The recipe for success in life really isn’t hard to fathom. Advice from 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. Listen outside your circle.
“I make a point daily to talk to people who aren’t part of my world–people I wouldn’t normally be working directly with–about what they are doing, how, and why. I’ve been surprised many times when I’ve learned something that shed light on a business problem I’m trying to grapple with, or simply been presented with a perspective on an opportunity that I would have missed. Modern businesses are becoming increasingly specialized. Technology and the speed of business demand that we are tightly focused on certain aspects of the overall business operation. Yet the cost of this focus is that it’s far too easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. We lost sight of the forest, not just in the trees, but now it feels like in the individual branches and leaves. Take a step back. Get a different perspective. And see the business from a new vantage point.”
–Geoff Webb, VP of strategy for Micro Focus, a software vendor that helps enterprises innovate while reducing risk
“I don’t do anything until I meditate first thing in the morning. Russell Simmons taught me to wake up, light a candle, and sit for 20 minutes. This exercise helps me start my day with a clear, calm, and fresh mind so that I can accomplish the goals of [my company]. My practice has gotten to the point that if I don’t meditate, I feel off the entire day. I do miss days occasionally, but I don’t get upset. I just start the next day and get back on track.”
–Shawn Ullman, cofounder and CEO of Feel Rich Inc, a health and wellness media and entertainment company
3. Take the helicopter perspective.
“It’s hard to resist letting important decisions be influenced by ground level issues like the weather, your emotional state, the last conversation you had. It helps to adopt the ‘helicopter perspective,’ which offers two superior points of view: First, I can look down dispassionately and challenge the value and focus of my behavior in a much larger context than the moment. Second, the increased altitude lets me look ahead to evaluate whether the decision is not only good right now, but will create the optimal cascade of developments throughout the organization.”
–Kelly Max, CEO of Haufe US, a provider of employee-centered enterprise transformation solutions and programs
4. Consider the outrageous.
“Approaching ideation or complex problem solving that might result in innovation doesn’t usually happen by thinking conservatively. I know I’m headed in the right direction when I get a cringe or ‘uhm, I don’t think we can do that.’ Even when my own reaction is ‘that is a terrible idea,’ I don’t shoot from the hip and immediately shut it down. I try to give the idea enough breathing room so it can be explored further because sometimes, there is a truly innovative idea lurking in the exploration of what is considered a bad idea. It’s easy to be pragmatic after the fact but there’s a danger of shutting down great ideas when you start your brainstorming with pragmatism dominating your thoughts.”
–Greg Blake, cofounder of plant-based alternative Daiya Foods
5. Get enough sleep.
“Sleep is a powerful weapon in life. It lets us stop, step back, re-evaluate, rejuvenate, and re-engage from a more advantageous direction the next day. When I was at MIT, people would brag about how little sleep they got, as if it was some measure of their effort or worth. Me? I would shake my head and hit the bed, waking to new insights and fresh perspective. Many of my best ideas, speeches, and problem solving has happened as I wake from a restful sleep. Life is about the marathon, not the sprint. Sleep well. Last to give up, first to win.”
–Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of consumer home robotics company iRobot
6. Stop trying to control everything.
“I have learned to invest in the development of myself and others, let things play out, and to challenge people when they come upon their own ‘limitations’ (which are inevitably NOT the limitations you would have predicted). This strategy allows people the freedom to learn and try things without my hovering, for the obvious micromanagement reasons but also because one can’t hover in 30 places at once, anyway. If you can truly accept that control is an illusion, you become a problem solver, leader and friend to those you interact with, rather than a wanna-be magician.”
–Erika Ebbel Angle, CEO of Ixcela, an internal fitness company
7. Get outside and run.
“While I’m out there, I listen to biographies and books on topics unrelated to tech. I love the serendipity of finding parallels between whatever I’m reading and projects I’m working on.”
–Andrew Bialecki, founder and CEO of Klaviyo, an ecommerce marketing automation platform
8. Say “thank you” to someone on your team.
“There’s nothing worse than someone taking credit for the good work their team does, and saying ‘thank you’ to people not only clarifies the kind of leader I want to be, it also lets people know that I see and value their work.
–Alec McNayr, cofounder and COO of social media creative agency McBeard
9. Organize one thing.
“One of my habits when I’m working from my home office rather than traveling is to organize one thing each day. It may sound simple, but I have a list of stressors that I want to tackle and I carve out 15 minutes to focus on tackling it. You will be surprised by how much you can get done in just 15 focused minutes. Even big projects can get tackled that way, or at least whittled down until you have a weekend to finish a big task. Getting that one aspect of my life organized gives my mind a quick break from work and makes me feel like everything is a little bit more under control. With a two-year old and a recent move into a new house, there is plenty to [do]. Success is about balance and for me, that 15 minutes of non-work organization gives me a little boost to tackle the rest of the day.”
–Chuck Cordray, CEO of Inlet, a secure digital document delivery platform which connects companies to consumers via digital mailboxes, personal cloud storage solutions and thousands of financial institutions across the country
10. Make time for self-enrichment.
“A CEO should strive to inspire, teach, protect, remove obstacles and be human. One of the best ways I do this is by making time for self-enrichment. Reading the works of great minds in aspects of life, culture, business and political affairs domestically and internationally helps me gain a broader perspective and sharpen critical thinking skills. One of my new favorites ways of making time for enrichment is a technology startup called Macat [which partners with the University of Cambridge and has analyzed and curated the 200 most important books ever written].
