of it. – Sparrow 1998

(For more on fighting procrastination, click here.)

You got a break, reviewed your goals and achievements, and now you’re ready to work again. What do you focus on now?


4) Meetings, Calls and People Stuff In The Afternoon

When energy is high, that’s when you want to focus on creative, challenging work. When energy is low, do busy work.

Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert“, makes comics in the morning. By the afternoon, his brain is fuzzy and he shifts his objectives.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big:

One of the most important tricks for maximizing your productivity involves matching your mental state to the task… At 6:00 A.M. I’m a creator, and by 2:00 P.M. I’m a copier… It’s the perfect match of my energy level with a mindless task.

And research shows the afternoon really is the best time for meetings —specifically, 3PM.

Need to power through some busy work but you can’t muster the willpower? This is when distraction can benefit you.

When tasks are dull and you’re feeling distractable, friends can make you more productive — even if they’re not helping.

Via Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are:

Just having friends nearby can push you toward productivity. “There’s a concept in ADHD treatment called the ‘body double,’ ” says David Nowell, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist from Worcester, Massachusetts. “Distractable people get more done when there is someone else there, even if he isn’t coaching or assisting them.” If you’re facing a task that is dull or difficult, such as cleaning out your closets or pulling together your receipts for tax time, get a friend to be your body double.

(For more on how to work smarter, not harder, click here.)

So the work day is over. Is that it? Nope. There’s an optimal way to handle your schedule after the sun goes down too.


5) A Relaxing Evening

Though successful people do work long hours, the greats almost all take the evening off to recharge.

Before dinner, Tim Ferriss recommends writing down your big goal for tomorrow. This will get your mind off work and allow you to relax.

What does research say can help you chill out? Hint: don’t trust your instincts.

The things we frequently choose to reduce stress are often the least effective.

What does work? Seeing friends and active hobbies. What doesn’t? More passive activities like TV, video games and eating.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby. (The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.)

Past that, get to bed. Studies of world class performers show they have boundless energy, so get those zzz’s to be one of them.

No, you can’t cheat yourself on sleep and not see negative effects.

What does brain research tell us about cutting corners at bedtime? You’re basically making yourself stupid:

The bottom line is that sleep loss means mind loss. Sleep loss cripples thinking, in just about every way you can measure thinking. Sleep loss hurts attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, general math knowledge.

(For how to make your weekends awesome, click here.)

So how do we bring this all together to be more successful?


Sum Up

Here’s what a successful schedule looks like:

  1. Your Morning Ritual
  2. Important Work First Thing — With No Distractions
  3. Regroup When You Slow Down
  4. Meetings, Calls And Little Things In The Afternoon
  5. A Relaxing Evening

Sadly, we can’t all dictate our own schedule. That’s why there are no specific times listed above.

But we can all opt to do some things before or after others. Stop focusing on just getting lots of random things done to pretend you’re making progress.

All moments in your day are not equal, and all tasks are not of equal importance.

Knowing the best time to get the right things done is key.

What will this schedule do for you? Well, when the day ends you’restill going to find that you didn’t get everything done.

But that won’t bother you much because you did the things that mattered, and did them well.

(If you want a nice PDF of this schedule, join my weekly update here. I’ll be sending one out with next week’s update.)

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

How To Achieve Work-Life Balance In 5 Steps

8 Things The World’s Most Successful People All Have In Common

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

10 Life Lessons You Can Learn From the Smartest Older People

Matt Hind—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

I’ve posted before about research into the most important life lessons we can learn from older people, taken from Karl Pillemer‘s excellent book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.

Here’s another take on the same subject:

Before the 50th reunion of Harvard Business School’s class of 1963 they asked them what lessons they would pass on to younger people.

This isn’t firm scientific research — but we ignore it at our peril. We can learn much about life from those who have seen it to the end.

The site has a lot of content but I’ve gone through and curated the bits that I felt were most useful and insightful. Hat tip to my friend Nick for the pointer.




I would have been a better leader if I had been less cocky in my early career, and more confident in my middle career.



A successful leader:

  • Knows as much as he can about his organization’s mission
  • Believes in the mission
  • Communicates the mission clearly
  • Points the way
  • Gets out of the way




Steps to find fulfilling work:

  1. Take the initiative to investigate the places you think are of interest. Ask good questions.
  2. Go with the self-assurance of having written on an index card each of your past accomplishments(including where you simply helped other people do their thing) in three forms:
    1. A simple phrase; e.g., “top salesman in New York office for three years”
    2. A three-sentence statement of the problem, your solution, and the result
    3. A one-page explanation or anecdote to share if asked to give details
  3. Use those cards deftly to encourage people to talk to you — showing you listen on their level and understand whatever they tell you. Remember: The more they talk, the smarter they’ll think you are.




  • Tell your spouse and children that you love them every day, no matter how you feel.
  • Do not bring your problems home with you.
  • Realize the joy that comes from helping your spouse and children excel in their fields of interest and enjoy themselves.
  • Develop within your family a sense of obligation to help others.
  • Spending quality time with your family — not just time — is critical.
  • Choose a spouse who will understand and support you, and one for whom you will do the same. Life is much better if you can help each other grow and expand your knowledge, experiences, friends, and capabilities.



The sweetest words in the English language are, “Granddad, would you like to …?”




  • Not all decisions turn out well. Be prepared to deal with problems over which you have no control.
  • Almost everything will require more money and more time than you think.
  • Never settle for “good enough.” Always strive for excellence.
  • Set high expectations for yourself and those with whom you work.
  • Move quickly to deal with people issues.
  • Hiring smart, driven people is a ticket to your own success.




