There are two kinds of “smarts”: book smarts and street smarts. You need both in order to succeed.
Similar to success, developing your intelligence is not a result of one big fortuitous moment.
It is built upon a series of daily habits that slowly grind away the obstacles that lie between us and our goals.
Here are the top 10 things I incorporate into my life every single day that has paid dividends:
1. Wake up at 5:30 AM and read, write, or exercise.
I have a love-hate relationship with waking up early. My bed is the most comfortable thing ever. However, even though I loathe when I hear my alarm annoyingly buzzing beside me, I have to get out of bed then in order to start the day off right. I yawn, make coffee, and sit at my desk. For the next hour and a half, I write. I write for my blog. I write for Medium. I write for no one and everyone. Sometimes the piece does not turn out well. Other times, it turns out fantastic. Either way, the result is never as important as sticking to the process and I am able to begin the day doing something I love.
2. Make a To-Do List during breakfast that consists of no more than 5 tasks.
It is crucial to identify what needs to be done that day before you actually head into work. In my case, I limit myself to a maximum of 5 tasks. In most cases, I only accomplish 3 to 4. For me, this alleviates most of my feelings of overwhelm and I can simply focus on ensuring that a few things are done well.
3. Read or listen to podcasts during your commute to work.
If you have ever taken the subway in Toronto during rush hour, you would know that it is a nightmare. People in expensive suits are packed into each train like sardines. As much as I try, during the morning there is little to no chance that I have enough room to hold a book in front of me to read. Instead, I pre-load several podcasts on my phone — all of which are educational. A few of my favourites are The Garyvee Audio Experience, The Art of Charm, The Chase Jarvis Live Show, The Minimalists Podcast, Pod Save America, The Mo’ Money Podcast, Budgets and Cents, and the Fairer Cents Podcast. As you can tell, it ranges from entrepreneurship to self-development to politics to personal finance. Regardless of where your interests lie, it’s important to use the “dead time” that you have towards doing something productive.
4. Take the stairs.
Unless you live in a house and either work from home or work on the first floor of an office building, you have no excuse to not take the stairs. We are so exhausted from our 9-to-5 jobs that it is so easy to shrug off the gym before or after work. I’m the epitome of this. So instead, seize the opportunity to exercise when you can. Walking up and down 15 flights of stairs is way better than doing nothing at all. Same goes for walking to and from the public transit stop that you take to head to work. If you have the option to take the bus or walk for 20 minutes, choose the latter. It will not only clear your mind but it will boost your mood. Trust me; it’s a win-win.
5. Say “yes” to 1 thing that makes you uncomfortable.
You cannot grow unless you continue to do things that scare you. Say yes to that project that you do not really know how to do but will eventually figure out. Say yes to applying for that job that seems they are looking for slightly more experience. Say yes to asking that girl out that seems a little too out of your league. Irrespective of the outcome, engaging in new experiences will make you a smarter person. You will learn more about yourself in the process — your fears, your beliefs, your attitudes — that will be beneficial to you in the future.
6. Use the “Pomodoro Technique” while you work.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that was created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. The method is premised on working in timed intervals (typically 25 minutes). You would set a timer, work until the timer went off, take a short break (typically 5–8 minutes), and then rinse and repeat. After each interval, you would add a checkmark beside the task on your to-do list. Once that task was completed, you would repeat these steps for the next task.
This method will not only improve your focus while you work but also prevent you from burning out as the day progresses. This is something that I discovered during law school and still continue to use today.
7. Offer to help someone.
I know what you’re thinking — how will this make me smarter? Well, this trick is about working smart.
Now, more than ever, it is important to demonstrate your soft skills.
You need to show to your manager, coworkers, and friends that you are willing to be a team-player, step up to the plate and to collaborate with others in order to achieve the best possible results.
At the end of the day, people are more willing to help you out if you have already shown them that you are nice, hardworking and someone that can bring immense value.
You never know who will be able to connect you with someone or advocate on your behalf for a promotion. Play nice with others and more opportunities will come your way. That’s not just strategic, it’s just plain smart.
8. Bring your lunch to work.
When I hear that someone buys their lunch every single day, it really hurts my heart. As a personal finance blogger, I quickly envision someone just throwing their hard-earned cash in a dumpster and setting it on fire.
Prepare your meals on the weekend and bring your lunch to work.
This is the easiest way to save thousands of dollars each year.
I am not telling you not to spend your money.
I am just telling you that there is no greater comfort than checking the balance of your bank account and realizing that there is more money there than you remembered.
9. Listen to white noise while you work.
I love hip-hop music as much as the next person but I cannot for the life of me listen to someone else rapping in my ear while I am working. It takes me triple the amount of time to synthesize information and even longer to write something that is persuasive and compelling.
I love listening to white noise while I work. It can decrease stress and increase memory, concentration and has been shown to focus people who suffer from attention deficiencies. Best of all, there are several websites that have white noise generators available for free.
10. Put your phone away at least an hour before bed and pick up a book.
Sleep is important. However, it is not just about how much you sleep, but the quality of your sleep. I find that I sleep much better when I put away my cell phone and laptop at least an hour before bed, and pull out a good book.
As someone who constantly strives to improve my writing skills, it is so important that I read on a daily basis. Similar to the habit of writing, it is not necessarily about what you read but rather that you read on a regular basis.
Your daily habits should be practical and manageable.
Work your way up.
Always push through.
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this story, you should check out www.jenonmoney.com where I write about the intersection of money, work and happiness. — Jen
This originally appeared on Quora.