I recently spoke with Christina DesMarais, a contributor at Inc. Magazine to talk about one lesson that has helped me grow my company Go BIG Media and allow me to write Fire Them Now. I hope you enjoy her article full of great advice from 17 CEOs!
Whether they’re for your physical condition, emotional outlook, or level of productivity, the things you repeatedly do every day define your quality of life. Here are the daily habits several executives credit for the success they have achieved.
1. Set up predetermined browser tabs to open automatically.
“Thanks to Chrome’s Startup Settings, I’ve created an essential daily habit — having my predetermined browser tabs open automatically for my review. If I know I’ll be working on a particular task every day, I will add it to Chrome as a startup tab, so I can stay organized and on track. This allows me to focus on one task at a time and cut out ineffective multitasking from my workflow. When I’m done working on a specific tab, I close it.”
— Aytekin Tank, founder and CEO of JotForm, a profitable online forms platform with more than 3.3 million users that has been bootstrapped since its founding in 2006
2. Replace “but” with “and.”
“When you say ‘but’ in a discussion, what you are signaling is everything you said before the ‘but’ was irrelevant. Humans are deeply trained to instantly forget what you said before the ‘but.’ An example: In an executive meeting, someone saying ‘I totally agree with everything you said, BUT here’s another perspective.’ Feel that? It’s your brain getting ready to fight. Replacing the ‘but’ with ‘and’ totally changes the dynamic of the communication and of the relationship: ‘I totally agree with everything you said, AND here’s another perspective.’ This really works. People feel more heard, more appreciated, and contentious discussions happen with less emotion.”
— Fred Stevens-Smith, co-founder and CEO of QA testing company Rainforest QA, a Y Combinator company that raised $25 million in funding earlier this year with a team spread across 16 countries on five continents
3. Play like a team.
“I see many parallels between success in business and in sports. Your people are your players, and you’re assembling a championship team. To me, there’s nothing better than being on a team — winning together, learning from your losses together, getting stronger together, and building character together. Establish an employee-based culture, coach your players, set goals, and earn championships.”
— Scott Scherr, CEO and founder of Ultimate Software, an HR tech platform on track to hit $1 billion in annual revenue this year and used by companies such as Subway, First Horizon, MLB, the Phoenix Suns, Yamaha, and Nikon
4. Only check email once a day.
“Hint: The Boomerang app is a lifesaver for those who lack self-discipline. Only checking my email once a day has made a huge impact on my productivity — but more important, my teams’ productivity. I noticed when I was weighing in on email all the time, it tended to kick off a ripple effect of other people reacting and responding, and that ultimately derailed projects. By forcing myself to hold back, I’m more focused, and I’m also able to show my teams I trust them and respect their autonomy.”
— Jon Stein, CEO and founder of Betterment, an online financial advising platform with more than 150 employees, 300,000 customers, and $13 billion in assets under management
5. Put “busy” time on your calendar.
“Too many meetings in your day can feel overwhelming and unproductive. You need time in your day to handle even the most simple tasks such as answering emails or just getting work done, period. What I’ve found very useful is to block off one- to three-hour time slots in my calendar throughout the week and label them as ‘Busy’ to give myself some head-down time to keep goals and initiatives on track. Try this tactic if you’re feeling overwhelmed from meetings and you’ll be surprised how much more productive you feel. Also, don’t always feel compelled to select ‘Yes’ for every calendar invite. It is also OK to say no to meetings if you don’t feel that you’ll be able to add value to the conversation.”
— Mitch Wainer, co-founder and head of brand at DigitalOcean, which has a $175 million run rate and more than one million users at companies such as HP, Xerox, and Slack
6. Do at least one activity every day that isn’t tied to a mandatory to-do list.
“There are never enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you feel you must do, let alone would like to do. Despite the pressure of the ‘mandatory to-do list’ and deadline-sensitive items, I believe it’s critically important to find time for daily activities that are not necessarily as obvious in impact to the business. When you take the time to read the latest article or, even better, spend some time casually catching up with a team member over a cup of coffee or lunch, you may not be scratching something off the to-do list, but you’re building relationships, learning something interesting, discovering something you likely would not have found out otherwise … and, most important, helping to build the foundation for long-term success.”
