There are a hundred little things that everyone does in a day that could be done better. Certain things probably stand out to you like taking the elevator instead of the stairs. While the stairs are definitely better for you, the elevator is so much less effort. It is human nature to choose the option that takes less thought or work. Laziness has driven innovation for thousands of years. Growing up, my father used to tell me “Give a lazy man a difficult task, and he’ll find an easy way to do it.” And he was right.

But as we all know, lazy doesn’t necessarily mean innovative. It is important to not risk quality or relationships. With this in mind I picked out 10 exercises that you can track over the next ten days that will help you run a better company. The goal of these exercises is to eliminate the negative habits we have, and replace them with something that will benefit the company.

The exercise plan is designed to accelerate by adding one new exercise everyday for ten days. On the first day, you just have to do the first task. On the second day you have to do the first days task, and the second days task, and so on.

Here are the exercises that we are going to be doing:

  1. Make your bed every day

This is a really, really, easy task. There is even a good chance that you already do this, and that’s good! This task’s purpose is to get you in the grove of doing something every day. If you can’t do the little things like make your bed then you won’t have the discipline to make, and keep, any big changes. By making your bed every morning you will begin to understand the essence of discipline and self-improvement. And that is:

Making your bed is easy. The hard part is doing it every single day.

My favourite benefit of making my bed first thing in the morning is that it springboards me into completing the next task on my to do list. Before I know it I am completing task after task. Remember, you don’t have to be the world champion at making your bed; you just have to consistently do it.

We are the manifestation of all of the things that we do. By extension, your business is the by-product of what your employees consistently do. The first step towards improving is being able to improve. So let’s tackle the small, easy, everyday tasks that we ignore.

Keep track of whether or not you made your bed in the morning by taking a photo of it on your phone, or by putting a check mark on your calendar.

Hard Mode: In addition to making your bed, take the stairs at work, or a cold shower.

2. Eye Contact

Now that you are working on the discipline to stick with the program, it is time to work on your skills, specifically, eye contact. There are hundreds and thousands of studies proclaiming the benefits of eye contact. Eye contact is an effective tool for establishing rapport with your boss or coworkers, closing a sale, or communicating more effectively.

The challenge is to maintain eye contact 80% of the time that you are being spoken to. The reason why only 80% of the time, is that sometimes you simply need to be looking at something else, and maintaining eye contact would be counter productive. However, these situations are the exception to the rule, and any time you are not physically doing anything and speaking to someone, you should be maintaining eye contact. If you find this a bit intimidating, then perhaps start by looking at people’s eyebrows, this will give the impression that you are looking them in the eye, but you will not feel as uncomfortable.

Hard Mode: Make eye contact 100% of the time when you are speaking.

3. Begin with praise

No one likes to be criticized. Has their ever been a time that you have been criticized and you didn’t feel bad about yourself? Criticism is easy to give, and hard to take. This exercise focuses on softening the blow of criticism and ensuring there is a focus on constructive feedback.

Every time that you have to criticize someone, begin with praise. From now on we are going to try and give feedback in a sandwich format. First, start with something that you think they did well, then introduce the point of improvement, and finally finish with another point that they did well.

People are proud creatures, and no one likes to be told that what they are doing is bad or wrong. Even if a criticism is completely valid, chances are that it will still offend someone. This is an exercise in tact that will make your work environment a place that everyone feels comfortable contributing, even if ideas are off-the-wall.

Hard Mode: Don’t condemn anyone or complain about anything.

4. Don’t Hear; Listen.

How many times have you gone to a party and been introduced to someone, only to forget their name the moment that they say it? This is because you are focussed not on remembering their name but on saying your own. Arguments rarely end in one side admitting they are wrong partly because of pride, and partly because neither side is listening to one another with the intent to hear what the other person is saying. They are listening with the intent to respond. By changing this tendency, you will find that you remember more conversations that you have and you will have a deeper appreciation of other peoples understanding of a particular situation.

Hard Mode: Let yourself be changed by someone else’s argument

5. Communicate clearly

This task is one that you are going to have to tailor to your own personal communication style. Some common areas of improvement are: speaking slower, enunciating the beginnings and endings of your words, not speaking over other people, proof reading your emails, etc.

