The recipe for success isn't rocket science. Study the practices of high achievers and you'll typically find people who work hard, persevere, and demonstrate a willingness to take risks and learn from failure. But doing the right little things day in and out helps, as well. Take it from more than two dozen executives who share their words about the daily habits that got them to the top and help them stay there.
1. Do one thing a day that makes you nervous.
"All growth takes place outside your comfort zone, and by facing your weaknesses head on you can turn them into strengths."
--J.R. Ridinger, founder and CEO of the e-commerce platform Market America l SHOP.COM
2. Take computers out of meetings.
"Unless you're using a computer to present, take computers out of meetings. If the issue is that you have too many disparate things going on and need to monitor them from your computer, then you're not going to pay proper attention to the meeting. And, in spreading your attention too thin, you're only exacerbating the issue. Either cancel the meeting because you're too busy, or pay attention to it. Don't skate down the middle."
--Matthew Grand Central Tech, a New York City technology acceleratorHarrigan, co-founder and managing director of
3. Sleep on spikes.
"Because my job requires that I spend about 200 hotel nights per year worldwide, I often suffer insomnia from jet lag. This is why I always pack my spike mat. Although the thousands of plastic spikes hurt at first, it gives the right sensation of relaxation needed to sleep."
4. Set aggressive deadlines.
"To boost productivity, it's important to set deadlines that are on the aggressive side. Not outrageously aggressive, but difficult to achieve. Setting milestones makes it possible to measure progress. It creates a process, forces transparency, and definitely fosters urgency."
--Todd Krizelman, MediaRadarco-founder and CEO of the ad sales intelligence tool
5. Challenge your thoughts and opinions.
"Once a day I try to gain perspective on a subject that perhaps makes me uncomfortable, whether it be the subject content itself or the source, i.e., political, lifestyle, etc., I think it's important to continuously challenge yourself every day. This time spent being out of your comfort zone allows you to exercise more divergent thinking and prevents a stale thought process when solving everyday business issues. Whether you read an article, watch a TED talk, or even watch a cable news program, you're guaranteed to be more versed on a particular subject and may even find yourself reconsidering your original position, all of which are positive and promote creative and analytical thinking."
--Mark Lyle, VP of marketing at Santa Margherita, a wine company
6. Listen to Blinkist.
"I ride a daily commuter train, more than 90 minutes each way, from my home in Wisconsin to our office in downtown Chicago. During that time my ritual includes trying to catch up on my never-ending flow of emails and listening to Blinkist, a site that offers books transformed into 15-minute audio snippets."
--Tim Handorf, co-founder and CEO of the business-software and services review site G2 Crowd
7. Find inspiration from unlikely places
"I like to read before bed, but not business books. Usually, I'll pick up something less analytical that will help me unwind, such as a novel or the latest issue of Redbook. Sometimes, it can even be a Pottery Barn catalog. The main idea is that I can get ideas from unlikely places while relaxing, and get a sense of what's happening in the world around me. If I can take a step back and breathe, I can start to see the bigger picture. Reading serious stuff, though necessary, doesn't stimulate every part of the brain. So, I allow myself to lighten it up at night."
--Monica Ho, CMO at xAd, which provides location-based marketing solutions
8. Wake up with a service mentality.
"I try to wake up each morning and think about how best to serve my team, not manage. My job is to provide a vision to motivate, remove obstacles so others can achieve goals, and foster a community that works well together. Modern teams in tech don't work well in top-down hierarchies. Fostering collaboration often achieves better results. Oh, yeah, and don't be an asshole."
--Frank Bien, CEO at Looker, a provider of data-analytics solutions
9. Use early-morning hours for clarity and prioritization.
"I'm an early riser--up between 3:30 and 4 a.m. on work days. At that hour, there are no inbound communications, so I can quickly clear my inbox and triage priorities for the day. With that out of the way, my hours in the office are ultra-productive, working with my team instead of buried in my inbox. That said, evenings are for family and getting to bed at a reasonable hour."
