The recipe for success in life really isn’t rocket science. 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. Read Proverbs.
“There are many great insights from Proverbs that are applicable to anyone. They are authored by Solomon, who’s widely acknowledged to be one of the wisest men who has ever lived.”
–Russ Reynolds, CEO of Batteries Plus Bulbs
2. Schedule Workout Time Strategically.
“Exercise is a key habit in my routine. I enjoy kickboxing in particular, and book my sessions strategically according to the complexity of my day. When I know there’s a challenging meeting in the a.m., I’ll book kickboxing before I head into the office. And if I’ve got a busy day ahead, I’ll work out in the evening to let go of the adrenaline after a long day. Booking workouts at the right time helps me release excess adrenaline, clear my head, and be prepared for whatever’s next.”
–Maria Integral Ad Science, a technology and data company for the advertising industryPousa, CMO of
3. Lift Heavy, Then Run Hard.
“Keeping my mind and body healthy is my key to staying focused and productive. When I work out, I lift heavy, then I run hard–never the reverse. I find that when I work out in the morning and push myself physically, I am more mentally alert and prepared to take on the day. In addition, I take a variety of vitamins and supplements twice a day, including fish oil, B-complex, and calcium. “
–Peter Twiss, vice president and co-founder of the Motiv Ring, a wearable activity and sleep tracking device
4. Read the News Voraciously.
“I religiously read at least five newspapers–The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post, and San Jose Mercury News–as well as a wide range of industry blogs, from TechCrunch to Marc Andreesen to Fred Wilson to HubSpot to several in the data storage industry. I also consume worldly weeklies like The Economist, and periodicals including Wired, Fast Company, Inc., Fortune, and Forbes. I regularly comment on the most interesting stories on my social-media channels. In the age of accelerated disruption, this is no longer a luxury but increasingly a requirement. A more informed CMO is a more effective CMO. A more informed professor is a better professor.”
–Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing and strategy officer at Reduxio, a provider of enterprise storage technology
5. Do the Hardest Things First.
“I need to get them out of the way in order to have control over my time. After those needs are done, I can do whatever I want at my leisure.”
—Loren Ridinger, senior executive vice president of e-commerce platform Market America SHOP.COM
6. Examine Goals and Inspiration First Thing in the Morning.
“Lately, I have been focused on three words I have posted on my bathroom mirror: Gratitude, Prudence, and Fear. Daily gratitude rewires the brain away from the focus of ME, MY, and I to WE. Prudence is the mother of all virtues, and encourages one to always be grounded in objectivity and concrete reality. And finally, every decision I have ever made in my life out of fear, whether personally or professionally, has always proven to be the wrong decision. There is truly nothing to fear once you take ownership of your failings and begin to correct them. Focus rather on what brings you the most internal peace.”
–Kevin Sherman, CEO of True Drinks, the maker of sugar-free children’s beverage AquaBall
7. Save Time for a Run.
“Running is vital to my routine as it gives me uninterrupted time to gather my thoughts. Plus, as an avid multitasker, I like being able to combine strategizing for my day and getting in a good workout at the same time. Even if it’s after 10 p.m. and I’ve been working late to speak with colleagues in Asia, I still go for a run afterward because the quiet solitude of it is so relaxing and focusing.”
–Rick Bergman, CEO of Synaptics, a provider of human interface solutions of touch, display, and biometrics for smartphones, PCs, and automotive
8. Get Input From Experts.
“Seek daily insights from our most sophisticated business intelligence analysts to help identify opportunities or problems that the company must rapidly respond to. We live in a world where change is constant. Given the staggering amount of data that is now widely available internally and externally, I look to our analysts to engage deeply with data and continuously expose material insights that I use to inform decisions and priorities.”
–Arun Rajan, COO of online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos.com
“I’m texting, calling, talking to everyone and anyone all the time. I have a huge passion for people and finding ways to network. It’s very exciting and keeps the momentum going on many different levels. It takes huge amount of discipline to follow through on everything, but once you build a cadence, it becomes natural. I really encourage everyone to reach out to three people they would like to meet. You’ll be surprised that if you come from a place of authenticity, they are willing to help.”
–Shawn Ullman, co-founder and CEO of Feel Rich Inc., a health and wellness media and entertainment company
10. Block Time on Your Calendar for Strategy and Catch-Up.
“Time–the scarcest resource I have–is constantly exceeded by demand. There are the back-to-back meetings, distractions that continuously hit my inbox, and strategic activities that need chunks of my time to think, problem solve, or innovate through. One tactic I have found to be very effective for helping me balance the time ‘demand and supply’ curve is calendar blocking. Every day, I block out time for ‘Strategy Work’ as well as ‘Sync up,’ which I use to concentrate on activities such as email catch-up.”
–Craig Hinkley, CEO of WhiteHat Security, a cybersecurity company that reduces risk and accelerates the deployment of secure applications and websites
11. Take Time to Think.
“That isn’t ‘take time to think about X.’ It’s simply take time to think. I lock myself in a meeting room and don’t answer the phone. I look out the window, and I let my mind wander. We all do it quite naturally as children, but for various reasons we tend to shun this kind of activity as adults. The result is that we miss out on a significant opportunity to simply let good ideas bubble up through the subconscious. Our tendency is to be focused–it probably got us where we are today. But focus, by definition, narrows the scope of our thinking, and given how complex and fast moving most business problems are, we should relearn the skill of simply opening our mind and giving ourselves half an hour to think, in an unstructured, creative way, about whatever pops up. It’s not always easy, but I couldn’t do my job without it.”