–James Ingram, CEO of Splashlight, a visual content creation company geared toward e-commerce and social media
11. Check your priorities against your goals.
“I have more ideas than my staff has time, and as CEO my voice can be powerful in shifting people’s focus. Checking myself against our goals keeps my work and my team on course, allows us to make decisions about what activities we’re pursuing, what meetings are necessary and how to communicate with each other effectively.”
–Neil Lustig, CEO of Sailthru, a cross-channel experience management platform for retail and media companies
12. Verbalize your goals.
“In 2009, before starting my company, I got rid of my car and TV and moved into a small one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. After unpacking, my first order of business was to tape a list of goals inside my closet. To this day, every morning while buttoning my shirt, I read the list aloud to myself. I’ve kept at it for over seven years. These daily reminders have guided me through some of the most rewarding and challenging of times of my life, and continue to influence my company’s culture and create change in a positive way.”
–Linden Tibbets, cofounder and CEO of IFTTT, an IoT platform that empowers people to do more with the services they love
13. Clear your mind.
“Every night without fail, I spend time on meditation right before bed. It helps me let go of the day’s stress so that I don’t wake up at two in the morning worrying about work. Sticking to it takes discipline, but the practice pays off enormously in both my personal and professional life.”
–Russell Ure, CEO of connected car technology company Klashwerks
14. Build a measurable and consistent amount of moderate exercise into your every day.
“I try to live a healthy lifestyle but I don’t have time to go to the gym as often as I’d like during the week between my job and having two kids and a dog. Every morning I walk to a subway station that’s one mile from my home (even though I live steps away from one). I use this time to listen to music or catch up with a friend. It’s good for me and it’s found ‘me’ time that sets the tone for the day. If you drive, park farther away in a measurable amount (like number of steps or distance) and make it a consistent habit so it’s just part of your every day. Prepare in advance with a good rain jacket or snow boots so weather isn’t a deterrent.”
–Stephanie Chan, VP of marketing for online job search service Ladders
15. Give yourself permission to be curious.
“In order to have a successful business we constantly have to innovate. The startup environment is very demanding and I used to give all of ‘me’ to the team. When time came for creative solutions I was an empty vessel. So I gave myself permission to be curious about things outside of my work scope for one hour every day. I believe curiosity is fundamental to true innovation. So I meticulously plan my intellectual diet by preparing a list of blogs, books and articles to read. On the days when nothing goes as planned, it helps to size the problem with a ‘cosmic scale’ by looking at space nebulas, ponder on the role of dark matter. It shifts perspective and helps with solving problems by applying innovative solutions.”
–Carina Ayden, founder and executive director of Eco Friendly Foods Initiative
16. Find your Netflix and Reese’s.
“When you are in an ownership role, it’s too easy to get caught up chasing the unicorn that is optimal productivity. Being at the top means you see every mountain of work that your team needs to climb. You act as a Sherpa so many times that you do not know how to turn it off. You develop a sense of guilt if you are doing anything other than working. Not only does this damage your health and relationships, it diminishes your overall well-being and happiness. Productivity hacks and tips are great for learning to be a better Sherpa, but at some point, you need to you allow yourself to make a mistake. To let them figure out their own way up the steep cliff. It’s easy to forget that while squeezing out that last email you are also squeezing out that last bit of joy and happiness. Find something that is not going to make you more productive. I am not implying that you should stop working to better yourself but be mindful and give yourself a break once in a while. For me, it’s bingeing on Netflix and Reese’s peanut butter cups. You can probably find something a bit healthier like a sport and kale, but that’s not nearly as shamelessly gratifying.”
–Nathan Coleman, cofounder and CEO of The Elephant Pants, a clothing retailer which donates money to charitable organizations dedicated to saving elephants
17. Create your own statistics.
“Statistics do not mean a whole lot to me. Visions come true through: Passion, Dedication, and hard tireless work. I do not take on challenges based on favorable statistics, rather based on how passionate l am to the vision, and how dedicated l am to realizing it. Visionaries create their own statistics. Many times without a precedence.”
–Lillie Mosaddegh, MD and CEO of women’s clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories retailer Cop Copine U.S.
18. Pedal into work every morning.
“[It] gives me time clear my head, wake up my body, and arrive at the office refreshed and ready to go. On hot days, I rely on my electric bike to get across Manhattan without breaking a sweat, and when the weather doesn’t cooperate, I’ve got fenders and a rain suit to keep me dry. The fact that it’s faster than either the subway or Lyft is an added bonus which also saves me time.”
–Bill Magnuson, cofounder and CEO of Appboy, a lifecycle engagement platform for marketers
19. Listen to electronic dance music.
“Every day is game seven… so get your mind right: I wake up every morning and follow the same routine. A cup of coffee followed by a jog while listening to an audio book on business or culture, then it’s off to work while listening to electronic dance music (EDM) music in the car. The loud and repetitive beats of EDM music get your mind really focused while you plot taking over the world, or taking over your industry.”
–Ryan Millman, president and owner of digital photo printing company, Nations Photo Lab
20. Divide and conquer.
“Break down everything into 20-minute manageable tasks. Whenever I have a bigger project looming, I try to find a way to break it down into parts so I can tackle it rather than being overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done and procrastinating.”
–Leslie Heyer, founder of Cycle Technologies, creator of reproductive health and family planning solutions CycleBeads, TwoDay Method, and Dot
This piece was originally published by Inc.