I was born in 1932 and grew up during the Depression. In the beginning, poverty was the level to which I aspired. When I reached it, my next goal was to get out of debt. That took several years. Then my goal was to become financially independent. After reaching independence, more money was not a great motivator for me. My interest became trying to make a difference — making the company I worked for successful, and working for my church and other volunteer organizations.




Retire to something — not from something. Stay engaged. Be physically active and intellectually curious.




If one is devoted solely to promoting the welfare of himself, his family, and his friends, life can be barren. Charity, faith, and spirituality enrich one’s life. Faith or the belief in a power greater than oneself seems to be important for humans, for spirituality is a part of every culture. If this spirituality fosters concern for the welfare of others, it is of great benefit to society. No matter what a person’s professed faith, I admire him if he is charitable.




Success and wealth are being a lover and being loved.

Success is using your tools and powers to enhance the lives and success of others.

Success is capitalizing on economic opportunities yet treating others with over-reaching kindness.



When I think back over my career, I am struck that my fondest memories are of people rather than experiences, places, or accomplishments.




What did I learn from the turning points in my life? Look for great colleagues, role models, and teachers. Be certain to understand the opportunities relative to the risks, and how the risks can be avoided. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and act accordingly. Play to your strengths while you work, but work on your weaknesses.



Many things that happened in my career were the result of random acts. The important thing is to keep your eyes open to recognize the right moves.




I switched fields twice in my academic career — I believed the entire experience was part of growing up. The lesson here for young people: Do not hesitate to switch interests, majors, or fields of concentration. Find your preference or your passion, then focus on it to your heart’s content.

Success is a journey – not a race. Prepare well, retain good practices, and make a habit of effective strategies:

  1. Do not be content to be average. Mediocrity breeds boredom, poor opportunity, and an unsatisfactory lifestyle. Instead, decide to excel in everything you do, and be distinctive, if not unique, in your approach.
  2. Take well-analyzed risks, particularly when there is everything to gain and little to lose. Do not be afraid of rejection when you have competently and ethically tried to succeed.
  3. Be skilled in political strategy. Interpersonal, leadership, and motivational skills are all important for success, but few consider political strategy. In my mind, there is organizational politics in any group with more than three people.



An important lesson in life is learning whom you can rely on, depend on, and trust, and whom you cannot. Only experience and “gut feel” can teach this. Human nature and values — whether of business owners, top management, associates, or staff — vary all over the place. Steering your life, family, career, time, investments, and loyalty toward those you can trust and rely upon is a priority.

Never forget where you came from, and always remember what you are here for. Be true to your values and faith. We are here for a purpose. Enjoy the ride.

Here are more life lessons from the wise.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

Sun Tzu’s Art of War: How Ancient Strategy Can Lead to Modern Success

Everyone reveres The Art of War.

1500 years old, this ancient Chinese text is still utilized by both militaries and business schools around the world.

And it should be — research shows those unconventional tactics work.

When Davids don’t fight by Goliaths’ rules they win 63% of battles.

Via David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants:

When the political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft did the calculation a few years ago, what he came up with was 71.5 percent. Just under a third of the time, the weaker country wins. Arreguín-Toft then asked the question slightly differently. What happens in wars between the strong and the weak when the weak side does as David did and refuses to fight the way the bigger side wants to fight, using unconventional or guerrilla tactics? The answer: in those cases, the weaker party’s winning percentage climbs from 28.5 percent to 63.6 percent.

If the US and Canada went to war and Canada chose to fight Sun Tzu style, what would happen? The smart money would bet on Canada.

Via David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants:

To put that in perspective, the United States’ population is ten times the size of Canada’s. If the two countries went to war and Canada chose to fight unconventionally, history would suggest that you ought to put your money on Canada.

What do I think? I go a step further:

I believe Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the essential strategy guide of our time. Why?

We are relentlessly reminded this is the “information age.”

Well, one of the primary themes of Sun Tzu’s classic strategy guide is:the power of information.

I know: you’re not a general or a CEO. But we all wage metaphorical “wars” all day long.

“Fighting” to get that promotion or new job? Waging a pitched “battle” with your significant other over a delicate issue?

Sun Tzu can help you claim victory in all those skirmishes. And scientific research agrees with him. Let’s dive in.


Knowledge Is Power

The crucial theme throughout the The Art of War is the power of accurate information.

Re-reading the book I was struck by how Sun Tzu hits this one idea again and again from so many angles.

He really doesn’t beat around the bush: knowledge wins wars.

Via The Art of War:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Do you need infantry? Maybe. Snipers? Perhaps. Pilots? Could be.

What do you definitely need? Spies to get you information.

Via The Art of War:

Unless you are kept informed of the enemy’s condition, and are ready to strike at the right moment, a war may drag on for years. The only way to get this information is to employ spies, and it is impossible to obtain trustworthy spies unless they are properly paid for their services.

Sun Tzu does not believe in fighting fair. He feels deception is at the very heart of war. But what is deception?

All it means is making sure your information is accurate and your enemy’s is not.

Via The Art of War:

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

And when you look at military history, Sun Tzu’s emphasis on information-based strategy has guided most every great general since.

Via How Great Generals Win:

One of the factors that make a general great, and therefore make him rare, is that he can withstand the urge of most men to rush headlong into direct engagements and can see instead how he can go around rather than through his opponent… B. H. Liddell Hartepitomizes much military wisdom in two axioms. The successful general, he says, chooses the line or course of least expectation and he exploits the line of least resistance.

