7 Simple, 30-Second Habits That Can Help Boost Your Career and Finances
By Rachel Grumman Bender
We get it—you’re crazy busy.
But what if we told you that you could do wonders for your career and even finances … in 30 seconds flat?
We see those raised eyebrows.
But the truth is that you can get a lot done in half a minute—especially if you start adopting some of these 30-second habits.
30-Second Career-Boosting Habits
#1: Zero in on a Trio of Important Tasks
As soon as you pour that cup of morning joe, pinpoint your top three—and only three—most crucial to-dos for the day.
“Once you’ve identified what’s important, you’ll often find it’s not many things,” says Josh Davis, Ph.D., author of “Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done.” “Having a small number of things also makes it easier [to accomplish the tasks].”
And since it’s easy to burn through an entire day just dealing with the small stuff—yes, e-mail, we are talking about you—be sure to block off the two best hours each day for accomplishing those three tasks.
#2: Maximize Meetings With a Half-Minute Recap
Right after you get out of a meeting or jump off a conference call, spend 30 seconds jotting down the most important points.
Even if you took copious notes during the meeting, spending these few seconds post-meeting will help you pinpoint the most important takeaways—and prioritize your next action steps.
It’s an example of how actions can indeed speak louder than words: A 2014 study published in PLOS One found that we have a harder time remembering what we hear compared to what we see, which makes retaining info discussed at a meeting more challenging. Writing things down helps cement the details we need to know.
Need a helping hand? Try 30 Second Habit, an app where you can jot down those important points—with a 30-second timer built in.
#3: Put a Dollar Value on Your Time
You’ve heard the adage that time is money, but that may not fully hit home until you’ve assessed how much your time is really worth—and how much money you “lose” when you waste that time.
To figure out your hourly worth, use this calculator to determine your hourly wage and this calculator—created by mathematician Spencer Greenberg, cofounder of Rebellion Research hedge fund—to pinpoint what your time is truly worth.
So if you determine that you make, say, $50 per hour, you’ll see that those three hours a day spent on social media is costing you $150 per day—or a jaw-dropping $1,050 per week.
Running your hourly worth numbers can also help you figure out ways to save precious time—like whether it makes financial sense to pay for a laundry service, hire a housecleaner, or hire a moving company.
“Knowing the value of your time allows you to make better decisions, and helps you make them much faster,” Greenberg says.
When it comes to your career, you can more easily decide whether to take on extra work—and how much you’d have to charge to make the extra work worth your time.
#4: Improve Your Attention to Detail by Ogling Cute Animal Pics
The next time your boss catches you staring at zoo babies, tell her that you’re actually working on your productivity.
According to a Japanese study, viewing adorable animal photos improves your performance on tasks that require close attention.
That’s because cute critters evoke positive emotions that make you want to lean in and see the fine details of the adorable subject, explains study author Hiroshi Nittono, Ph.D., director of the cognitive psychophysiology laboratory at Hiroshima University in Japan. And this heightened attention to detail can carry over to your work too.
So before you dive into an intense project at work, go ahead and pull up some precious baby animal photos—with one caveat.
Don’t pepper your desk with images of pandas and koalas, assuming it will make you über-productive. “One cannot concentrate on mundane office work amid eye-catching pictures,” Nittono explains. “You should view cute things only during a break.”
A visual reminder of a significant savings goal—like a snapshot of your kids, if you’re trying to save for their college fund—can help make you significantly less likely to spend money.
30-Second Finance-Boosting Habits
#1: Make Wiser Money Moves by Taking the “Gas or Brake Test”
The small financial decisions you make on a daily basis—like buying overpriced coffee versus the almost-as-good brew at the grocery—can add up quickly.
But beyond the initial impact on your wallet, these decisions can also affect how soon you reach long-term financial goals, whether it’s saving for a house or retirement.
Enter the “gas or brake test,” recommended by author Jacob Lund Fisker, in which you imagine that you’re in a car and that your daily decisions either drive you one step closer to your goal by saving money (stepping on the gas), or they delay you from reaching your goal by spending money (tapping on the brake).
So before you make a purchase, ask yourself whether the item will accelerate or decrease your savings—and if it’s the latter, then ask yourself if you can do without buying it.
More often than not, the answer will likely be yes.
#2: Simplify Expense Tracking by Snapping Pics of Your Receipts
Tired of having to sort through a mountain of crumpled receipts—or misplacing those little pieces of paper altogether?
Some of the apps can also organize receipts into categories, such as “Chicago business trip,” so you don’t have to hunt around for specific expenses come tax time.
#3: Keep a Photo in Your Wallet That Reminds You of a Big-Picture Goal
A study in the Journal of Marketing Research found that having a visual reminder of a significant savings goal—like a snapshot of your kids, if you’re trying to save for their college fund—can help make you significantly less likely to spend money.
“A picture of a savings goal has the ability to evoke strong emotional connections, allowing the consumer to visualize the outcome of the financial goal,” says study author Dilip Soman, Ph.D., professor of marketing at the University of Toronto.
For added impact, Soman recommends placing a powerful visual reminder in your wallet. “This way, every time you reach in to spend cash on something frivolous,” he says, “you might get reminded to stash the cash away [instead].”