How to develop the habit of excellence

If actions speak louder than words, what story would your actions over the last 48 hours tell?

If I were to ask you to review those actions — the way you communicated with direct reports or stakeholders, or the detail and analysis you provided in a briefing, would they tell the story of someone who is a world-class professional or at least on the path to becoming one?

Intent alone is not enough. Being excellent requires the willpower to turn our intentions into action.

Cultivating certain habits is the key to making this a bit easier. We have to make the desired action part of our routine, rather than something that requires a conscious choice each day.

Every conscious choice we make depletes our willpower — whereas making the decision ahead of time creates a habit that supports the behaviour or outcome you want.

Here are three steps to building some habits of excellence:

  • Reserve a slot in your schedule to visualise the behaviours and actions you want to display that day. This is a very effective way to prime your subconscious to follow through, and once it is locked into your schedule, it will help build a repeated pattern and, eventually, a habit to prepare you for the day.
  • Make an appointment with yourself for professional development. Schedule just 15 minutes every day to read or listen to something that feeds your intellect and challenges you to grow. Protect this time as you would any other appointment, and it will soon become a habit.
  • Create a space to make a deliberate choice as to how you are going to present yourself to increase your ability to be present and reduce potential emotional reactivity on a call. This is one of the most powerful habits you can cultivate to manage your reaction to anything. When a call comes in, pause before you answer to enable you to disengage from your existing task and re-focus. If you need to, allow the call to go to voicemail, but make sure you always ring back within a minute or two. After every phone call, before you resume your next task, or even before you take notes from that call, pause for 30 seconds. This will help your subconscious better process and let go of what just occurred before you move on.

Charlie Hugh-Jones ( is a US-based strategist who specialises in helping individuals and organisations become more productive, more purposeful, and more resilient. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at