You might argue that back then information was so important because it wasscarce.

We’re drowning in information now. So maybe it’s no longer a problem…

But research actually shows nothing has changed since Sun Tzu’s era. In fact, the problem may have gotten worse.


Sun Tzu For The 21st Century

Google brings us a library full of data with a keystroke. Our bursting inboxes scream “information overload.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s relevant or accurate info. What do the best leaders of the modern era still spend much of their time doing?

Trying to get the information they need to make good decisions.

Via John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do:

The breadth of topics in these discussions is extremely wide. The GMs do not limit their focus to planning, business strategy, staffing, and other “top management concerns.” They discuss virtually anything and everything even remotely associated with their businesses and organizations…. In these conversations, GMs typically ask a lot of questions. In a half-hour conversation, some will ask literally hundreds.

The primary challenge of a leader has not changed much since Sun Tzu’s era.

Getting accurate, relevant information can be difficult because you’re never on the front lines and there is too much data.

Via John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do

(The problem is) Figuring out what to do despite uncertainty, great diversity, and an enormous amount of potentially relevant information.

You might think that with enough money you can leverage surveys, focus groups and manpower and arrive at useful info.

Probably — but you’re still not out of the woods because we’re all still prone to the same biases humans always have been.

What does research show is the biggest error leaders make?

Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda, author of Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter says it’s hubris

And what’s an essential part of hubris? Thinking you know everything.

Leaders can get great information these days. But as former Harvard professor Richard Tedlow explains, they often just don’t want to hear it.

Via Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face—and What to Do About It:

I have been teaching and writing about business history for four decades, and what is striking about the dozens of companies and CEOs I have studied is the large number of them who have made mistakes that could and should have been avoided, not just with the benefit of hindsight, but on the basis of information available to decision makers right then and there, in real time. These mistakes resulted from individuals denying reality.

So how can you avoid the eternal problems of getting and using good information?


How To Wage A Sun Tzu War From Your Cubicle

So Sun Tzu was right — and still is. What does that mean for you and me?

Before that job interview, research the company. Before that meeting, find out who they are. Before that negotiation, research their previous deals.

I’ll distill it down to four core, actionable ideas:

  1. Do your homework. Information is easy to get but good information can still be elusive. Spend the time.
  2. Talk to people. Maybe you don’t have Sun Tzu’s “spies” but lots of info you need is not online; it’s in people’s heads. Call them.
  3. Don’t get cocky. Hubris is the enemy. Confidence is great but never fall into the trap of thinking you know it all. Question yourself or, better yet, have a friend do it for you.
  4. Don’t give up easy. You may lack for money or manpower but who knows what crazy information the opposition might be working from? As Sun Tzu said, great leaders don’t just gather information, they actively exploit and manipulate the assumptions of the other side.

Lawrence of Arabia didn’t have better info than the Turks. In fact, he didn’t objectively have anything better than the Turks.

But he knew one thing the Turks absolutely assumed was true: Nobody would attack Aqaba from the desert. It was suicide. It was insane.

Knowing that assumption, Lawrence had all the information he needed to surprise the enemy — and devastate them.

Via David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants:

When they finally arrived at Aqaba, Lawrence’s band of several hundred warriors killed or captured twelve hundred Turks and lost only two men. The Turks simply had not thought that their opponent would be crazy enough to come at them from the desert.

History’s greatest minds have always been accused of being crazy.

But you’re not crazy if you know something that they don’t.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.


How 5 Post-It Notes Can Make You Happy, Confident and Successful

Little Reminders Create Big Changes

You know why older people are happier?

Research shows as we age we remember the good and forget the bad:

…older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.

Yeah, that’s all it takes. So if you could just regularly get reminders of the good things in your life, well, you’d be halfway there…

And it’s not speculation — research shows thinking about the good things actually does make you happier.

Reminders, something as simple as a post-it note, are very powerful – and for more than just remembering to buy milk.

Studies show simple reminders help people act more ethically, quit smoking, and save more money.

And a couple well placed post-it notes can have a major impact foryou too.

A while back I posted about how just sending 5 simple emails a day can improve your life.

Here are five little reminders that can help you create big changes:


Make note of three things you’re thankful for.

We think of happiness as something deep and profound but it’s often as simple as keeping the good things “top of mind.”

This technique has been proven again and again and again. Here it is, explained by its originator, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Write down three things that went well today and why they went well…Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.

Here’s what’s really fascinating: the opposite works too. Keep a record of bad things and you’ll make yourself increasingly miserable.

Patients with chronic pain were told to keep track of all the awful symptoms they experienced. They did — and felt dramatically worse:

The use of a symptom diary for 2 weeks, even in generally healthy subjects, results in increased recall of daily symptoms and increased perception of symptom severity.

Stop thinking you need more good stuff to happen to be happier — and just remind yourself of the good that’s already here.

(More on how to be happy here.)


Make a note of a couple accomplishments you’re most proud of.

What does University of Chicago psychology professor Sian Beilock recommend when you’re not feeling so great about yourself?

Look at your resume.

Reviewing your credentials can remind you how talented you are and boost confidence levels.

Via Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To:

I immediately think about my research credentials, a trick I developed after discovering that getting people to think about aspects of themselves that are conducive to success can actually be enough to propel them to a top performance and prevent choking.

Your resume is designed to make you sound impressive to others — and it can have the same effect on you.

