Christina DesMarais | April 23, 2019
Discipline is probably the one trait most associated with achievement. It’s because accomplishing great things involves consistently doing the right things over and over again, even when it’s hard. Take exercise, for example. It’s a habit that many highly successful people credit for helping them feel energized, creative, and focused. The difference between mediocre people and those who truly do great things? The latter will run the miles and lift the heavy weights, even when they don’t feel like it. Here are the daily habits 17 successful executives credit for helping them get ahead.
1. Manage stress through extreme sports.
“I take time to myself in three ways. The first is through extreme adrenaline sports, either downhill biking or athletic skiing. These require focus and skill in order to be ready for unexpected obstacles, or to control [high] speeds in skiing, and they serve both as healthy distractions and physical training. My second hobby is cardio, whether it be cycling with a street bike or ski mountaineering. This is almost like meditating, the body knows what to do and you can replace mind chanting with breathing, relaxation, and pure enjoyment. Lastly, I’m venturing into a new experience with Reiki yoga, in the hopes of becoming a master. I was recently enlightened following a trip to India. Consequently, all of these activities contribute to setting myself up for success with stress management and increased performance.”
–Valeriano Antonioli, CEO Lungarno Collection, a hotel management company owned by the Ferragamo family, which recently created the Portrait Brand with award-wining-hotels in Italy
2. Plan the minutes of your day.
“I’m pretty obsessed with my calendar. Every moment of the day is accounted for, to make sure I’m spending my time on the things that are driving progress. I don’t want to get sucked into replying to emails or getting distracted. I schedule time not only for meetings but for working on projects or tasks, clearing out emails, thinking, and brainstorming, and planning for the week ahead. Even my workouts, and what things I need to remember for the kids the next day. It’s my compass on what I should be doing at any given time.”
–Nicole Smith, founder and CEO of Flytographer, a global marketplace for vacation photographers, which has partnered with brands like Fairmont, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Virtuoso
3. Start the day with 10 minutes of meditation.
“Every morning I wake up with a cup of coffee, then mediate for 10 minutes in the stillness of my living room. I like starting my day with intention, and meditating helps me center my focus on what I want to accomplish in my business, personal life, health, and relationships. The mind is a very powerful tool, and when you concentrate your energies on a limited set of goals, amazing things begin to happen. Michael Jordan once said, ‘You must expect great things of yourself before you can do them.’ I also remind myself how lucky and thankful I am to be doing what I love with such talented and inspiring people.”
–Jay Roberts, co-founder and CEO of Domio, a hospitality and tech company, which in two years has serviced over 100,000 guests and launched in eight cities
4. Be a reader.
“I’m a heavy reader of mysteries. I started when I was a kid with Agatha Christie, then I moved west with Connelly and others. Now I’ve grown to love historical bios and even today’s political essays. It’s a great escape for me to jump into a new or unfamiliar environment through novels, or to broaden my perspective and genuine interest in specific historical periods or today’s political context through essays.”
–Jean Charles Perino, co-founder and CCO of La Compagnie, a business-class boutique airline, which has serviced more than 240,000 passengers since launch and in 2018 accounted for 25 percent of business-class travel between New York and Paris
5. Actively remove distractions.
“One of the biggest challenges of today’s world is isolating yourself from all the clutter of life. To remove distraction, I use noise-canceling headphones and do not listen to any music with lyrics. With fewer distractions, I find my concentration increases exponentially, and I’m much more productive.”
–Patrik Vormittag, co-founder and partner at Engrain, provider of interactive mapping technology and data visualization software for buildings, which is used by 2,000 apartment buildings
6. Spend time alone in the morning to set priorities for the day.
“I always find time alone in the morning, whether it’s walking the dog or eating breakfast by myself, to clearly set my priorities, so I know what I need to accomplish each day. I make sure to outline not only my personal priorities, but also priorities for my team, so I can be sure both get done. Once I get into the office, my day becomes about how I can take any obstacles out of the way for my team, so they can execute at the highest level on their priorities. I like to call this working on the business rather than in the business. Empowering employees to do their best work has always been the key to my success, as well as being the hallmark of a world-class organization.
–Jim Scott, president and CEO of Receptra Naturals, a family-owned Colorado hemp CBD extract company, which saw revenue increase nearly five times in 2018
7. Read something for pleasure.
“In order to give it my best each day, I take time in the morning to eat a balanced breakfast and read something that’s not work related. This helps me calm my mind. By the time I leave for work, I’m fired up and ready to go.
–Karla Friede, co-founder and CEO of Nvoicepay, a provider of payment automation software for enterprise, which recently announced 105 percent annual growth
8. Make the most of your commute.
“I try to maximize my time by using my commute for planning and thinking. Several days a week I jog or bike to work to give my mind space to decompress and mull over business problems. Research has shown that exercise improves memory and learning, and I’ve found it helps my creativity. Often ideas that come to me during my commute are then the basis for directions the company will take within the next week or month.”
–Lisa Shields, founder and CEO of FI.SPAN, a cloud native API orchestration platform working with three of the top 10 U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase
9. Never leave any emails unread.
“My inbox has zero or close to zero emails and it has been that way for years. My rules are: First, when I get an email, I will respond to it right away if I think it needs my response, as much as possible. Second, if I have to think about it, I will mostly do it in 24 hours or acknowledge if it is going to take longer. Third, if they do not meet the first or second rule, I will never respond to them. Fourth, for topics I am not interested in, I will put a rule to auto-delete them so as not to waste my time. This helps me be on top of things and stay productive.”
