Success may come unexpectedly, but it’s rarely accidental. Alexander Fleming might not have been looking for penicillin, but he was running lab experiments. Roy Plunkett was trying to create a better refrigerant when he stumbled upon Teflon. Play-Doh was supposed to be a cleaning product; Slinky was a prototype for stabilizing instruments at sea.

So what’s the secret ingredient to business success?

Be in control of your life.

I picked up a copy of Laura Vanderkam’s What the Most Successful People Do at Work* thinking I might pick up an idea or two to incorporate into my workday routine. What surprised me is how ordinary the advice is—and yet, at the same time, how essential.

You have to make wise choices, and you have to own them.

Here are three tips that really stood out to me:

1. Quantify your time. Everyone has the same number of hours in a day, so the key is spending that time wisely and allocating it in a way that makes sense. In my experience, it’s far more common that we’ve frittered away time (guilty!) than that we really don’t have time. For example, how much time are you spending following links on social media? Could you reclaim even 60 minutes a week to devote to your blog or make an extra round of marketing calls? As author Vanderkam writes, “People who want to use their hours better figure out how they’re spending their hours now.”

2. Make success possible. If you plan wisely and set the right step-by-step priorities, the next step is to have no excuses. Vanderkam notes that “making success hinges on two things: being choosy about each day’s priority list, and developing an accountability system that works.”

3. Know what work is. This is a big issue for entrepreneurs, because we often try to do everything ourselves when we’d be far more productive ceding some tasks to virtual assistants, bookkeepers, and other professionals. It’s also an issue in bigger organizations where you can easily get sucked into endless meetings or be paralyzed by your inbox.

In all, Vaderkam identifies seven habits that contribute to business success. The other four are planning, practice, continuous learning, and pursuing pleasure. And lest anyone have an excuse for not upgrading your skills or learning something new, Vanderkam has the perfect response: “It is no longer sufficient to be employed—one must remain employable.”

What the Most Successful People Do at Work is the third in a series of e-books (along with Before Breakfast and On the Weekend). If they’re anything like this one, they’re worth picking up and reading.

**Disclosure: I received a free copy of What the Most Successful People Do at Work in exchange for agreeing to review it–but without any restrictions on what I might say.

Photo by Dave (Flickr).

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