(More ways to be more confident here.)


Scribble down something you’re looking forward to.

Looking forward to something is powerful. It makes us hopeful, happier and optimistic.

Anticipation can actually be more pleasurable than getting the thing you’re anticipating:

…Mitchell et al (1997) found that people viewed the vacation in a more positive light before the experience than during the experience, suggesting that anticipation may sometimes provide more pleasure than consumption simply because it is unsullied by reality.

Got nothing you’re looking forward to? No problem. Make some fun plans — and then write those down.

(More on how to feel satisfied with life here.)


Write down a favorite memory that makes you feel good.

Research shows we can add a feeling of meaning to our lives by being nostalgic:

The present research tested the proposition that nostalgia serves an existential function by bolstering a sense of meaning in life. Study 1 found that nostalgia was positively associated with a sense of meaning in life. Study 2 experimentally demonstrated that nostalgia increases a sense of meaning in life.

When life doesn’t make sense, get lost in that memory for a little while. Nostalgia restores a sense of purpose when times are hard.

(More on how to add meaning to your life here.)


Write down the name of a hero you admire.

Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code, says that one of the best things we can do is think more about the people we want to be like:

When we stare at someone we want to become and we have a really clear idea of where we want to be, it unlocks a tremendous amount of energy. We’re social creatures, and when we get the idea that we want to join some enchanted circle up above us, that is what really lights up motivation. “Look, they did it. I can do it.” It sounds very basic, but spending time staring at the best can be one of the most powerful things you do.

The hero doesn’t even have to be a real person. Batman? Wolverine? They’ll do just fine. Even fictional characters we admire motivate us to be like them:

…researchers found that people who strongly identified with a fictional character who overcame obstacles to vote were significantly more likely to vote in a real election several days later.

Did you have a superhero poster on your bedroom wall when you were a kid? You were on to something. ;)

(More things research says can make you successful here.)


Five post-it notes. Five reminders.

That’s all it takes to add a bit more happiness, confidence, optimism, meaning and success to your life.

Sometimes you need something to make you feel lucky.

Sometimes you just need to be reminded that you already are.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

How Poor Planning and Being Impulsive Can Lead to Big Wins In Life

I’ve posted a ton of research about how conscientiousness may be the most important personality trait out there.

What’s conscientiousness? Having your act together. Neat and tidy. Organized and on time.

Success, health, happy marriages – they’re all tied to it.

Which can be really depressing because, frankly, I’m not all that conscientious.

But this begs the question: are there benefits to not being conscientious?

Yes, as a matter of fact, there are.

My Spaghetti Abilities Are Unstoppable

Peter Skillman created a design exercise called “The Spaghetti Problem.”


Groups get 20 pieces of spaghetti, tape, some string and a marshmallow.

The group that creates the tallest freestanding structure that will support the marshmallow’s weight within 18 minutes, wins.

He tested groups of engineers, managers, MBA students, etc.

Did tons of planning help? Nope.

Really thinking things through provide an advantage? Nope.

You know who outperformed everyone?

Who crushed the engineers and decimated the MBA students?



Skillman explains. (Watch from 1:17 mins to 4:04 mins):

Conscientiousness correlates with a lot of good things — butcreativity isn’t one of them.

Via How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:

Teachers rewarded repressed drones, according to Bowles and Gintis; they found that the students with the highest GPA’s were the ones who scored lowest on measures of creativity and independence, and the highest on measures of punctuality, delay of gratification, predictability, and dependability.

In fact, people with attention deficit disorder are more creative.

There are not many best practices for constructing freestanding spaghetti structures. No planning was going to help here.

What was the kindergarteners secret?

They just jumped in. They started failing immediately — and learning quickly.

This was their system: Prototype and test. Prototype and test. Prototype and test — until the time was up.


Via The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success:

The engineers had years of schooling and work experience to teach them how to build sound structures. But the kindergarteners had something even more powerful: they were not afraid of failure. By trying and failing, they learned what didn’t work–which, it turned out, was all the knowledge they needed to figure out what did.

This also works for people over four feet tall. Like you.

All Geniuses Use The Same System

All creative people arrive at greatness by the same system: trial and error. Prototype and test. Just like the kindergarteners.

How does Chris Rock create great comedy? By bombing repeatedly onstage to see what works before he goes on TV.

Peter Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, explains:

The term for these people is “experimental innovators” – those who learn from each little mistake and piece together what ends up being something great, whether it’s a comedy act or a building or a piece of music. It just doesn’t come without lots of setback and toil.

And that’s exactly what Skillman found. Multiple iterations win in the end.

Via The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success:

“Multiple iterations,” Skillman told the audience, “almost always beats single-minded focus around a single idea.” The people who were planning weren’t learning. The people who were trying and failing were.

“If you have a short amount of time, it’s more important that you fail,” he said minutes later. “You fail early to succeed soon.”

If I read one more article about how companies can’t innovate I’m going to throw up.

You can’t be risk-averse, prone to punishing failure and expect creativity.

In his acclaimed bestseller The Lean Startup Eric Ries makes it very clear:

…if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.

I’ve seen this myself.

When I was writing in Hollywood no one ever told me “Don’t make mistakes.” They told me to make my mistakes early.

One very successful writer told me: “Every writer has three bad screenplays in them. Get those out of the way as quickly as possible.”

Failing Is Dangerous — Here’s How To Do It Right

We’ve all read articles that say “Don’t be afraid to fail.” Yeah, that’s BS.

There are very good reasons to be afraid of failure. You can look stupid. You can get fired.

There’s a reason why conscientiousness is prized, but it’s an inherently conservative strategy.

How do you bridge the gap and fail well so you can be creative and improve? Here are 3 tips:

1) “Little Bets”

Baby steps. Test theories with experiments that aren’t too expensive or risky.

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries:

A small experiment that tests a theory. It’s just big enough to give you the answer you need but not so big that it wastes too much precious time, money or resources.

2) Give your ideas time

Many of the greats used notebooks to let their ideas evolve and grow until they were perfect. Eureka moments are a myth.

A great idea comes into the world by drips and drabs, false starts, and rough sketches.

Via Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity:

Creativity started with the notebooks’ sketches and jottings, and only later resulted in a pure, powerful idea. The one characteristic that all of these creatives shared— whether they were painters, actors, or scientists— was how often they put their early thoughts and inklings out into the world, in sketches, dashed-off phrases and observations, bits of dialogue, and quick prototypes. Instead of arriving in one giant leap, great creations emerged by zigs and zags as their creators engaged over and over again with these externalized images.

3) Hide From The Boss

When you’re testing, avoid situations where you’ll be judged. They can be paralyzing.

As Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton point out, bosses hurt creativity because no one wants to fail in front of the boss.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-based Management:

…when a group does creative work, a large body of research shows that the more that authority figures hang around, the more questions they ask, and especially the more feedback they give their people, the less creative the work will be.Why? Because doing creative work entails constant setbacks and failure, and people want to succeed when the boss is watching–which means doing proven, less creative things that are sure to work.

Megan McArdle quotes Alain de Botton as saying:

Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.

How To Get Started

Maybe you’re already an impulsive risk-taker. Congrats, you’re a born innovator.

What if you’ve had that whipped out of you by years of schooling and performance reviews? Where do you start? How do you get a little of it back?

All you need to do is remember who ruled at the spaghetti experiment: Children.

Research shows that merely pretending to be a child again increases creativity:

Individuals imagining themselves as children subsequently produced more original responses on the TTCT. Further results showed that the manipulation was particularly effective among more introverted individuals, who are typically less spontaneous and more inhibited in their daily lives. The results thus establish that there is a benefit in thinking like a child to subsequent creative originality, particularly among introverted individuals.

When you need a breakthrough, when planning and preparation won’t help — it’s time to act like a kid again.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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TIME Business

Keys to Success: 6 Traits the Most Successful People Have in Common

Multi-bits—Getty Images

Stanford MBA school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer looked at the research on success and power along with studying the lives of such high achievers as LBJ andRobert Moses.

He identified six traits that were keys to success.

Pfeffer was thorough in that he did not just note the qualities all successful people had, but specifically sought out the elements that were present in the powerful and lacking in those who had accomplished less.

Pfeffer pulls no punches. These are not all kind words fit for Hallmark cards and inspirational posters.

These are what studies have shown works and what has been demonstrated through history when analyzing the lives of those who have reached the highest levels.

Keys To Success #1: Energy And Physical Stamina

Few mention this but it’s really vital.

As I’ve posted multiple times before, high achievers work relentlessly. And to do that, you must have the energy.

Via Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations:

In a study of general managers in industry, John Kotter reported that many of them worked 60 to 65 hours per week–which translates into at least six 10-hour days. The ability and willingness to work grueling hours has characterized many powerful figures… Energy and strength provide many advantages to those seeking to build power. First, it enables you to outlast your opposition, or to use sheer hard work to overcome others who surpass you in intelligence or skill. Second, your energy and endurance provide a role model for others, something that will inspire those around you to work harder.

Keys To Success #2: Focus

Sounds generic but Pfeffer cites the example of a young LBJ turning down a lucrative oil investment because he knew, down the road, being allied with oil companies could hurt his chance at sitting in the oval office.

He was thinking way ahead and making decisions aligned with his goals.

Successful CEO’s tend to stay in one industry and at one company because energy is not diverted and a strong base is established.

Via Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations:

In Kotter’s study of 15 successful general managers, he found that they tended to have concentrated their efforts in one industry and in one company. He concluded that general management was not general, and that the particular expertise acquired by concentrating on a narrow range of business issues is helpful in building a power base and in becoming successful. Concentrating your career in a single industry and in one or a very few organizations is also helpful because it means that your energy is not diverted, and your attention is focused on a narrower set of concerns and problems.

Keys To Success #3: Sensitivity To Others

Knowing what others want and how to best communicate with them is powerful.

But Pfeffer is quick to distinguish between recognition of others’ needs and actually fulfilling them.

The first is essential, the second, well — that’s a matter of negotiation.

Via Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations:

In this effort to influence others, it is clearly useful to be able to understand them, their interests and attitudes, and how to reach them… It should be clear that being sensitive to others does not mean that one is necessarily going to act in their interests, in a friendly fashion, or on their behalf. Sensitivity simply means understanding who they are, their position on the issues, and how best to communicate with and influence them.

Keys To Success #4: Flexibility

Here’s where it gets more Machiavellian.

(And lest you interpret that the wrong way, remember that Machiavelli was not an evil man – he was a historian who said looking at the past, here’s what works and what doesn’t.)

Pfeffer notes that flexibility — changing your position — can confer a great deal of power because it allows you to tailor your presentation, pivot when things aren’t working, and acquire necessary allies.