–Anant Kale, founder and CEO of AppZen, which provides AI-based spend auditing of expense reports, invoices, and contracts for Fortune 1000 companies
10. Smile and talk to strangers.
“Growing up in Texas, it was normal behavior to look someone in the eye and smile at them as they walk toward you on the sidewalk. Living in Boston and now San Francisco, it became clear that’s definitely not normal behavior everywhere. I found myself conforming, and then realized that just saying ‘Good morning’ to someone in the elevator or having a short conversation with my Uber driver gives me energy to go out and take on the rest of my day. It can be so easy for me to get consumed by my own crazy day-to-day that I can forget to take a step back and take in the big picture, and just getting a quick insight into someone else’s world helps me refocus and prioritize what’s happening in mine.”
–Haley Daiber, investor at Unusual Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital firm, which raised $160 million to close its first fund in 2018
11. Get the ball rolling early.
“Starting my day early with a morning routine centered around productivity helps set the tone for the day. A typical morning for me looks like this: over coffee I’ll answer any outstanding emails, network a bit by posting something on LinkedIn, read the news and catch up on current events, check my calendar, and send out any requests or questions that popped into my head overnight. After that I get ready for work, knowing the ball is in motion for the day and I’m set up for success.”
–Tom Buiocchi, executive director and CEO of ServiceChannel, a facilities management technology company, which supports brands like Under Armor, Chipotle, Louis Vuitton, CVS Health, and Equinox
12. Avoid meetings and don’t allow briefings.
“I limit the number of meetings that I’m involved in and don’t allow briefings where the meeting is dominated by presenting recaps, information that is incomplete, or information everyone already knows. Send an update ahead of time so the meeting can be spent debating and challenging, not staring at PowerPoints. The number of hours spent scheduling, preparing for, and sitting through meetings eats into the time that should be spent thinking and engaging in the business.”
–Brian Murphy, founder and CEO of ReliaQuest, a cybersecurity provider, which maintains 98 percent and 91 percent customer and employee retention rates, respectively, and saw 451 percent revenue growth from 2014 to 2017
13. Proactively manage decision fatigue.
“Humans can be astonishingly bad at managing and recognizing the impact of decision fatigue (the tendency to make worse choices after prolonged sessions of decision making when they are cognitively exhausted). To fight this phenomenon, I move my highest priority meetings to midmorning, when I’m most alert, and try to limit the number of decisions I make after lunch. I also try to lock in a number of behaviors as routine, as opposed to making them daily choices, like whether I work out or drive a certain route to work every day. My favorite example is Barack Obama, who picked out his clothing the night before and only wore blue and gray suits for eight years to minimize his number of decisions. If you want to devote all your energy to running the country (or your business/ family/organization), don’t spend your limited cognitive resources on variables that don’t move the needle.”
–Jeremy Kauffman, principal at Scale Venture Partners, a venture capital firm, which invests in early-in-revenue enterprise software companies such as DocuSign, Box, and HubSpot, and raised $400 million to close its sixth fund in 2018
14. Keep up on what’s going on outside of yourself and your company.
“My goal is to build external context every day. There are lots of different ways I do this. I spend 30 to 45 minutes catching up on what’s happening outside of my own world. When you focus only on what affects your company or industry, you may miss the forest for the trees. I run through news sources like BBC World News, CNBC, and NPR, focusing on broad trends. In addition, I make sure I have an average of one customer, partner, or competitive touch-point a day, so I have 360-degree context on my business to complement the internal perspective.”
–Christine Heckart, CEO of Scalyr, a log management and observability company with customers including NBCUniversal, Giphy, OkCupid, and Zalando
15. Eat dinner as a family every night, with no electronics allowed.
“I ensure that dinner time with my family is a protected and prioritized ritual. We all sit down together each evening and connect face-to-face (electronics are banned from the table). No matter what is going on at work, I commit to dinnertime at home, and am 100 percent present to catch up with my family. Knowing that I have that one hour a day set aside to focus on family allows me to be fully present in my work.”
–Kim Tabac, chief people officer at League, a digital health benefits experience, which serves hundreds of corporate customers across the U.S. and Canada including KPMG, Lush, Unilever, Shopify, Mogo, Intelex Technologies and L’Occitane en Provence
16. Leave your phone on the kitchen counter at night.
“In an ever-connected world, my brain needs a break from the constant presence and buzz of my phone: a new email to attend to, a fire to put out, or an idea to contemplate. To combat it, I never bring my phone into my bedroom when I go to sleep, to ensure I digitally disconnect every day. Life is more than work, and with a family of four, I use the time to connect with my husband, process the day and plan for tomorrow, or unwind with The NYT crossword puzzle, completely uninterrupted. To be the best I can be during the day, it’s important for me to have a restorative break each evening. Not having the phone reduces the temptation to continue working and gives me the respite I need.”
–Laura Goldberg, chief revenue officer for Kabbage, a global financial services, technology, and data platform serving small businesses, which recently closed an asset-backed securitization of $700 million