— Andrew Rubin, co-founder and CEO of data center and cloud security provider Illumio, used by nine of the 15 largest financial companies in the U.S., as well as three of the top seven SaaS providers and which has raised $267.5 million from J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst, Formation 8, BlackRock Funds, Accel Partners, and Data Collective, as well as individual investors including Microsoft chairman John W. Thompson, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang
7. Use bullet journaling.
“As a software executive, I’ve tried just about every task management app I can find to help organize my time. But for me, I’ve found that bullet journaling — using a Leuchtturm 1917 journal and colored pens — works wonders. Because it’s pen and paper, I can design pages to achieve exactly what I want them to, such as creating monthly and quarterly views that integrate goal tracking. I also start each day by writing down the top five tasks that I aim to complete that day, which helps me focus on completing the most high-impact tasks no matter what arises throughout the day. Finally, I use it also to take notes in every meeting, which makes it super easy to find and recall those notes — and because the Leuchtturm is a nice-looking journal, it helps me feel confident and in control in customer meetings. With this approach, I’m better able to focus on my key goal of helping Quick Base customers win and succeed, as well as drive our product and business forward.”
— Jay Jamison, SVP of strategy and product management at Quick Base, maker of a no-code tool that enables workers to build apps without needing to know how to write a single line of code and that is used by more than half of Fortune 100 companies including Google, Kayak, and Southwest Airlines
8. Mind your manners.
“Be nice. It sounds obvious, but too many leaders these days don’t show kindness and humility. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but business and politics both seem to have fallen back on the meanest, lowest common denominator, and that’s only been magnified by social media. It’s important for leaders to show compassion through both success and failure. Praise is easy. But if you care about your people, their careers, and your organization as a whole, you have to address the failures, too. Good intentions always make those painful conversations easier. It comes down to good manners and showing compassion.”
— Gaurav Dhillon, founder and CEO of SnapLogic, an integration software platform used by hundreds of Global 2000 enterprises, including Adobe, AstraZeneca, Box, GameStop, Verizon, and Wendy’s, and backed by blue-chip investors Andreessen Horowitz, Ignition Partners, Microsoft, Triangle Peak Partners, and Vitruvian Partners
9. Plan for the best of times and the worst of times.
“Plan, plan, and plan again for all contingencies, both positive and negative. While you don’t have a crystal ball, you can still identify your important business moments where you can plan for both crisis and celebration. Doing this ahead of time allows you to think with a clearer mind and act quickly when one of those certain situations arises. Some questions I consider are: What do I do if I have a great month? What do I do if I have a terrible month? How do I dissect and understand the drivers of my business?”
— Mark Schulze, VP of business development of First Data and co-founder of Clover, maker of an all-in-one point of sale terminal that was acquired by First Data in 2013 and that has sold more than 750,000 devices and processes approximately $50 billion in annual sales
10. Never give up the hands-on approach in order to see the big picture.
“See the big picture, trust your team, trust your executives, but never give up a hands-on approach entirely. When I founded Sinemia with a team of just two people, I was working on everything by myself, both strategy- and operations-wise. I wrote the first codes of the app, I wrote marketing emails; I read every CV sent with job applications. After two and a half years, Sinemia now has 45 in-house employees and 35 freelancers from five different countries. We have built a successful team with very professional executives, but I never give up being hands-on because I know that when you are in control of the details, you are able to see every gap, every need; so you put the pieces of the puzzle together and see the big picture. This gives one the chance to create a really strong strategy.”
— Rifat Oguz, founder and CEO of Sinemia, a global movie ticket subscription system used by five million moviegoers in five countries and named on Wired’s annual list of hottest startups last year
11. Schedule your day around when your brain is firing on all cylinders.
“When is your brain on fire? Three years ago, a mentor asked me that question and gave me life-changing advice: Schedule your day around when your brain is firing on all cylinders and hold off on brainless work until it is fatigued. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my business. For years, I ran a one-man political and corporate marketing firm (me!). I typically slept late (8 a.m.) and started off my day by doing mundane tasks that I liked but didn’t move the ball forward. Once I answered the question, ‘When is your brain on fire?’ I rearranged my entire schedule to accommodate it, and the results have been explosive. I now wake up at 4:30 a.m. and arrive in my office by 7 a.m. From 7 to 11 a.m., I’m in prime critical-thinking mode. It’s when my brain works best. I write, study, work on problems, and read (and my schedule is blocked off so I have minimal distractions). After 11 a.m.? I respond to email, I call people back, and I convene the important but tedious conference calls we all have to do. My mornings are my time to think, and that time is non-negotiable. I take ideas, problems, and passions and I spend time working through them, because that is when my brain needs to be proactive and thinking. The result of that one small shift? In less than three years, we’ve added 19 employees and I grew my company 500 percent. When is your brain on fire?”