Via Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations:

Sensitivity to others is not worth much unless you are able to use that information to modify your behavior… Although flexibility sometimes carries a negative connotation, it is a very important characteristic for those who hope to develop power. It provides the capacity to change course and to adopt new approaches, rather than clinging to actions that are not working. Flexibility also helps one to acquire allies, as it is easier to shift approaches to accommodate different interests.

Keys To Success #5: Ability To Tolerate Conflict

If you back down every time it looks like a fight is coming, well, you’re not going to win many fights.

Sometimes fighting is necessary. And just having others know you’re willing to fight can pay major dividends.

Via Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations:

Because the need for power arises only under circumstances of disagreement, one of the personal attributes of powerful people is the willingness to engage in conflict with others… being pliable may win you more genuine liking among your co-workers. But it is not the case that those who are the most liked by others for their pleasant personalities are inevitably the most powerful or able to get things accomplished.

Keys To Success #6: Submerging One’s Ego And Getting Along

Just as being toothless is bad business, so is fighting all the time. Alliances and allies are far more likely to be beneficial on an everyday basis.

Ego can be a huge enemy even when you know what the smart move is.

It is a great advantage to be able to swallow your pride and lose the battle in order to win the war.

Via Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations:

Sometimes it’s important to fight, to be difficult, to make rivals pay for getting their way instead of doing what you want done. At other times, it is important to build alliances and networks of friendship by getting along. People who are able to develop great power often seem to have the knack for changing their behavior according to the needs of the occasion… The problem in getting along, building alliances, and developing a coterie of supporters is that our ego sometimes gets in the way. Thus, the final characteristic I have identified as a source of power is the ability to submerge one’s ego in the effort to get something accomplished.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Success

Mistakes I Made at Work: 6 Successful Women On the Art of Failing

All agree that it's important to distinguish one failure at a job from your failure as a person

Correction appended May 9, 11:35 p.m.

Nothing beats perfectionism like a whole bunch of successful women who are anything but perfect. In Mistakes I Made at Work, Jessica Bacal gathers humiliation and wisdom from women who have messed up and lived to tell the tale. Some of her contributors including writers, chefs, doctors and business consultants, assembled last week at the 92nd St Y in New York City to share their most embarrassing work stories and what they learned.

1) Anna Holmes (founder of Jezebel, editor of The Book of Jezebel)

How She Goofed: Holmes said she’s always found it difficult to ask for help, even back when she was an assistant at Entertainment Weekly. So when she built Jezebel, a popular women’s blog that mixes politics and high culture with pop culture and comedy, she became so obsessed with managing every aspect of the site that it almost destroyed her life. “My inability to delegate or ask for help made my life very unhealthy.” She described not allowing anybody to take any of the responsibility away from her because “it was easier to do it myself, I could do it the way I wanted it.” But the stress took a toll on her health and her marriage, and she and her husband ended up separating. She ultimately had to quit and hand the reins to somebody else.

What She Learned: Holmes said the experience taught her about the dangers of perfectionism, and allowed her to distinguish between “failure at a job vs. failure as a person.” She now thinks admitting mistakes and asking for help is a sign of strength. “Making mistakes is a sign of taking a risk, it’s a sign of fearlessness,” she said.

Does it ever affect her confidence? “The idea that women have less confidence than men– I don’t agree,” she said. “I think women express it differently. I think it’s powerful to admit you’re afraid. I think weakness is keeping it inside.” Besides, she says she gets reassurance from all the incompetent people out there who think they’re amazing. “In a way, people’s BS is really helpful,” she said. “I’ve met enough people who are full of it, that I think ‘if they can do it, I can do it.”


2) Dr. Daniele Ofri (Clinician at Bellevue Hospital and associate professor at NYU School of Medicine)

How She Goofed: Dr. Ofri tells a few different stories in the book about medical mistakes she’s made, but at the Mistakes book event she described a night shift at Bellevue where she mistakenly transferred an elderly senile patient to the “stable” wing without looking at his CAT scans. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic, she was overwhelmed with patients, and she assumed that this patient was just a little out of it. It turned out she had missed a massive brain bleed which could have killed the patient if he had been sent home.

What She Learned: “Mistakes aren’t this external thing, this adverse event,” Dr. Ofri said. “We make a mistake, but we are not the mistake.” She also drew a distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt, she says, is regret for a certain action. But shame is deeper and more painful; it’s the realization that you’re not the person you thought you were. The point was that it’s okay to feel guilty about making a mistake, but we shouldn’t be ashamed.


3) Gabrielle Hamilton (Chef and owner of Prune, one of NYC’s best restaurants, and author of Blood, Bones and Butter)

How She Goofed: “My greatest shames and failures have never been as an employee, they’ve always been as a manager,” Hamilton said. “It’s been in not sparing someone’s feelings when you’re letting them go. They leave and you know you’ve cost them 30 days of sleepless nights, and that’s a great shame.”

What She Learned: But Hamilton says that even as difficult as those conversations are, she’s learned to accept that they’re part of her job. “I’m bright and I’m psychologically astute and I’m a human who fails,” she said.


4) Laurel Touby (founder of Mediabistro.com, which sold for $23 million in 2007)

How She Goofed: “I usually rub people the wrong way, especially when I’m in a position of authority,” she said. When she started MediaBistro, she found herself managing a small staff of recent graduates. “I was driven to get the job done, and I just assumed my staff would figure it out.” She said that her tough management style eventually led her staff to nearly mutiny, and she had to adopt a gentler approach. “I didn’t know how to create a buffer, and I didn’t know how to behave in an office environment.”

