3 Steal-Worthy Secrets of Amazing Self-Starters

Aug 06, 2014 - Joe Matar
Promise me something. The next time you update your resume (which you should do frequently, even if you’re not looking for a job), you will scrub it completely of the words self-starter, highly-motivated and driven. Why, you ask? Because you’re lying to yourself.

The reality of being a self-starter

The reality is that it’s easy to be aself-starter when you get to do something you enjoy. The reality is that it’s easy to stay highly-motivatedwhen you know precisely what must be done – and how to accomplish that task at a high level. The reality is that it’s easy to feel driven when you know the outcome you’re after and precisely how to make it happen. Much harder is being able to start when you lack a clear understanding of how long the task will take or how hard it will be. Much harder is staying highly motivatedwhen the path forward becomes increasingly challenging or ambiguous. Much harder is staying driven when you begin to second-guess whether the outcome will really be worth the effort required to achieve it. The secrets of real self-starters Real self-starters – people who have the ability to keep moving forward even when the path is unclear, challenging and ambiguous – reinforce their natural willpower and self-discipline with structure. (Click here to tweet this quote.) Specifically, they create simple systems and processes that enable them to protect both their time and mental energy and preserve it for the highest-value, highest-effort work. If you want to protect your time and energy – and do more higher-value, higher-impact work, here are three specific areas for which real “self-starters” often create systems to preserve and protect their precious time and energy. This is why true self-starters get more done in the same amount of time the rest of us have.

1. Make “me time” a priority for 90 minutes each morning

The CEO of a startup once told me the following: “The only part of my day in which I am in complete control is between the time my alarm goes off and 8 a.m.” Unless you’re a doctor or an emergency responder, that statement is likely also true for you. Given that you only have a limited window of time under your complete control, it’s essential that you make those moments count. How should you spend your precious morning minutes? Based upon the patterns and habits of other self-starters, your morning routine should likely include of a mix of the following activities, each and every day:
  • Exercise. You don’t need to log an hour-long workout every single morning. The key is to work out long enough to create a physiological change in your body: At least 20 minutes or more of sweat-inducing activity.
  • A healthy breakfast. Sure, we all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What’s unique about the habits of true self-starters is that they often eat the exact same thing every morning – typically some combination of veggies, fruit and protein.
  • Reflection. While some may prefer to do this at night, the morning is a good time to pray, journal, meditate or practice an alternative form of reflection. In the words of one solar company COO, this regular daily activity helps “maintain perspective and keep first things first.”
  • Generosity. Think it’s better to give than receive? One Fortune 500 HR executive I work with likes to start each day with one act of generosity – sometimes a letter to a friend, other times a networking introduction or helping a colleague with a work project.

2. Master your email inbox like a boss

Just like a great start to your day, a well-organized system to manage your inbox will help you preserve both your energy and time. These are three common characteristics among the email habits of real self-starters:
  • They read and respond to email only at specific, scheduled, times during the day. This runs in stark contrast to the default mode of reading and responding email virtually all day.
  • They have a “start” time and “end” time for email. They establish (and communicate to colleagues) a defined period before which or after which they do not checking or responding to email. (Often times, 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.)
  • They spend no more than 10 minutes writing any particular email. As one Fortune 500 SVP shared with me, if the email takes longer than 10 minutes to write, it’s a conversation that should be taking in person or via phone. How much time have you spent trying to craft the “perfect” email?

3. Stay on top of money management

Fears and emotions related to money -- how much we have, how much we need and why -- can corrupt our ability to focus and do truly meaningful work. Similar to the way they manage their inbox, real self-starters use systems to ensure they don’t waste precious time or energy “worrying” about money. While some use professional money managers and financial planners, here’s a simple step to get you started: Schedule time for money management each month. LearnVest CEO Alexa Van Tobel, likes to say that you should “treat your financial life like your social life. Put it on the calendar.” A common benchmark is 45 minutes a month. Use this time to ask and answer these five questions:
  1. What was my personal cash-flow? In other words, how much money came in and how much went out last month?
  2. How much money did I save last month in either a company-sponsored 401(k) or individual retirement account (IRA)?
  3. What did I buy last month? Of those expenditures, which brought me the greatest happiness?
  4. What will I do differently with my money this month as a result?
  5. If I had more money right now, what would I do differently – personally or professionally?
True self-starters are more than just strong-willed and self-disciplined; they’re also organized. More specifically, they use structure and systems to protect and safeguard their most valuable time and energy – to ensure that it is spent on their most challenging, meaningful work. What systems and processes do you use that help you to make progress – even when it’s hard? Ben Sands writes at Regret Free Life where he helps the smart men and women make great decisions about the stuff they care most about. For useful ideas about your career, money, relationships and path forward join his free newsletter.