In a session last week at Women in Retail Leadership Days, Cindy Solomon, CEO of the Courageous Leadership Institute, detailed the skills, habits and traits that professionals have leveraged to be successful even in this most trying of years.

Solomon’s first point for the virtual audience was that they have to focus on what they can control, not what they can’t. From research with her clients, Solomon noted that the people that are not just surviving the pandemic, but thriving during it, have used this time as an opportunity to hit the reset button on how they think about their own productivity, how they lead, and how they manage both their personal and professional lives. The research Solomon cited consisted over 9,000 interviews with executives from 400 companies.

Steps to Help Lead Change

Solomon offered the following steps that attendees can take to help them build the careers, the teams, the lives that they want to have.

1. Focus on what moves your goals forward first.

“The reality is for most of us our work really begins at the point of deciding what we want to focus our efforts on in that moment,” said Solomon. To help with this task, Solomon detailed what she calls “the $100 test.” Here’s how it works: Imagine every day you have $100 to invest in only three priorities that you believe will move your goals, your team, your career, your product, your business forward most quickly. What are the three priorities that will give you the biggest return on your time investment?

“Some days it might be $33 for three tasks to get a good return on investment; some days it might $100 on one priority that will give you the greatest return on your investment,” Solomon noted. “We’ve seen up to a 40 percent productivity increase in teams that deploy this habit.”

2. Your inbox is not your priority list.

The leaders that we see coming through the changes that the past year have wrought and doing incredibly well, they have realigned their perspective on their inbox, said Solomon.

“If you can get focused first on your day’s three priorities, and then get into your inbox, you’ll quit using your inbox as a priority list,” advised Solomon.

Solomon offered another tip for this step: Set up a “Read Someday” folder for email that you want to read but is not priority at the moment. Ninety-four percent of all emails that are over a month old should be deleted; they no longer pertain, said Solomon.

3. Be ruthless with your time.

In the corporate world, women tend to give their time and energy away at three times the pace of what men do, Solomon noted from her research. Make a choice to block time on your calendar to get work done that you’ve identified in your $100 test.

For this step, Solomon offered the following tip: Before accepting or saying yes, ask yourself this question: Does this meeting move my team or my goals forward? If it doesn’t, say no.

4. Put your own mask on first.

“We can’t be at our best for others until we can be at our best for ourselves,” advised Solomon. “We have to begin to take care of ourselves again. We have to start paying attention to our mental and emotional health, because if we don’t, we simply cannot be at our best for the people who work for us, around us, for our families, for our children.”

5. Keep your eyes on the horizon.

Now is the time to take a breath and put things back into perspective, said Solomon. Who do you want to be at the end of this?

For this last step covered in her presentation, Solomon offered the following tip: We are training for a marathon, not a sprint. How can you make your decisions different right now so that you’re using this time as a training to be better, stronger, faster, a better leader at the end of the race? Stop looking at it as a sprint. For example, don’t be afraid to take time off.