What She Learned: She wrote in the her chapter of Mistakes I Made at Work that it’s always important to be gaining new work skills wherever you go, and to be aware of how your personality meshes with the office environment. But she also spoke about how even though she’s created a multimillion dollar media empire, she’s still vulnerable to criticism. “Even at my age, even at my job, I can be reduced to ‘this big’ by something somebody says,” she said. So that’s why she’s a fan of the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy. “Bluff, pretend you’re on top of things, never publicly admit mistakes,” she said.


5) J. Courtney Sullivan (bestselling novelist, author of Commencement, Maine, and The Engagements)

How She Goofed: “I was a workplace Amelia Bedelia,” Sullivan said, referring to the popular children’s character who always seems to be messing up. She worked at various magazines and newspapers before becoming a full-time novelist, and once made a big mistake while she was an researcher for New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. “I got a phone call, and the person said, ‘does Bob want to meet with POTUS tomorrow?’” she said. She didn’t recognize the acronym at first, so she put him on hold. Then she went and said casually to her boss, “you don’t want to meet with POTUS tomorrow, do you?” It was only when he said yes that she realized that it was the President of the United States calling.

What She Learned: Sullivan said that as a writer there’s a constant pressure to always be performing because “we’re all one step away from being caught– and we’re only as good as our last book,” which is why perseverance is so important. “As a young writer, all you can do is keep writing, keep going,” she said. “When you’re a writer, all your mistakes are right there on the page.” She said it’s about accepting that every book will have an imperfection, and just moving past it.

6) Joanna Barsh (director emeritus of McKinsey & Company, author of Centered Leadership: A Breakthrough Program for Leading with Purpose, Clarity and Impact.)

How She Goofed: As a summer intern at a top consulting company, Barsh found herself in client’s basement at 1 a.m. going through pages of data about ad revenue. She was supposed to present the data in a way that yielded insight for the client, but none of the math was working out. So she fudged the numbers, and the clients loved it. But when her supervisor called her months later to ask how she’d come to that conclusion, she had to confess that she’d lied and made up the results. “But that wasn’t my mistake,” she said. “My mistake was that I carried the guilt of that for 30 years. Women carry things for a very long time and we’re always striving for perfection. In my case, one mistake was enough on the scale to obliterate 30 years of good work.”

And even though she was at the top of one of the world’s best consulting companies, she still had doubts about her own competence. One time a male colleague called her to ask for recommendations of accomplished women to serve on board and he said “what about you?” Barsh declined, saying she wasn’t qualified enough. Her husband said “are you crazy?” and then she had to go back to ask the colleague to reconsider her. She ended up serving on the board.

What She Learned: Barsh said she’s learned that letting that one bad decision stay with her for so long was her real mistake, because the most successful people in the business world are often the ones who have made the most mistakes. “Being a failed entrepreneur makes you more valuable in the marketplace,” she said.


The original version of this article misspelled Dr. Ofri’s last name.


TIME psychology

Here Are the 7 Things That Can Make You Wildly Successful

What does volumes of research say you can learn from wildly successful people?

To Build A Better Career, First Build A Better You

It might sound fluffy but research shows how people feel about themselves has a huge effect on success.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

For most people studied, the first step toward improving their job performance had nothing to do with the job itself but instead with improving how they felt about themselves. In fact, for eight in ten people, self-image matters more in how they rate their job performance than does their actual job performance. – Gribble 2000

What frequently produces creative ideas? It’s not clever tricks — it’s being genuinely interested in your work.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Experiments offering money in exchange for creative solutions to problems find that monetary rewards are unrelated to the capacity of people to offer original ideas. Instead, creativity is most frequently the product of genuine interest in the problem and a belief that creativity will be personally appreciated by superiors. – Cooper, Clasen, Silva-Jalonen, and Butler 1999

We all know the stereotype of the successful workaholic who neglects everything but their job.

Truth is, studies show people with career momentum are 53% more likely to have healthy habits.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Comparing middle management employees, researchers have found that those whose careers continue to have momentum are 53 percent more likely to engage in healthy life habits than those whose careers are stalled. – Roberts and Friend 1998

A feeling of control is what produces grit and makes people persist.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Research comparing students of similar ability finds that the distinguishing feature between those who maintain a strong work ethic in their studies and those who give up is a sense of control. Those who express a sense of control receive scores that are a full letter grade higher than those who do not. – Mendoza 1999

(Learn how to be more confident here.)

Quality, Not Quantity

In surveys, people say hard work is the best predictor of success. They’re wrong.

It’s one of the least significant factors. Hard work is overrated.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Effort is the single most overrated trait in producing success. People rank it as the best predictor of success when in reality it is one of the least significant factors. Effort, by itself, is a terrible predictor of outcomes because inefficient effort is a tremendous source of discouragement, leaving people to conclude that they can never succeed since even expending maximum effort has not produced results. – Scherneck 1998

Research shows number of hours does not predict success at work or at home.Success correlates with the quality of those hours.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

The quantity of hours spent working or thinking about work, or hours spent with our families, does not predict achievement or life satisfaction. Instead, the quality of those hours—how stressful or relaxing they are—is a much more potent factor in producing a satisfying family life and career. – Brown 1999

Being conscientious — detail oriented and showing follow-through — produces five times the results of intelligence.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

In a study of recent business school graduates, employee conscientiousness was five times more likely to predict supervisor satisfaction than was employee intelligence. – Fallon, Avis, Kudisch, Gornet, and Frost 2000

We’re in an era where multitasking seems essential and an employee must be a flexible “jack of all trades.”