--Jeremy Korst, CMO at tax-automation-software provider Avalara
10. Schedule meetings in the morning.
"Even though I'm not a morning person, I try to block all of my meetings in the morning. That way, I can focus on preparing before my inbox gets too full, give myself time to fully digest and triangulate the content discussed with my team, and respond thoughtfully later in the day. It also frees up my afternoons to address anything that comes up as the day progresses."
--Kristen Sonday, COO of Paladin, a pro bono marketplace that connects high-quality attorneys with personalized, vetted pro bono opportunities through partner nonprofits
11. Practice the five-hour rule.
"I think it's important for executives to have intellectual humility in addition to operational humility, so every week I aim to spend five hours educating myself. There's always something more to learn that can positively impact how you lead or how your organization does business. I educate myself by reading articles about leadership, industry trends, and technology, and then I make sure to share what I find with my team. I'm often two hours behind on my five-hour rule, but I try not to be too hard on myself."
--Chandar Pattabhiram, CMO of Marketo, which provides marketing software and solutions
12. Employ bullet journaling.
"I get hundreds of emails and requests every single day, plus my calendar is filled back to back Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., so I need a surefire way to prioritize goals and know exactly what needs to be done each day, week, and month, and in the next several months. To accomplish this, I use a system that is the antithesis of clutter, and it's about filtering out the electronic noise and getting back to basics. It's called Bullet Journaling -- a form of rapid logging that allows me to boil everything down to focus just on the results I want to achieve, and keep track of what I did when. It does involve old-school pencil and paper, but writing things down is huge for retention, it is an automatic filter (I don't write down what I don't think is important) and I find freedom within the confines of the system, because, at the end of the day, I know exactly what I did do, didn't do, and why."
--Bill Hurley, CMO at telecommunications company CenturyLink
13. Block out time to keep up with trends.
"As a CMO of a high-growth tech company, you can be pulled in a million directions. Managing time is critical, so there isn't a second of my day that goes unplanned. While conversations with partners, clients, and team members are crucial, time to get work done is just as important. So every Sunday I block time on my schedule to allow for work time and answer emails. I also block off time every morning to keep up with trends and adapt to our fast-paced market to ensure our marketing strategies are always relevant."
--Maria Pousa, CMO of Integral Ad Science, a technology and data company for the advertising industry
14. Stay focused on the big picture.
"Executing and staying hyper-focused on the initiatives that are geared toward propelling the grand scheme are important. Rome wasn't built in a day. I'm a believer in breaking things down into a series of steps and deadlines, and then cranking on them while mitigating distractions. The ability to stay focused is probably the hardest part of being a CEO every day. It is very easy to get distracted. Things come up all the time that aren't part of your plan. You have to have to ability to resolve errant, but important, issues quickly or simply say no or not now. Sometimes, I will let people know that 'we are never going to do that. It's not the right move for us.' "
--Darren Guccione, co-founder and CEO of Keeper Security, a password manager and secure digital vault
15. Start early.
"In today's world, we all have to be expert multitaskers. I've never had a role where I wasn't juggling 78 projects at one time. One thing I am religious about it is getting to the office before anyone else arrives, and sitting down for a solid hour to go through every email that is unread in my inbox. During that time, I don't answer the phone, I don't send texts, I don't go on Facebook. I never understand how people function with 8,700 unread emails in their inbox but everyone has their own method and has to do what works for them. For me, it's important to be present in the moment while I'm trying to focus on a particular task and sometimes that means blocking out all of the other noise for a bit."
--LisaMarie Lawrence, co-founder and COO of Monthly Gift
16. Know what's going on elsewhere in the world.
"Every night before going to sleep in California, when it's early morning in the U.K., I spend 15 to 30 minutes listening to the Today show on BBC Radio 4 online. The equivalent of NPR's morning edition, it's a small, but fascinating and important external window into global events, sports, and culture. Knowing what's going on elsewhere in the world allows me to keep a broad perspective on my own day, role and objectives."
