Why do some people succeed more quickly than others, and maintain that success over the course of decades? What’s the difference between those who seem happy with their achievement and those who are miserable due to their successful careers?
The answer to those questions can be found through top performers. What do these people have in common? What are their habits and routines?
Below are the top 15 habits our large survey revealed for high performers:
High performers set goals:
Most of the high performers we interviewed set goals — and were constantly working toward them. They had a “to do” list and usually checked off more items than less successful people.
One thing that’s especially noteworthy (and surprising) is that the high performers we surveyed seemed to have goals even when they weren’t related to their work. That consistency was something they did regardless of the job or situation.
What kinds of things were on their lists? For some, it was a long-term goal of getting an advanced degree or certification. Several had written down “no more sick days” as a way to ensure they’d always be working to their fullest capacity. Others were trying to save up for specific purchases (a new car, home renovations).
One woman — a high performer who headed a team of 10 — had a financial goal: to make six figures by the time she turned 30. She did it, and is now moving her sights on earning $1 million in three years.
It’s important to note that these goals weren’t necessarily work-related — or else they were goals that could be completed only by working harder.
High performers had a routine:
The high performers we surveyed made time to get focused on certain things every day of the week. Although their routines could sometimes take just 10 minutes, for most it was more than that — usually around 30 minutes per day early in the morning. (As one person pointed out, getting up even an hour earlier — or getting up 15 minutes earlier every day for a year — is not that hard.)
The high performers we spoke to generally spent the first part of their routine planning their days. They set out what they were going to accomplish on an hourly and daily basis. They wrote down specific tasks, divided those tasks into different work groups/projects, and estimated when they were going to complete them.
But the high performers also made time for important self-care activities. They invested in their health, and one way they did that was by taking time every day to exercise. As one man put it: “I schedule my workouts as if they’re meetings.”
They handled e-mail and phone calls efficiently:
Almost all of the high performers we interviewed had some sort of routine for handling e-mail and phone messages. They usually sent a minimum number of responses to every message they received, even if those responses involved simply saying, “I’m working on it.” The rest of their response depended on the situation, but most of the time they let other people know what was going on while also telling them when they could expect a full response.
The high performers we surveyed also managed to keep their inboxes under control.
Although some had an e-mail assistant, others handled everything on their own — and therefore knew exactly what was in their inbox. One of the highest performers said that she checked her e-mail only three times each day: First thing in the morning, before lunch,They didn’t take work home with them:
The high performers we spoke with usually left work at the office. That was especially true when they had a 40-hour job, since most said that anything more than that would be too much to do in a day and still stay focused. (For them, working between 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. was also a no-no.) However, when they did work more than 40 hours a week, it wasn’t because their boss asked them to; it was because they wanted to do extra projects or take care of matters that got put off during the week.
One high performer said that even if she worked 60 hours one week, she’d rarely take any of that work home with her. She’d check e-mail and phone messages in case there was an emergency, but other than that she was done for the week.
They planned their “rewards” carefully:
The high performers we spoke to all had an incentive or reward waiting for them at the end of the day. For some, the reward was a certain activity (going to the gym or taking a walk), while for others it was something specific they’d purchase (a new pair of shoes or week-long vacation).
Note: In addition to their daily routines, high performers also often had weekly and monthly routines that were critical to helping them get the work done they needed to accomplish.
Here is a weekly routine of one high performer: Check e-mail and voice mail first thing on Monday morning. Review the content of my inbox for any urgent messages, then deal with other messages by either replying immediately or flagging them for follow-up later in the day. Schedule appointments with myself for the rest of the day. Look at my calendar and create specific, measurable goals (as well as deadlines) for my week. Meet with my assistant to go over any pressing issues or immediate deadlines. Review upcoming events that might require me to cancel on an appointment or prepare materials in advance. Brainstorm new ideas and read material related to my field. Contact one person I haven’t spoken to in a long time. Meet with my assistant again for an informal conversation about what needs to get done during the week and how we are going to accomplish it all (schedule back-to-back meetings, if necessary). Lunch at my desk. Check e-mail/voice mail first thing after lunch. Review any messages and deal with them as indicated. Take a break by either going for a walk or taking time to exercise (this varied depending on the day, since I usually worked out in the morning). Meet with my assistant for a formal discussion about my week’s schedule, upcoming events, and other issues. Finish work by 5 p.m. If I had any urgent deadlines, the high performers we interviewed all managed their time so that they could deal with them first thing the next morning before their day got away from them.