–Geoff Webb, vice president of strategy for Micro Focus, a software vendor that helps enterprises innovate while reducing risk
12. Meditate to Increase Focus and Creativity.
“I start each day with an hour of meditation, this is a daily practice I have kept for several years now. It’s an hour of sitting still, becoming aware of my breath, thoughts, and sensations without reacting to them. Meditation is the exercise that trains the mind to regulate itself and fine tunes our ability to focus on one thing continuously without getting distracted. There are many benefits of practicing meditation, such as concentration, higher cognitive abilities, and an overall sense of well-being. Meditation allows an opportunity for subconscious thoughts and ideas to surface, allowing me to tap into the vast potential of my mind. This focus and self-awareness makes me a better leader, better co-worker, and a better person.”
–Ravi Devireddy, co-founder and CTO of E8 Security, a company that develops advanced analytics technology that detects unknown cybersecurity threats
13. Set Aside Time Ahead of Each Workweek to Reflect on the Big Picture.
“After a long workweek ends and before another one begins, it’s important to take a step back to reflect on your ultimate business goals and the progress made on both your company and your own personal and career growth. During the week, it’s easy to be consumed with the day-to-day grind and to forget about the big picture, but the weekend is the ideal time to reflect on your goals and successes to date. By taking this time to reflect, you might even find that your objectives have shifted, allowing you to modify your strategy and course correct to ensure you’re on track.”
–Chris Herbert, co-founder and CEO of the item tracking platform TrackR
14. Trust Your Instincts.
“Stay the course, stay focused, execute, and believe in yourself. This might sound like simple advice, but with so many distractions throughout the day pulling us in different directions, it’s important to lean on these foundational elements to keep life and business moving forward and in the right direction.”
–Sven Rathjen, vice president of marketing, Client Solutions Business Unit for Western Digital, a provider of storage solutions and devices for backup and sharing digital data
15. Lead by Example.
“Security breaches are now a fact of life, in our personal life or at work. Recent data shows that 80 percent of security threats are due to end user carelessness. As a business leader, I build cybersecurity awareness into the DNA of our organization with daily personal habits that help to set the example. I follow good cyber hygiene to set the example for healthy habits, for instance, by creating complex passwords, changing them frequently, and never sharing them; in locking up my laptops and devices; and being aware of what is going on around me. We even produced a series of funny security-focused videos to further educate our staff and help set a tone of vigilance. Leading by example is very important.”
–Mark Anderson, president of security company Palo Alto Networks
16. Listen to Your Team.
“Listen first. Your employees know more about the business than you. They are on the front lines with customers and in the trenches with products, programs, and operations. I make it a practice every day to do a listening tour to understand what our customers are thinking, what our competitors are doing, and how our programs are landing. Listening ensures that I’m more informed. And it ensures my team is more engaged and valued.”
–Tim Minahan, senior vice president and CMO of Citrix, a software company that secures, mobilizes, and optimizes application and data delivery
17. Ask a Bunch of Questions.
“Every morning and evening, I go through thought exercises that I call my Morning Triangle and Evening Triangle. For the Morning Triangle, I meditate on three questions: What are my strengths, and how can I leverage them? What are my weaknesses, and how can I improve them? How can I work harder? For the Evening Triangle, I think about three more questions: How do I do more for my company? How can I take better care of my teammates? How do I improve our products?”
–Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, a cloud-based video communications company
18. Give Your Undivided Attention.
“Better face-to-face engagement and interaction with colleagues were some of the reasons why we spent so much time and money on our new offices. Yet I found myself constantly drifting towards email and text alerts that would show up on the massive monitor that was always in my peripheral view while sitting in my new office. Everything from conversations about the weekend to important discussions about the next product launch were constantly interrupted, as my attention was distracted by my monitor. Recognizing this, I moved the monitor to the edge of my desk, where I can now only view it when sitting directly in front of it. This was a simple solution that cost me nothing and I now have 75 percent of my desk to give 100 percent of my undivided attention.”
–Jae S. Lee, co-founder and CEO of travel bag company RuMe
19. Get Into Star Trek Mode.
“Business moves so fast these days that it can be hard to gather all the research you need to make a reasoned decision. That’s when I revert to Star Trek mode. In one favorite episode, Captain Kirk and a crew member are on a planet where they can read each other’s minds. Kirk and his crew member come to a fork in the path and Kirk says that they need to go left. The crew member then questions Kirk on why he made that decision, since he didn’t have any information that would indicate that left was a better choice than right. Kirk says that sometimes you just have to make a decision and trust your gut. As entrepreneurs, we often know when an opportunity feels right. When that happens, we need to trust our instincts and, ideally, a/b test it in all ways.”
–John Donovan, CEO of business finance solutions company Bizfi
20. Trust Your Creative Confidence.
“Earlier in my career, I wondered if I was being naïve when I took on challenges that seemed over my head. I didn’t think that much about downside risk, examine all the ways I could fail, or create a Plan B. Now, I understand it wasn’t naivety, it was creative confidence, the reassuring knowledge that even if I don’t know what the end-solution looks like from day one, I have the agility to test, measure, learn, and adjust on the fly. It may sound paradoxical, but part of creative confidence is the humility to assemble teams of people with far greater skills than mine to solve whatever problems arise.”
–Kelly Max, CEO of Haufe US, a provider of employee-centered enterprise transformation solutions and programs