While the definition of success may be debatable, most people would agree that the leaders of companies getting good traction have likely garnered some measure of it. Want to know how high achievers get to the top? Here are quotes from 20 founders and CEOs on the daily habits that help them get more out of business and life.
1. Prioritize a daily to-do list.
I’ve got a running task list called “near-term,” which contains things that I want to get done during the next one to two weeks. Every morning over coffee, I pull from that list to build a task list called “today.” I make a commitment in the morning to clear this and make sure to deliver at the end of each day.
–Sean Duffy, CEO of Omada Health, a digital-therapeutics company that was selected by Fast Company as one of “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.”
- Remember names.
Not just staff members but also their spouses, kids, and even pets, if appropriate. Obviously I don’t interrogate people for these names, but as they come up in conversation, I try to make a mental note. It helps me to get to know my team…and your team [notices] that you are actually paying attention…. There are several tricks you can do to try to remember someone’s name. I always repeat the name when I hear it and then say it a few times over in my head.
- Research people before meeting with them.
Before a meeting, I always do research on whom I’ll be meeting with. Understanding the person’s work history, the school they went to, or even knowing their hometown helps me tailor the way I communicate with them.
–Mike Zivin, cofounder and CEO of Whittl, an online appointment booking platform for neighborhood businesses, which recently raised a $3.3 million series A round with backing from GrubHub co-founder Mike Evans as well as GrubHub’s first VC, Origin Ventures in Chicago.
- Schedule family time.
Most small-business owners and entrepreneurs start a business to make a better life for their families. If you get caught in the trap of working 20-hour days, your business may thrive, but at what cost? You may be able to send your kids to a great college, but if they’ve never spent an afternoon with you in 18 years, is it worth it? I’m very conscious of making time for my kids, whether that means working with them (my oldest is interning in the office this summer) or carving time out to go to tournaments and games. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, but it’s so important to step back and look at the big picture.
–Ted Devine, CEO of online small- and microbusiness insurance agent Insureon, a company at the 107 spot on last year’s Inc. 5000 list.
- Walk while working.
Part of being a successful executive is being able to interact with people at a moment’s notice, which requires a fair amount of stamina. To achieve that, I work at a treadmill desk all day, and end up walking about eight miles each day.
–Douglas Merrill, former CIO of Google and now CEO of ZestFinance, a big-data startup that uses more than 100,000 data points about an individual to figure out if someone with bad credit will pay back a loan.
- Avoid all habits.
I think having randomness in my day is critical and keeps my brain active. I see too many people whose habits ultimately stifle them. They won’t try something new because it conflicts with something they’ve always done. When I feel I’m falling into a rut, I try to find a way to change things up. That’s one of the reasons I travel so much. Of course, it gets me in front of clients, which is critical, but as much as anything, always being in new environments keeps my mind sharp and my thoughts flowing.
–Rodney Williams, cofounder and CEO of LISNR, a new communications technology company that sends data over sound waves (such as streaming video) and recently won the Gold Cannes Lion for Innovation in Mobile.
- Purge your email inbox.
I get my email inbox to one page by day’s end. My job is to communicate and build relationships with clients, prospects, and employees, and all email is either dealt with, responded to, or filed as complete. It only stays in the inbox if it needs further followup. People need to know they can get response from me, not just the other way around.
–Darin LeGrange, CEO of Aldera, a company that provides health plans (insurers) with the back-office technology that handles billing, claims processing, coverages, and more.
- Avoid all carbs before noon.
That’s my peak energy time, and too many carbs throw me off my game. The momentum created in the morning goes a long way into the afternoon. If you don’t start strong, you don’t finish strong.
–David Kalt, founder and CEO of Reverb, a marketplace for musical instruments and gear that has raised about $5 million in funding and expects to do $130 million in transactions this year, up from $40 million last year.
- Don’t dive right into work in the morning.
Without fail, I start every morning off with a cup of “proper English tea,” even when traveling in San Francisco, and leisurely check the daily newspaper headlines on my tablet, before diving into email and catching up on the company Chatter feed. Having a slower-paced morning routine helps me work more efficiently as the day goes on.
–Jeremy Roche, CEO of FinancialForce.com, an ERP solutions provider built on the Salesforce1 Platform which equips customer-centric businesses with a unified cloud platform and all the applications necessary to grow both the top and bottom line.
- Make small but meaningful personal statements.
After the ritual coffee every morning, I make sure I have a clean pair of crazy socks. No crazy socks, no glory. They anchor my confidence and remind me that different is good. Everyone could use a personal statement.
–Ahmed Albaiti, founder and CEO of Medullan, a digital health innovation company that works with payers, providers, and pharma on patient engagement.
- Quantify your life.
There are 8,760 hours in a year, and I know exactly how many of them I have spent working, with family, exercising, or on community activities. For the last 15 years, I have kept a matrix of how I spend each hour in the day in an effort to live a balanced and optimized life. I’ve had nine major surgeries as part of a lifelong battle with Crohn’s disease, so tracking my time and health is essential to helping me maximize every moment. It’s also provided the perspective of both a patient and an executive to my companies.
–Jeff Margolis, chairman and CEO of Welltok, creator of CafWell, the health optimization platform that helps consumers achieve optimal health. Previously, he founded the health IT company TriZetto, and took it from startup, through IPO, to a $1.4 billion leveraged buyout.
- Pay attention to people, not devices.
Put the cellphones away. I try to keep them out of sight when I’m around my kids and in all executive meetings.
–Rick Morrison, CEO of Comprehend Systems, which works with big names in the life-sciences industry, such as Boston Scientific, Astellas, and AstraZeneca, modernizing and improving the quality in their clinical process through cloud-based tech.
- Wake up early and swallow the frog.
Mark Twain was onto something when he suggested you should tackle your most challenging project first thing in the morning. I wake up at 5 a.m. almost every morning, including weekends. My mornings are a time to tackle thought-intensive tasks, or approach projects with a new perspective. I consider 5 to 8 a.m. my power hours, and try to get through one significant undertaking by 8 a.m. every day.
–Neha Sampat, CEO of digital tech solutions provider Built.io, which powers innovation at the intersection of enterprise mobility and the Internet of Things (IoT) for startups and Fortune 500 companies. Sampat also co-founded KurbKarma, was named a “San Francisco Business Times 40 under 40″ honoree, as well as one of “50 Women in Tech Dominating Silicon Valley” in 2015.
- Don’t “find” time for family, make time.
As the CEO of a rapidly growing company, it’s easy to let the job consume you completely, to the detriment of those closest to you: your family. It’s not enough to “find” time to spend with your children, because the job will always find a way to fill every minute. So I make it a priority to spend two hours a day focusing only on my children. It helps me to recharge my batteries, think more creatively, and it also gives me that daily reminder of why I work so hard.
–Ratmir Timashev, CEO of Veeam, a data center backup company founded in 2006 which now employs more than 1,500 employees around the world and brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, with its sights on reaching $1 billion in revenue in the next five years.
- Talk constantly with your team.
Team culture is critical in the American service economy. The only way to make sure that your team is working together at an optimal level is to make sure that you talk both formally and informally with your team.
Got your own habit? Add it to the comment section.