The same kind of systems and routines kept high producers motivated:
High performers also used daily, weekly, and monthly calendars to keep track of their goals, upcoming events, appointments, and tasks to make sure they stayed on track. They created calendars that were specific to their line of work, and because they updated them often, it was easy for them to visualize what needed to get done and when.
The high performers we spoke with also made sure they scheduled time each day to think about their goals, since they said that was often the most valuable time in their day. Those few minutes a day were critical to helping them prioritize what needed to get done and also helped keep them inspired and motivated throughout the rest of their workday.
The high performers we interviewed all learned how to say no:
Another part of being a high performer was learning to say no . One high performer told us she used to be obsessed with trying to figure out how to get everything done. She would work all the time, and at the end of a very long day she’d still feel as though she hadn’t gotten anything accomplished.
“I realized that there are just some things I’m not going to be able to get done, and I needed to stop being so concerned with trying to do everything,” she explained. “So now, if I’m not able to fit something into my schedule — whether it’s an appointment or a commitment — then I just don’t do it.”
She also learned that saying no can actually help you accomplish more in the long run: “Saying no allows you to focus on the few things that are going to make a difference in your life,” she said. “If you say yes to everything, then you can’t figure out what the important projects and tasks really are.”
Here’s another example of somebody who used to struggle with saying no , but has learned to do so successfully:
“I used to work for a large corporation where there were lots of different initiatives being started,” he told us. “Everybody was supposed to be involved, and everybody had good intentions. But you really have to say no , especially when it comes to things that might get in the way of your own success.”
In that particular organization, there were lots of projects that would get started and then never really taken to completion. “It was like they took up all this space in your brain and in your schedule,” he said. “Then a few months later the initiative is over, but now you’ve got this other project on top of everything else. It was just going to be too much.”
So he developed a strategy for saying no that helped him become more productive: “If I find myself getting involved in something, I have to treat it as a separate commitment. And I can’t start it until I’ve figured out when and how I’m going to finish it. Otherwise, if I get involved with something else — or if the organization changes its mind about its priorities — I could find myself in a bigger mess than I can handle.”
High performers also surrounded themselves with other high performers:
Figure out who are your high performers. Who do you know that is incredibly motivated, productive and successful? Start associating yourself with them. What do they do that makes them so successful?
How much time do you spend with these high performers when compared to others in your life? For example, I am a big fan of Mark Cuban and the way he has built his empire. When I’m not reading or listening to podcasts about him (I already know what he’s going to say because I’ve read his book) I am watching Shark Tank or reading articles about him on the internet.
By constantly surrounding myself with this individual, his thoughts and ideas are always there in my head. If he asks me something, then it’s likely that I’ll be obsessing over how to answer that question for a while before I can actually put pen to paper.
We all need these people in our life and we should be surrounding ourselves with them as much as possible, but don’t rely on them for everything. You need to force yourself to grow into a more productive person outside of their presence:
“One thing that really helped me was having the discipline to do the work, even when I wasn’t talking to anybody else,” he told us. “I was doing it because I knew that the money at the end would be worth it.” Even after graduating from college, Martin still keeps those high performers around him:
“I went to a conference last year with almost all of the top financial marketers there,” he told us. “When I got back, instead of just networking with my old connections, I tried to reach out to people that were there.”
“One thing that helped me get through the conference was making sure that I was always doing something helpful for other people, which fit into my business model,” he said. “It really helped me get through the whole thing.”
High Performers know their strengths and weaknesses
They spend their time focusing on improving their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses:
Figure out your weaknesses. Figure out what you’re not good at doing, or where you have room for improvement. Maybe it’s communicating with people, maybe it is coming up with the ideas to get things done. Whatever they are, figure them out. Then look at each of them and decide which is the most important to you (you can’t fix everything at once).
