6 daily habits that high achievers can use to improve productivity, from a Google executive coach

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with AK Ikwuakor, a 38-year-old executive coach lead at Google from Marina Del Rey, California. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve served as an executive coach for leaders across the globe. I joined Google in 2019 as a master faculty trainer, speaker, and coach. That September, Google brought me on board to help establish and scale a sales-coaching arm. I now work across the organization and lead team-building events, trainings, and keynote presentations.

Through this work, I’ve grasped the significance of habits and their impact on performance. At the end of the day, we’re the sum of our habits.

Micro habits are tiny behaviors, mindsets, or actions you can weave into your life to kick-start a bigger habit you’re trying to build or the end goal you’re aiming for. They’re small actions that need minimal effort and time but can supercharge your process of building new habits in the long run.

One of my micro habits is walking out the door each morning. I know that if I just step outside with my workout shoes on, I’m likely to get a workout in. Another micro move that works for me is avoiding my phone for the first three minutes each morning — it boosts my chances of meditating, working out, and eating a healthy breakfast.

Here are six daily micro habits that I recommend to Googlers and others to become less stressed and more focused.

1. Focus on your ‘I knows’

Google is filled with talented people, which makes it all too easy to fall into the trap of self-doubt. Impostor syndrome is real, and it affects people at all levels.

Whenever I’m working with someone who is caught in this cycle of self-doubt, I have them write down and say their “I knows” — the things they absolutely, positively know about themselves without a shred of doubt.

People often struggle at first, but as they continue listing things like “I know I’m amazing with people,” “I know I’m a strong marketer,” “I know I’m a great friend,” and so on, it gets easier.

This micro habit is the quickest way I know to uplift someone’s psychological state.

2. Incorporate ‘de-hyping’

Just last week, I was having a chat with a sales rep who was anxious about an upcoming meeting with a senior executive client she’d never met before. As we went through a series of coaching questions, it became clear she was creating her own anxiety and setting expectations that weren’t helping her present her best self.

I told her: “How about we try to take some of the hype out of the situation? Let’s start with your term ‘senior executive.’ Rather than focusing on differences, how about we find common ground?”

She replied, “Well, we both live in California, we’re both passionate about marketing, and he also has kids around the same age as mine.”

Once we dialed back the hype, we ended up with, “I’m just going to have a conversation with a fellow Californian, who’s into marketing, has kids about the same age as mine, and chat about what he likes about YouTube.”

3. Understand anxiety versus excitement

The two most common emotional states most people oscillate between are anxiety and excitement. They feel similar, yet the thought patterns they trigger are polar opposites: Anxiety imagines negative outcomes, while excitement anticipates positive results.

This micro habit involves the accurate identification and labeling of our feelings. Once you’ve pinpointed whether you feel excitement or anxiety, it’s time to steer toward the outcome you desire.

If you’re feeling excited, fantastic — ride that wave. If anxiety has you in its grip, immediately list out at least five things you’re looking forward to or excited about in relation to the action you need to take.

4. Focus on ‘who’ you need to be

When setting goals, people usually zero in on what they want and why they want it. But the most crucial “W” is the “who” you need to become to accomplish the “what.”

Think about common goals people set within any organization — “I want more money, I want a promotion,” and so on. The tricky bit with the “what” is that we don’t have much control over the end result. What we can control are the moment-to-moment decisions and the “who” we choose to be.

Let’s say your “what” or goal is to snag that senior-manager promotion. Instead of obsessing over getting the position, ask yourself, Who would you need to be on a daily basis to become that senior manager? For example, the “who” you need to be might be someone who’s all about boosting their team, not just focusing on your own contributions.

5. Remove distractions

Distractions can take the form of vices, people, or even certain mindsets. The most common are the pings and notifications that incessantly pull at our attention.

Sometimes these distractions can be larger scale, like individuals who consistently divert your focus. You might even unknowingly be a distraction to someone else.

Here’s my straightforward tip: We’re all aware of the distractions that hinder our focus, connection, and results. All you need to do is make the conscious decision to either remove or limit them in your life.

6. Schedule ‘you’ time

As a coach, I often see people’s calendars filled with back-to-back meetings, leaving them no time to eat or even take a bathroom break. If you’re spending every working hour supporting others, when are you dedicating time primarily to yourself? It’s important to schedule personal time and use the resources available to you for recharging and recovering.

I also advise trimming your meeting time. Think about Parkinson’s law, which proposes that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. In the context of meetings, this suggests that people tend to use up the entire allotted time for a meeting, regardless of whether the topic could be handled more efficiently in a shorter duration.

Instead of scheduling 60-minute meetings, try reducing them to 45 or even 30 minutes. This adjustment ensures your meetings remain focused and aligned, while also giving you time afterward to gather your thoughts and have a breather before your next meeting.

Courtesy of AK Ikwuakor

  • AK Ikwuakor is a 38-year-old executive coach lead at Google from Marina del Rey, California.
  • He recommends small habits — like writing down your “I knows” — to be more effective at work.
  • Removing distractions and scheduling “you time” can also increase your focus.

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