The recipe for success in life really isn't too complicated. Advice from hundreds of high-achieving founders and executives is consistent: Getting ahead in life involves hard work and perseverance, as well as a willingness to take risks and learn from failure. A steady dose of discipline doesn't hurt, either. Take it from these executives, who share their words about the daily habits that helped them get to the top and stay there.
1. Get up before 5 a.m.
"Brainjolt was built on the work I did for five years every day between the hours of 4:30 and 7:00 a.m. It sounds hard, but it's not. Just drink a couple glasses of water before bed so you'll want to get up to go to the bathroom between 4:00 and 5:00. And then just stay up. Everyone else will still be sleeping. And when people are sleeping, they can't expect anything from you. It's your time."
--Abraham Piper, founder and Chief Creative Officer of online publisher Brainjolt
2. Prepare for sleep with a nighttime ritual.
"Ritual is the key to relaxation. Healthy pre-bedtime habits, including progressive relaxation, breathwork, and light reading are all proven to send your parasympathetic nervous system the cues it needs to let go and settle in for rest. My favorite pre-bedtime ritual is to make a cup of decaf earl grey tea and do the NYT crossword puzzle. We're all so busy nowadays so this is our time to enjoy a few minutes to ourselves in quiet pursuits."
--Lorna Borenstein, founder and CEO of Grokker, an online platform for yoga, fitness and cooking videos
3. Be home in time to kiss your kids goodnight.
"They are teenagers now, running around doing their own thing all day, so it's important for us to take a moment to all to connect. After all, you're never too old for a kiss from Mom. When I'm traveling we do it via Facetime and even on the occasional night I'm home after they've knocked out I still go in and kiss their sleeping heads. It's my night end ritual that re-centers me around what's really important and great perspective builder to get a good night's sleep before tackling the next day."
--Kerry Collective, which empowers enterprises to unify digital advertising across platforms, screens and formatsBianchi, CEO of
4. Read poetry right before falling asleep.
"My sleeping mind plays with rich strands of language, walks with metaphor, ponders the ambiguous and beautiful. Reading perspectives unlike my own help me overcome daily vexations and strategic hurdles in my business."
--Daniel MouseRabuzzi, executive director of national youth development nonprofit
5. Write on bathroom mirrors.
"I have yearly, quarterly and monthly goals which get distilled down to daily metrics and habits. I use a dry erase marker on my bathroom mirror to keep track of the habits. Last month, I drew a makeshift calendar where each day I marked whether I had read, wrote, exercised, and not drank (which was a monthly challenge). If I got all four I'd put a line through the day as a celebration. It's the little nerdy things."
--Josh Sowin, CEO of online publisher Brainjolt
6. Say a simple "hello."
"I always feel like I have more to-dos than I have time for, so it's easy to lose connections with my team while focusing on my daily checklist and endless conference calls. That's why I make a habit of walking around the office when I arrive in the morning to say 'hello' to each person on our team. This simple [habit] often leads to an unexpected and valuable discussion with great insights."
--Eric N. Shapiro, cofounder and CEO of ArcTouch, a company which designs and develops custom mobile apps
7. Learn something new every day.
"I am a student of everything I see and read, and I read a tremendous amount. When I'm interested in something, my habit is to study everything possible so I can come to a true understanding of that topic. I'm like a badger digging for more and more information. I'll even look beyond the text itself, to the thought process behind what was written, to come up with my own understanding. By reviewing many different sources, I can pick up on more nuanced context, and that helps me understand how to apply what I've read and to spark inspiration."
--Mitul Gandhi, seoClarity, a real-time SEO insights and content recommendations platform
8. Be available.
"Like everyone, I have obligations--client, partner, and management meetings--that are firm. But during most working hours I make sure to be flexible and available. My team has made some pivotal decisions in informal, unstructured settings--talking over coffee or spending hours at a whiteboard. Being available enables the spontaneity required to focus on what's important and ripe at the moment while empowering collaboration and creative thinking amongst my team."
--Mike Duffy, founder and CEO of CityBase, a provider of technology solutions to local and state government
9. Be mindful and take inventory regularly.
"Self-awareness is an important trait and I think it can be taught. It's about taking a hard look in the mirror daily. I've made many transitions in my career, starting with my switch from attorney to operator, which lead me to CEO. Knowing I had shortcomings on the business side, I enrolled in accounting and finance classes. After awareness, comes action and rewiring yourself by making a conscious effort to improve something every day. Sometimes this feedback comes from others through reviews [so] I still ask all of my people for feedback. And, sometimes it comes from within from being mindful. No better way to get mindful than meditation, this helps clear your mind and focus on the areas of importance."
--Dick Burke, CEO of Envoy, a global immigration services provider
10. Learn why and how things work.
"Each day I like to learn how something works, or why it exists. More often than not, these are things unrelated to our business. One great place to understand how things work is the blog waitbutwhy, which does a great job explaining complex topics in simple terms. For example, last week, I was talking with someone about leap years, which caused me to look into their history and rules. Hint: it's not as simple as 'every four years is a leap year.' Thinking this way--about the whys of things--has caused me to think differently about our business. Now, when we talk about our new tools for DIY landlords, we address the 'why' and 'how,' not just the 'what.'"
--Ryan Coon, co-founder and CEO, Rentalutions, an online property management site for DIY landlords
11. Keep your inbox at zero.
"I am pretty intense about keeping my email inbox clean. I find it very overwhelming when the inbox grows and it feels like I cannot handle it. Instead, I consider my email like a to-do list. If it is in my inbox then I have something to do and I try to get it done ASAP. Once the task is done, I archive the email in organized folders where I can keep track of files by themes when needed."
--Charles Gorra, cofounder of Trendlee, a preowned luxury handbag online retailer
12. Share website analytics with your team every morning.
"Every morning when I get into the office I push the prior day's website analytics to all of the TVs around the office. I find that access to data points on new users, new accounts, assets, funding, and so on gives the entire team insight into our customers' user experience. For example, when the data shows growth in customers funding their brokerage accounts with us, we will actually reach out to thank them for investing and learn more about how we can get better. Sharing this data helps the entire team see that data isn't just numbers, it's the hard evidence of how well we are connecting with our customers."
--Brian Barnes, founder of online broker M1 Finance
13. Look for opportunities to use humor, which releases the pressure valve.
"I've found that the best work happens when we're having fun so I like to infuse every day with humor. Being able to laugh through the day helps myself and other SpringCM employees release the pressure of a fast-paced environment. When I'm laughing with my team, it's breaking the tension and building transparency and vulnerability. Turns out we have serious musicians in the office, and now jam sessions and karaoke parties happen regularly. Our office has never been happier, and I've learned how talented my team is, even outside of the office."
--Dan Dal Degan, CEO of contract and document management company SpringCM
14. Learn something new every day.
"As an entrepreneur and innovator, you must constantly be focused on increasing the breadth and depth of your knowledge. Read articles, books and papers, and consume ongoing education portals, like Coursera and Udemy. Reach out to your networks to meet people with different experiences, backgrounds and wisdom. You can't instill a sense of growth and opportunity without first taking the plunge yourself."
--Brian Clark, CEO and cofounder of Ascent, a platform which helps compliance officers in regulated industries to see what is expected of their companies, then track and report on the steps they're taking to stay compliant
15. Clear the mind with exercise.
"I try to run most days, after discovering that a good run for 45 minutes each day helps clear my head. For me, it's a time to declutter my mind and energize during the week."
--Jeff VonDeylen, CEO of mainframe and hybrid IT solutions company Ensono
16. Focus on a sound body for a sound mind.
"I believe our health is wealth. Yoga, working out, juicing, healthy eating, meditation, work/life balance are a few personal ways I stay on top of my game. In order to be in peak mental condition for work, I have to keep my body in peak physical condition."
--Richard Tiland, CEO of New Evolution Video, a corporate and music video production company
17. Walk long distances.
"I often walk to the office early in the morning, which takes 1.5-2 hours. Regular walks, particularly at great distances, can do wonders for your business. Why? In simple terms, we're physiologically designed to be active, and this has many benefits. Over the years I've found that these walks have not only led to many great ideas or solutions to a current conundrum, but I feel much better mentally and physically with significantly less stress when walking is a part of my regular routine."
--Matt Schaffnit, CFA, Co-Founder and COO of Lending Technologies Corp.
18. Just start.
"Too often people wait for perfection and you can never think of everything. So, get to where you feel good enough about [something]. But start.
--Sirine Swed, founder of false lash brand Battington
19. Enjoy a calming sleep space.
"I love to come home at the end of the day and retreat to a space that calms and relaxes me, even if it's only for a short while. To create my very own sleep haven, I focus on incorporating calming colors, relaxing scent, and of course, high quality bedding."
--Karin Sun, founder of online bedding company Crane & Canopy
20. Set goals and execute on these goals every day.
"Get out of your comfort zone, don't stop until it's done, and don't let other people convince you to change your mind if you think you are doing the right thing. But always do your homework, learn from others mistakes and take inspiration from others successes."
--Erno Tauriainen, founder and CEO of Spent, an expense management app which provides rewards