--David Gee, CMO of Zuora, a provider of subscription-business-management software
17. Ask for help.
"Sometimes, executives can be reluctant to ask for help. It takes humility, and requires you to relinquish some control. But no matter how talented you may be, no one can do it all on their own. Every day, I reach out to someone on my team (usually my virtual assistant) for help. Even if I'm perfectly qualified to do something, and have the time to do it, doesn't necessarily mean that I should. If someone I trust can take on the task instead, that frees me up to do the things that only I can do. Knowing what and when to delegate is an essential skill for every leader to have. And if you surround yourself with professionals you can rely on, that process becomes all the easier."
--Shannon Miles, co-CEO of Belay, a virtual-services company dedicated to growing organizations
18. Get your priorities straight.
"For me this is number one. My priorities are family first, job second, and hobbies third, and I've had the most success during times of my life when I've followed this self-imposed rule. If one of these gets off balance, I feel it right away and everything starts to suffer. Family is with you for the long haul so you better get that one right. Once I feel they're well taken care of, I can then focus on my job. And I feel that I'm most innovative and creative in my job when I take a break to release stress and clear my mind by engaging in one of my favorite hobbies."
--Bonnie Crater, CEO of Full Circle Insights, a marketing metrics tool that works within Salesforce to identify the ROI for marketing efforts
19. Make the most of every minute.
"Having a sense of urgency and focused purpose are critical components for creating organizational alignment and achieving company success. Commerce is moving and changing at an accelerated and rapid pace. Every day creates an opportunity to move important initiatives forward to achieve the company's mission. I start every day charting my course of action to make a positive contribution to my team, to my customers, and to other important stakeholders of my company. The simple truth in business is ... time is precious and cannot be replenished, so if you don't leverage it every waking day, the competition will pass you by."
--Tony Gioia, CEO of Togo's Eateries, a sandwich restaurant franchise
20. Always keep the customer in mind.
"Every day I make it a point to remind my team that we are here to serve our customers. I'm always encouraging and helping my colleagues connect the dots between what we do and the people our work impacts. In business, your primary goal should always be the positive outcome for the client. When we shift the focus away from 'How can I make a profit?' to 'How can I enrich the lives of those who use my product?' we put a more human touch on our business, which is what drives our success and desire to move forward."
--John Anderson, Piggy, a browser extension that automatically applies coupons at checkoutco-founder of
21. Have dinner with your family every day.
"It is so easy to become disassociated as a busy professional and have your family life fall apart. Keeping the relationship with your family strong is vital to staying grounded and successful."
--Rajeev Behera, CEO of the performance-management platform Reflektive
22. Operate with complete transparency with your employees.
"Employees are much more likely to work hard if they understand how their individual efforts affect overall revenue growth, profits, and other measures of success. I go out of my way to make sure everyone understands our big picture business objectives, and how each of their individual contributions is critical to the success of the entire team."
--Phil Shawe, founder and co-CEO of translation and content-management company TransPerfect
23. Manage your time well, and then go snowboarding.
"Being a successful entrepreneur is not easy. The biggest lesson I have learned in the process of launching and growing a company is effective time management. I make sure I am constantly using my time well to ensure that I can handle everything on my plate. This also includes making time for myself. No one knows this, but every year I make time to go snowboarding. I'm terrible at it, but I enjoy it, and it helps to clear my mind."
--Allen Shayanfekr, founder and CEO of Sharestates, an online real estate lending and investing marketplace
24. Ask why you do what you do and whom you do it for.
"This question helps me retain perspective, and as long as my answer remains selfless, I am headed in the right direction. Secondly, I love to make random, personal calls to my amazing customers. It blows their minds when the owner of an online business calls to check up on them. These calls add an undeniable human touch to an otherwise sterile business experience."
--Michael S. Tyrrell, owner and CEO of Wholetones, a healing-frequency project
25. Get away from your desk.
"I'm not a person who can sit at my desk for long periods of time, I'm always on the move. One benefit of being a Seattle-based CEO is that we're blessed to live and work in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. At Talking Rain, we're fortunate to have a campus that has multiple buildings, so it's very easy for me to take a break and visit the other offices. Not only does that give me a chance to interact with the employees, but it also builds company camaraderie."
--Kevin Klock, president and CEO of Talking Rain Beverage Co.