That's a question I get asked a lot. And over the past year, I've used this column to focus on answering that question--by providing simple rules that are not only easy to remember, but that you can start putting into practice right away.
Here are 10 rules of emotional intelligence that will help you start making emotions work for you, instead of against you.
1. The 25/5 rule
According to ancient legend, billionaire Warren Buffett's personal pilot was once discussing career priorities with his boss when Buffett taught him a simple lesson.
According to the legend, Buffet told his pilot to first make a list of his top 25 career goals, and then to circle the top five goals. To remain focused on accomplishing goals one through five, the pilot would need to keep away from the other goals.
The idea behind the 25/5 rule is that we often get distracted by things that are interesting but that prevent us from making progress on the more important things.
Buffet has gone on record to say this story never really happened, but the principle remains: Success means learning to say no, so you can say yes to the things that matter most.
2. The rule of writing in reverse
Writing in reverse is simple: You have to reverse your role as the writer (of an email, a report, a landing page, etc.) with the role of the recipient (your audience). This is helpful because it keeps you from:
- writing from an overly emotional perspective,
- writing too much, or
- writing things that won't help your cause, and which the recipient doesn't care about.
Writing in reverse is also emotionally intelligent--because it helps you develop your empathy muscle.
3. The golden question
The golden question is actually five questions in one. When you need to make a decision but you feel your emotions taking over, ask yourself:
How will I feel about this in:
- a day?
- a week?
- a month?
- a year?
- five years?
This question is extremely helpful because by forcing yourself to "see the future," you hack your brain and change the way it processes emotions.
4. The 5-minute rule
Ever have a huge task sitting in front of you, and instead of working on it, you sit around watching YouTube videos all morning? Yeah, me too.
There's a reason we do that: The brain is so overwhelmed with the thought of completing that task, it causes you to avoid it at all costs.
In cases like these, you can use the five-minute rule: Make a deal with yourself to work on a task for just five minutes. If you want to quit after that, no problem.
This works because the brain is "tricked" into seeing your large task as a small one. Of course, you usually end up working for much longer than five minutes.
5. The rule of clocking out
If you're anything like me, you view work as a priority. But how do you balance that priority with even more important priorities, like your family, or your mental health?
You can do so by learning to clock out: Set working times for every day, and when the end of the day comes, clock out. Treat it like an important appointment, one that you can't miss.
Employers and employees who apply the rule of clocking out find balance and build a more rewarding organizational culture--one that is founded on balance.
6. The rule of writing
Have you ever had a question for a colleague, but when you ask it, they simply can't follow? As you try to explain, you realize you haven't completely thought through this idea yourself.
After experiencing this enough times, I started to follow the rule of writing:
If you want to clarify your thinking, remember something important, or communicate something clearly, write it down.
The rule of writing has many benefits: It clarifies your thinking, improves memory and understanding, and helps you communicate better.
7. The five-step rule against procrastination
If rule number five wasn't enough to get your task done, try out my full method to fighting procrastination.
This is the method I used to break a lifelong habit of putting things off, not because I didn't feel like working on them, but because I was so busy I was prioritizing the urgent over the important. But following this method helped relieve stress and increase the quality of my work.
8. The three-question rule
Several years ago I was watching an interview with Craig Ferguson and he said something that instantly burned into my memory:
There are three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything.
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said by me?
- Does this need to be said by me, now?
This brilliant tool may seem simple, and it is. But I use it every single day, and it's saved me a countless number of times.
9. The rule of reappraisal
Whenever you feel unproductive, stuck in a rut, or simply afraid of what's ahead, you must remember the rule of reappraisal:
Don't focus on the path ahead. Look back at how far you've come.
This simple shift in perspective can change frustration into contentment, anxiety into appreciation.
10. The rule of first-things-first
I have a recurring nightmare. The circumstances of the dream change, but the basic problem remains the same:
I have too much to do, and not enough time to do it.
When facing this situation, I've learned to follow the rule of first-things-first. I narrow my task list down to only two or three items, max. Then, I focus only on the first one, and start chipping away.
And the rule of first-things-first has a ton more benefits. You can read more about each of them here.
(If you find value in these ten rules, you might be interested in the full emotional intelligence course--which includes each of these rules along with ten more. Check out the full course here.)