“Everybody talks about wanting to change things and help and fix, but ultimately all you can do is fix yourself. And that’s a lot. Because if you can fix yourself, it has a ripple effect.” ―Rob Reiner
Humans are not machines, and we don’t all want the same things. But we do want to do something purposeful, to use the time we have to the best of our ability—and we also long to discover our authentic selves.
If our lives consist of a series of choices, how do highly effective real people make them? Here’s a short list of characteristics for your consideration.
First and foremost, they know what’s important to them.
I’ve been saying for a while that the greatest productivity hack is to love what you do. It is much, much easier to be both productive and satisfied when you spend most of your time on something you find meaningful.
I often go back to this principle as a compass point. It really does no good at all to become efficient at the wrong things. On balance, it’s actually negative because the more efficient you become, the more likely it is that you’ll continue on the wrong path. Therefore, it’s better to fail quickly at the wrong things, so you can discover the right ones.
They decide for themselves before other people decide for them.
Highly effective real people tend to be questioners. They don’t accept what they are told at face value. They even examine their own beliefs to find inconsistencies and opportunities for improvement. Whenever someone asks, “You can have A or B, which do you want?” … they often respond by saying, “I’d like C, please.”
This is hard at first, but gets easier as you gain experience. You have to understand that throughout your life, there will always be people who want to decide on your behalf. They have their own goals and agenda. Because they too are human, they care about themselves more than they care about you.
To be effective, to do what matters to you, and to pursue the right goals (more on that in a moment), you need to resist external expectations that don’t apply to you. Only when you have your own house in order can you operate effectively with others, because otherwise you’ll be open to manipulation and misdirection.
They take time to enjoy life in whatever way makes sense to them.
Even though they are highly effective, these real people aren’t afraid to spend time on hobbies or different interests. As the saying goes, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
And that’s the key point—time that you enjoy wasting. Maybe you have a weird hobby, or maybe your idea of fun is different from other people’s. Who cares? Do whatever you need to recharge and regroup.
In conversations, they truly listen.
They don’t just think about what they’re going to say next. Listening is an underrated skill, yet it’s easy to develop: just start doing it.
Empathy takes practice. Sometimes it’s helpful to repeat back what someone says, not robotically but in more of a “I want to make sure I understand this” way. Over time, you can also learn to listen not only to what is said, but what is unsaid (and sometimes more important).
They learn what time is best to wake up and go to sleep.
It’s not the same for everyone! This was my #1 takeaway from reading Dan Pink’s When. (There’s a lot more in the book, of course, but that concept stuck with me more than anything else.)
Once they know their ideal rhythms, they try to stick to them, making exceptions only occasionally. Sure, it’s fun to change things up now and then. But if you operate most effectively according to a certain routine, you’ll be most effective when you stick with it.
Highly effective real people embrace goals.
The goals vary—and some might not even call them “goals”—but they consistently work towards something. They know that the process is more important than actually achieving the goals, but to have the process, you have to have an end point to look towards.
Goals are the tangible expressions of values—what we decide are important to us, and therefore the choices we make each day. Highly effective real people know that the actions they take on one day will affect the opportunities available to them in the future, should they live long enough to see it.
Lastly, they find a balance between service and self-care.
Highly effective real people know that life isn’t all about them. They want to serve others however they can. They want to make a difference! As they consider their goals, values, and decisions, this value is always present.
Yet it isn’t exclusive. To operate most effectively in life, and to get what you really want, you also need to think about yourself. Not every goal has to be perfectly aligned with what it produces for other people. Personal growth comes through challenge.
It all leads to the overall philosophy of non-conformity: you can do good things for others and yourself at the same time. It’s not a dichotomy or an either/or.
I don’t think I am always a highly effective person, though I try to always be a real one. When I feel off track, I go back to some of these points, especially those about being intentional and making my own choices.
I also try to remember the universal truths: change is constant, everything is temporary. So once again: highly effective real people seek to use whatever time they have to the best of their ability.
Chris Guillebeau is the New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness of Pursuit, The $100 Startup, and other books. During a lifetime of self-employment, he visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday. Every summer in Portland, Oregon he hosts the World Domination Summit, a gathering of creative, remarkable people. His new book, Born for This, will help you find the work you were meant to do. Connect with Chris on Twitter, on his blog, or at your choice of worldwide airline lounge.
Image courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez.