One thing which separates high achievers from regular people: intention. Meaning, if you get up every day and just coast wherever events and situations take you, you're going to end up somewhere other than the ideal place. To reach your utmost potential, you need to steer your own path via daily habits which prime you for success. Here are the things nearly two dozen executives say help them get ahead in business and life.
1. Write down little tasks in the morning to clear your head
"As a founder and a mom, my multiple roles bring on a vast array of responsibilities, big and small. I quickly learned that tasks like 'put more batteries in the remote' or 'dust keyboard' can bog me down so much that I'm unable to focus on my priorities. I learned from the book The Artist's Way that doing morning pages to relieve my consciousness helps to remove these distractions first thing and help me to start my workday right. So I've created a habit where I write down these tasks and put them aside in an effort to clear my head. With this exercise being done before my coffee is poured, I feel so much more happy and relaxed to handle the more significant initiatives throughout my work day."
--Mandeep Shahi, cofounder and managing partner of ZENMED, an award-winning health and wellness brand with tens of thousands of followers on social media and users around the world
2. Start the day with a good sweat
"In life, there is so much that you can't control and that can cause negativity and major stress as your day progresses. I have a daily habit that helps to offset this... getting in a good sweat to start the day. Why? Because at least I can control this part of my day. Being in complete control of my workout gives me the confidence that I can be in more control of the things I may have thought were completely out of my control. For example, getting a comment like 'your product is a terrible idea, why would anyone want to buy this' is devastating. But after a good workout, I am able to realize it's not my product that is bad, but rather, the way I presented my product confused someone. Starting with a good sweat gives me better mental clarity. And having this clarity allows me to think of different and better ways to convey what I really want to say."
--Amy Beckley, founder, CEO and inventor of the Proov test, a rapid-response, at-home progesterone test which has been used by thousands of women
3. Ask yourself if it will matter in a day, week, month or year
"There are so many things on my plate at any given time that it becomes difficult to prioritize and focus on the right things when faced with an avalanche of responsibilities. How is it possible to get it all done? The answer is simple: it isn't. We must work smarter, not just harder, and we must reconcile ourselves to the notion that it's impossible to get it all done. To deal with my day-to-day responsibilities and to focus more easily on what really matters, my daily habit is to apply a ruthless guiding principle to prioritize my to-do list each morning; I ask myself one simple question: 'Will this still matter in a day? A week? A month? A year?' I then focus on the items that will have the deepest long-term impact [so that] what's important is not getting lost in what's urgent. I find this method is also very handy when gauging a setback or a win. Ask yourself the same question and you'll gain a perspective on how much emotion to dedicate to the matter."
--Theresa Forman, president of McMillan, a 23-year-old independent creative agency with a global clientele that includes Trend Micro, Schneider Electric, United Rentals, Commvault and DFIN
4. Look to different industries to develop your own unique business concepts
"My most creative and successful ideas have been formulated by looking at best practices and successful innovations in industries that are totally unrelated to mine. When you're successful, it's easy to get complacent. And too often, looking only at your competitors will give you only incremental improvements and perpetuate 'good enough' results. By looking outward, you not only draw on your own ingenuity and motivation as a leader, but it also gives you the power to drive key innovations that have the potential to transform your business and leapfrog the competitors, whether they're traditional or non-traditional."
--Sue Marks, founder and CEO of Cielo, a global recruitment process outsourcing provider, EY Entrepreneur of the Year and three-time winner of the Working Woman 500 designation
5. See the potential in others
"In college and law school I was fortunate enough to get to know Sargent Shriver. Sarge had a remarkable career that included starting the Peace Corps and leading the War on Poverty. He had an unmatched ability to inspire people, including me. After witnessing this for years, I asked him how he did it. Among other things, Sarge was deeply religious. He told me he felt that the divinity resided in each person and, from that, two things followed. First, individuals are capable of amazing things. Second, people must be treated with respect and dignity. Seeing and honoring the potential in others made Mr. Shriver a great man and a great leader. At work, I try (as best I can) to emulate Sarge by creating an environment where people feel valued and able to make the most of their potential."
--Richard Burke, president and CEO of Envoy Global, a company that uses proprietary technology to make it easier for employers and workers to pursue job opportunities across the global marketplace with over 2,000 customers ranging from start-ups to Fortune 50 companies; previously, he served as president of Apartments.com.
6. Only check communications a couple of times a day
"I used to pride myself on being responsive to emails, Slack and chats until a friend pointed out that I was priding myself on being bad at my job, because my job was to give serious thought to big projects and decisions. Don't get in the habit of constantly interrupting your work flow to check communications. Set the expectation that you'll respond once or twice per day, and stick to that. Being responsive means destroying your attention span and letting happenstance drive your priorities."
--Steve Newman, serial entrepreneur and current founder and chairman of Scalyr, a log management and observability platform that works with customers like OkCupid, Giphy, Zalando and more
7. Use a checklist
"I start off every morning by writing a checklist of major tasks I have to get done for the day and check them off one by one, making sure I complete them all before I leave for the day. With so many workflow tools and task management providers out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. I find that a pen and paper checklist is simple, keeps me accountable and has a huge impact on my overall productivity and focus."
--Richie Serna, CEO of Finix, a payments company that works with some of the world's largest financial institutions
8. Being a lifelong learner every day
"Education and learning are not just for students, but something to be embraced at every stage of life. As a CEO, I am constantly looking to grow my skill set to not only remain competitive with my peers but also to nurture a sense of personal accomplishment and learning. I believe it's especially important to step away from your every day and gather new information and skills only tangentially related to your industry... It can be scary learning new things, and sometimes it takes a little push to take that step and open yourself up to try, but learning difficult things can build up confidence and an ability to be at ease with being outside of our comfort zone."
--Tara Chklovski, CEO of Iridescent, an education nonprofit which partners with leaders from Google, NVIDIA, GM and more to deliver STEM education to underrepresented communities
9. Practice self-care and mindfulness
"Working out has become my fuel that helps me meet the demands of the day. But even more than that, mindfulness has been my biggest point of evolution during these crazy years. A centered moment focusing on the rhythm of my own breath alleviates stress and keeps me present, focused, attuned, and aligned with my objectives."
--Drew Lydecker, president of AVANT Communications, a platform for IT decision-making which in the last ten years has grown to over $500 million in annual billed revenue
10. Do whatever it takes to get quality sleep
"When it comes to sleep, it's about quality, not just quantity. Sleep heals us. Sleep recharges us. Sleep is an important part of our biology. One of my keys to success is to prioritize getting a good night's sleep. I start unwinding and switching off early in the evening in order to fully disengage before bed. Disconnect from electronics and screens. Read a book, listen to calming music or even an inspiring talk in order to get a good night's sleep. Your body and mind will thank you for it, and you will be so much more productive."
--Abinash Tripathy, founder and CSO of Helpshift, a customer service platform with more than 450 business customers worldwide, including Xfinity Home, Microsoft, Tencent and Supercell
11. Dedicate 10 minutes to being grateful
"I visualize all of the things in my life that could be far worse and, consequently, I have renewed appreciation for how fortunate I am. I recognize my wonderful spouse and family and the opportunity to build a great company. Taking these 10 minutes helps me stay focused on what's important and manage the emotional roller coaster of starting a business."
--Christian Selchau-Hansen, cofounder and CEO of Formation, a software company that works with Fortune 500 brands to optimize the customer journey through personalized marketing experiences and has raised $30 million in funding
12. Connect with others
"I always try to find time throughout the day to ask people what's going on in their lives and how they are doing. It's important to have those connections and day-to-day interactions with the people around you and foster a sense of community."
--Dr. Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Limeade, an employee experience company serving hundreds of enterprise customers; chief science officer of the Limeade Institute; and named a 2019 Top 100 HR Tech Influencer by HR Executive
13. Be self-critical
"I try to stay humble by being self-critical, looking for my potential faults, taking responsibility for failures, and looking for critical feedback. This pushes me to always strive to improve, not only in my career but in my personal life as well."
--Sean Chou, CEO of Catalytic, an automation cloud which has earned $44.2 million in funding and recently was named Bosch's Global Supplier of the Year in Innovation
14. Always come back to the plan
"As an ultra-marathoner, I've used my experiences tackling these distances to grow not only my physical strength but my mental strength - which has carried over to many aspects of my life. In order to run 30 to 50 miles successfully, you must stick to the training plan and stay structured. Starting and running a business is similar. Whether it be an injury or a product failure, you have to continually practice and always come back to the plan, regardless of the deviations that get in your way."
--Stanton Jandrell, cofounder and CEO of Fraxion, a cloud-based spend management solution for the mid-market which actively manages over $10 billion of business spend across the globe
15. Start the day off early and quiet...and write
"I have found that if I get up before the rest of my household, sit in my office with a nice cup of coffee and write (whether it be the next presentation, blog post, or book), it helps me focus on the task at hand and have a sense of accomplishment before I dive into the work day. It completely changes my well-being too, which empowers the rest of my day."
--Jeff Ton, SVP of product development and strategic alliances at InterVision, a strategic service provider (SSP) that addresses the end-to-end technology needs of enterprises and has performed four add-on acquisitions over the past two years
16. Take several walks a day
"I find that I can have great conversations, clear my head, solve stagnant problems, and generally be more productive if I take periodic short walks throughout the day. Studies show that physical movement can lower cortisol and release endorphins. A quick stroll also improves brain function and combats depression for many people. I start the morning with a walk by myself to prepare for the day. Between meetings or to break up the afternoon, I duck out of the office for a stroll and often invite a coworker along with me. Something about movement and leaving the office setting encourages the kinds of frank conversations that are harder to achieve sitting in a conference room. For me, this habit has become a necessity in my life, both at work and at home."
--Jeb Banner, founder of two nonprofits and CEO and founder of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software company serving organizations in more than 20 countries
17. Write down your top three tasks for the day
"Before looking at email, social media, or listening to the news, I write down the top three most important things for me to do that day. That allows me to keep focused on my priorities, rather than get randomized by other people's priorities. It sets me up for focus and impact."
--Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz, an online search engine optimization company supporting over 20,000 customers and 300,000 community members worldwide
18. Remind yourself that the future is not a solution to the present
"Whenever I find myself feeling frustrated by issues at work or obstacles in my personal life, there is a good chance I have begun romanticizing the future. It's a trap to believe that happiness or success is on the other side of any future event. Those issues at work are not getting in the way of me doing my job, rather they are my job. That simple daily reminder has a dramatic impact on mindset and productivity.
--Kiley Newbold, VP of growth at Carrot, a bootstrapped SaaS company with nearly 10 million in annual revenue
19. Keep an idea journal
"Creativity is not just for artists and designers. And inspiration can strike at any time. I have several different notepad pages on my phone, organized topically. Whenever I have an idea I quickly and immediately write a sentence or two in the form of a running list to remind myself later of the thought. This is an incredibly powerful way to tap into your own creativity and combat the natural forgetfulness we all have. Develop the habit of adding several notes a day. Don't edit, delete, or judge, just write it down. It gets easier over time and you'll be surprised how quickly your lists can grow. Some topics I find useful range from 'ideas for future blog posts' to 'for follow up with INSERT NAME.' Later, when that person walks into my office, I can skip the whole 'I had something I wanted to discuss with you but forgot...' preamble. And when it's time to write a blog post, or speech, or company presentation, instead of staring at a blank screen I flip open my notes and get to work."
--Mike Ward, CEO of ThriftBooks, an eCommerce business selling and fulfilling more than 26 million books a year
20. Tackle your hardest daily or weekly task first
"I did not personally develop this concept, but it's one that I've found very useful in staying productive and also staying focused on the most important things. If you're familiar with the book Eat that Frog, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. It's easy to procrastinate starting the projects that challenge us most. Setting a goal to tackle your hardest challenge first will make the rest of the day or week seem easier and will ensure you get the most important things accomplished. I prefer to spend 30 minutes on Fridays thinking through my priorities for the following week so I can come in on Monday ready tackle my biggest problems first."
--Brian Powers, CEO of PactSafe, a high-velocity contract acceptance platform, providing thousands of daily legal transactions for customers like Upwork, Angie's List, BMC Software, and Wayfair
21. Get up early and work out
"If I feel fit, I stay focused. I stay focused on the work I need to do as a leader for our brand and as a manager of my leadership team. I get up before 5 a.m. each day and spend 60 minutes working out. It is one hour of my day to give back to myself. It centers me. I don't interrupt exercising by looking at my inbox or responding to slack messages from the night before, or thinking about work at all. By the time I am done I feel that I accomplished the most important task of my day. I feel physically energized and mentally I feel ready to give to my work. My team may not realize it, but that 60 minutes allows me to be my best self to help them be more successful in their work."
--Judd Marcello, EVP of global marketing at Cheetah Digital, an independent, enterprise cross-channel marketing software company, where he works with teams in 26 offices across 13 countries with brands like William-Sonoma, American Express and Hilton
22. Reserve an hour at the start of the day to read
"I do my best to reserve the first hour or so of my day to read and generally catch up on news and industry events. I find that if I don't do it early in the morning, my time simply gets pulled in too many directions."
-- Robert C. Johnson, cofounder and CEO at TeamSupport, a B2B customer support software solution, working with companies like Comcast, Teladoc, and the American Lung Association
23. Wait before sending important emails
"I have learned to draft important emails well ahead of time and then I wait. I have found that when I rush, my communication is not as succinct and may not carry the tone I intended. So, I draft emails ahead of time and then revise before sending. Without fail, I always find improvements that would help with the clarity of the message and better represent the tone I intended."
--Robin Fleming, cofounder and CEO of Anvl, a frontline worker safety software company that has raised $2 million in seed funding
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated AVANT Communications had grown to over $500 billion in annual billed revenue. The correct number is $500 million.