How do you know what your strengths are? Find out: Look at your performance review from previous jobs. Take a look at some of the projects that you’ve worked on and see if they contain any common themes. What did you really excel at? What were people consistently complimenting you for? Are you annoyed by certain kinds of tasks yet you always end up taking them on? These are the tasks that play into your strengths.
How do you develop those strengths even more? Ask for feedback! Ask close friends or family members to tell you what they think your strengths and weaknesses are. Look back at projects in the past that you’ve worked on. What did you do especially well? What were you not so good at?
By going through this process, you should start to see some common themes in the tasks that excite and energize you the most. You should also be able to pinpoint your weaknesses as well and decide how to address them.
High Performers are persistent and consistent:
This is another way that high performers stay focused on their goals. For example, let’s say your goal is to make it into an Ivy League school. Although this may be a lofty aspiration, there are still smaller tasks you can do today to help get you there.
High Performers are self motivated:
Once you’ve figured out what your goals are, you should have a clear picture in front of you. The question is how do you go about achieving those goals?
One way to stay motivated is to find ways that help keep these things at the forefront of your mind. For example, if your goal is to get into an Ivy League school and become a successful entrepreneur, that goal should be at the forefront of everything you do.
In order to accomplish this, consider putting up some posters on your wall with a visual reminder of what you want in life. Maybe it’s the photo of the Ivy league school or a picture of one successful entrepreneur after another.
You can even make a vision board. This is a poster with photos of your goals and reminders of why you are trying to accomplish these things. By creating a physical reminder, this will help add fuel to the fire and keep it burning bright!
High Performers know where they’re headed in life:
Another part of being self motivated is understanding what you want out of life. If you don’t know what your goals are, how can you hope to accomplish them?
This is why it’s important to ask yourself questions about where you want to be in 5 years and 10 years. Where do you see yourself? What kind of job would make you happy? By having these questions answered, every decision will help you move closer towards this common goal.
High Performers have a great work ethic:
High performing individuals aren’t necessarily the smartest, or most talented in their field. What separates them from the rest is that they are willing to work harder at it. This also goes hand in hand with having a clear vision of where you want to be and the time involved to get there.
You should always be looking at ways that you can spend more time working on things that will help improve your work ethic. Maybe it’s spending your free time reading books or writing in a journal of what you did every day. The important thing is to make it a daily routine.
High Performers are committed:
High performers are committed to their passion, whether it’s in school or work. They never give up on a project and always find a way to solve the problem that is ahead of them. This is how they gradually improve and learn how to grow from the experience.
Even when high performers fail, a common trait among them is that they never get too down on themselves because of it. They tend to see the good in any situation and take away something positive from it, no matter how small it may seem at the time.
High Performers enjoy their work:
Another quality of high performers is that they have fun doing what they’re doing. This makes them more interesting to talk to. They have a more passionate and energetic attitude that people are drawn too.
High Performers learn from their mistakes: Another quality of high performers is that they’re very open minded. High performing individuals will recognize when they make a mistake, admit it, and try to learn from it.
For instance, let’s say you’re working on a project and you realize that the way you’re approaching it isn’t as efficient as you thought. Now, instead of trying to change your own method, find ways that will make this work for you and your situation. Change is good if it’s for the better!
High Performers are confident in their abilities:
A common trait among high performers is that they’re confident in the decisions they make. They will always recognize when they know more about something than someone else and feel comfortable saying so.
This isn’t to say that high performers are egotistical and cocky like some people may think, but instead it’s a way for them to show people that they’re smart and have confidence in what they know. They’ll even go out of their way to try and help someone else if they’re stuck.
High Performers want the best for others:
Another quality that many high performers have is how much they care about each other. Instead of focusing on themselves and what they can get from people, most high performers are more concerned about what they can do to help other people.
This is why I always try and write articles that will be helpful to my readers. The main goal behind every posting is to give something of value for free so that you can make an informed decision about your situation and how you want to move forward. Going out of my way to help others has helped me get to where I am today and it will do the same for you.
High Performers still want feedback:
One thing that many high performers won’t tell you is that they also look forward to getting feedback from others as well. This way they can see where they need to improve upon and what they’re doing well at. Feedback helps high performers know whether or not their actions are leading them in the right direction for the future.