But the most successful people feel they are an expert at something.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Sixty-eight percent of people who consider themselves successful say that there is at least one area of their job in which they are an expert. – Austin 2000

(Learn how to be an expert here.)

Make Plans And Goals

Sometimes it seems so much is getting thrown your way that all you can do is try to keep up.

But successful people pause, reflect, and think about long-term improvement every day.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Successful people spend at least fifteen minutes every day thinking about what they are doing and can do to improve their lives. – Sigmund 1999

Achievement is rarely random. Great generals don’t shrug and say “We got lucky.”

Nearly every executive interviewed for a study saw “plans and strategy” as responsible for their success.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Case study research on business executives reveals that 98 percent see their position as the result of plans and strategy and that more than half credit their use of a successful person as an example to help define that plan. – Gordon 1998

“I want lots of money” doesn’t cut it.

Having concrete goals was correlated with huge increases in confidence and feeling in control.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

People who construct their goals in concrete terms are 50 percent more likely to feel confident they will attain their goals and 32 percent more likely to feel in control of their lives. – Howatt 1999

(Learn about the most effective type of goals here.)

Focus On The Small Wins

Stop thinking that slaying dragons is all that matters.

70% of long-serving corporate leaders focus on the average events — not the best or worst.

The typical is much more common than extremes, so knowing how to handle that pays off almost every day.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Long-term studies of corporate leaders find that seven in ten of those who survive longest in their jobs downplay both the best and worst outcomes they experience and keep their feelings relatively steady. They have what psychologists call a “focus on an acceptable average,” not on the extraordinary, which is useful because almost every day turns out to be more average than extraordinary. – Ingram 1998

A consistent amount of minor success produces much more happiness than occasionally bagging an elephant.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Life satisfaction is 22 percent more likely for those with a steady stream of minor accomplishments than those who express interest only in major accomplishments. – Orlick 1998

You want a steady amount of challenge, achievement and feedback:

(Learn more about happiness here.)

Know What Motivates You

Motivation predicts career success better than intelligence, ability, or salary.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

When tested in national surveys against such seemingly crucial factors as intelligence, ability, and salary, level of motivation proves to be a more significant component in predicting career success. While level of motivation is highly correlated with success, importantly, the source of motivation varies greatly among individuals and is unrelated to success. – Bashaw and Grant 1994

But what motivates people can vary widely.

What reward gets you going? Do you want to be richer? Do you like helping people? Do you want praise?

Don’t speculate. Think about specific times when you were very motivated and what caused it.

Research shows that reward is responsible for three-quarters of why you do things, so align rewards and goals appropriately.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Researchers find that perceived self-interest, the rewards one believes are at stake, is the most significant factor in predicting dedication and satisfaction toward work. It accounts for about 75 percent of personal motivation toward accomplishment. – Dickinson 1999

Take the time to reflect on how far you’ve come and the good work you’ve done. It boosts your motivation.

That’s not indulgent or fluffy — persistent people spend twice as long thinking about their accomplishments.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Comparing people who tend to give up easily with people who tend to carry on, even through difficult challenges, researchers find that persistent people spend twice as much time thinking, not about what has to be done, but about what they have already accomplished, the fact that the task is doable, and that they are capable of it. – Sparrow 1998

Here’s Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the single best book on motivation:

(Learn more about motivation here.)

Choose The Right Workplace

People and environment affect you dramatically — and bad habitscan spread like a virus.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Psychologists have observed that bad habits can spread through an office like a contagious disease. Employees tend to mirror the bad behaviors of their co-workers, with factors as diverse as low morale, poor working habits, and theft from the employer all rising based on the negative behavior of peers. – Greene 1999

You want to learn and grow — but you want to be learning the right things and growing in the right way.

Having a diverse set of co-workers can make you much more productive.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Teams in the workplace composed of people with differing personalities are 14 percent more productive than teams composed of more compatible individuals. – Fisher, Macrosson, and Wong 1998

We all know mentors and role models are valuable.

What most people don’t know is that these aspirational figures must “fit” with your career goals.

Role models who aren’t relevant or whose achievements are unattainable can make you 22% less satisfied with your career.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

People who actively target someone to serve as a role model draw positive feelings from that person only if the role model’s achievements are both relevant and attainable. People who choose role models who do not fit that description wind up 22 percent less satisfied with their careers than people who do not have a role model at all. – Lockwood and Kunda 2000

(Learn how to use context to your advantage here.)

Learn People Skills

You cannot go it alone. A big network and being liked pay huge dividends.

80% of CEOs feel that people skills are not only essential at work but also make them happy at home.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Eight in ten ceos report that a healthy family life is crucial to a productive business life and that the same key skill—“interpersonal engagement,” the capacity to express concern and interest in those around them—is crucial to both home and work. – Henderson 1999

Being defensive not only makes you disliked, it also makes it hard to learn anything.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Defensiveness is negatively correlated with learning on the job. People with highly defensive personality traits speak more times in meetings, are more likely to interrupt a speaker, and are one-fourth slower in adapting to new tasks. – Haugen and Lund 1999

(How do you learn people skills? Start here.)

Sum Up

Seven things that will make you more successful:

  1. First, Build A Better You
  2. Quality, Not Quantity
  3. Make Plans And Goals
  4. Focus On The Small Wins
  5. Know What Motivates You
  6. Choose The Right Workplace
  7. Learn People Skills

What’s the easiest way to get started? Go here.

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Related posts:

8 Things The World’s Most Successful People All Have In Common

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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