For an outside perspective of where you stand to improve, go to your local Toastmasters International chapter and give a table topics speech. Another way to increase the skill with which you communicate is to continue attending Toastmasters and working on your public speaking skills.

Hard Mode: Get a Toastmasters membership.

6. Appreciate

How often do you find yourself truly appreciating something? It could be a piece of art, a pair of shoes, or a report. This challenge is about finding and recognizing the things in your everyday life that you may take for granted. By actively appreciate something, you will have a better understanding of its value, and this will help you make better decisions. Employee grievances often center around respect, and by appreciating your employees you create the opportunity to perceive a grievance before it festers.

Hard Mode: Stop and let someone know whenever you are reminded that you appreciate him or her.

7. Stop Saying “You’re Wrong”

To my own dismay, there have been many times that I have found a flaw in something that someone else has done, and gotten carried away in a tide of self-righteous criticism. If there are two universal facts of social interaction, it is that people love to tell others that they are wrong, and that they hate to be told that they are wrong.

A persons pride easily gets invested in the things that they do. No one likes to think that they aren’t smart, creative, or hard working, and an attack on what someone has done is often perceived as an attack on the person. There is also no reason to persecute someone other than to massage our own egos. Instead what we should seek to do is let the other person save face. Gently pointing out that another course of action would be more appropriate will also prevent the other person from becoming extremely defensive and closed off to new ideas.

Hard Mode: Ask questions so that it seems that the better course of action was the other person’s idea instead of your own.

8. Own your mistakes

How many times have you been in an argument and then realized “Oh, wow, I am totally wrong here.” And then continued arguing anyway? I have definitely done it, and odds are you have too. Similar to Week 7’s challenge, just as other peoples pride gets in the way of doing the right thing, your pride does the exact same thing. We are often afraid of admitting that we are wrong because we think that others will respect us less. In reality, being obtuse and stubborn is more likely to make people respect you less. When we let pride cloud our judgment we become our own worst enemy. This is not meant to be an experiment in self-deprecation, but it is an experiment in recognizing that there are plenty of things that we can improve on.

Hard Mode: Even if something is clearly someone else’s fault, own up to any way you contributed to their mistake.

9. Don’t condemn, complain or criticize

Wait, isn’t this just the hard mode of the third exercise? You are one clever sausage. Out of all of the exercises here, I find this one the easiest to do, but the hardest to do every single day. It is easy because it is a negative action, i.e. the act of not doing something. However, it is astonishingly difficult to do every single day. This exercise is the first rule in Fundamental Techniques in Handling People in Dale Carnegie’s critically acclaimed book How To Win Friends and Influence People. Frankly, no one likes to be around people that constantly complain or are overly critical. In your business this can create a hostile and unproductive work environment. To quote Carnegie:

Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do the things that they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness.

Hard Mode: Have others keep you accountable every time that you condemn, complain, or criticize.

10. Ask questions instead of giving orders

Ever had a good idea that took a long time to get people to rally around? People are rarely enthusiastic about following someone else’s idea. The best way to lead others into following your vision is to get them to buy into the vision as if it were their own idea. Instead of telling someone what to do, ask questions so that they come to the same conclusion and direction that you did. Not only will your team be completely on board with the new direction, but it will also give your team the opportunity to input on the decision and possibly uncover things that you didn’t previously think of.

Hard Mode: Do all of the exercises together for the next five days.

Similar to losing weight, these exercises are designed to try and change your behaviour, and they are not intended to be a fad that you do for ten days and then forget about.

At one point in my life I found myself quite overweight, and I wanted to go out and diet, exercise, and be thin, then return to my normal life style. But unfortunately, weight loss and self-improvement do not work that way. This is not something that you do once and then reap the benefits of forever. These exercises are tools to help you change your lifestyle.

Some of these exercises may not be something that you want to incorporate into your life, and that is fine, but even if one of these changes sticks with you, then you will see a noticeable change in how your company operates.

Remember to track your progress!