— Phillip Stutts, CEO of Go Big Media and author of Fire Them Now: The 7 Lies Digital Marketers Sell and the Truth About Political Strategies That Help Businesses Win, who has contributed to more than 1,000 election victories of senators, governors, representatives, and two U.S. presidents
12. Remain mindful of your sleep-to-caffeine balance.
“I am guilty of hitting the espresso or coffee machine more than once a day, but I rarely go past two servings a day. While espresso can be my secret weapon for the 8 a.m. meetings and my go-to afternoon pick-me-up when the 2 p.m. lethargy kicks in, I limit myself; otherwise my sleep schedule could be jeopardized. Rather than trying to work as many hours a day on as little sleep as possible, I always aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep. Anything less and I won’t be able to focus the remainder of the day. I could never understand how some people could function on four hours of sleep. For me, I need that time to rest my body and mind, and I can’t do that when slinging back espresso all day.”
— Kumesh Aroomoogan, a 2018 Forbes “30 Under 30” winner for enterprise technology and the co-founder and CEO of Accern, a predictive-analytics startup that is anticipating closing Q1 2018 at a $100 million overall valuation with clients including Credit Suisse and IBM
13. Respect your mental real estate and know its value.
“I learned early on how to recognize how much mental stamina I have, and I consider this daily. The more success I have, the more my time is desired by people in my network looking for advice or searching for my help with their new opportunities. I have been offered positions on boards or asked to help start new companies. While I consider each these requests or offers carefully, I am realistic about how much time and conscious energy I have that I need to dedicate to my own projects and companies. It’s important to consider the time and effort these things may take and if they may distract from my overall goals. Investing money in the ideas of others is one thing, but investing my time and mental real estate is something completely different. I remind myself daily of the importance of my time and don’t let anything else distract from my vision or direction.”
— Daniel Saynt, CEO of the New Society for Wellness, the fastest-growing influencer agency for vice-category brands, and whose former roles include CMO for Rebecca Minkoff, founder and CEO of Socialyte, and head of innovation at Nylon Media
14. Keep a strict schedule of self-care.
“I’m almost embarrassed to say that I am a 25-year-old woman who keeps a regular bath time, but my Sunday-night bubble baths are a key part of my rigorous self-care routine that helps me with my sanity and focus throughout the week. Self-care is one of the only times in the day when I don’t have to focus on anyone or anything but myself. It gives me a chance to contemplate where I’ve been and what goals I want to achieve and gives me a break from my constant to-do list. When the proposals, meetings, events, and projects start piling up, it’s almost a natural instinct to push aside mundane activities, like painting my nails, facials, and massages, or taking a relaxing soak. There has to be a moment in each day to take care of myself, and sometimes it’s as simple as a stretch and a mental check-in. Without it, I wouldn’t be as mentally alert and focused as I am when I have that time scheduled to take care of myself.”
— Melissa A. Vitale, founder of Melissa A Vitale PR, a PR firm specializing in top-tier media placements that hit six-figure revenue in its first six months, with clients including Fortune 500 companies and startups across A.I., sexual wellness, and legal cannabis
15. Practice Transcendental Meditation.
“On a macro level, I am constantly thinking ahead and putting myself in the shoes of our customers. On a micro level, I try to evaluate my performance daily or at least once every few days by reflecting on what’s happened and asking those around me for feedback so I can consistently improve. Practicing Transcendental Meditation helps keep my mind clear and calm while continuing to promote a state of relaxed awareness that helps me challenge both myself and my team.”
— Olivier Reza, CEO of luxury watch membership platform Eleven James, which has raised more than $40 million in capital since its founding in 2014
16. Create a “before your phone” morning ritual.
“First, I drink a bottle of water. I sit in stillness and pray. Then I visualize how I want my day to unfold. Starting your day in a race is a great way to have a crazy day. I don’t drink enough water, so I work on it first thing. By meditating and praying on abundance and visualizing my day, I Ievelset myself to handle whatever comes, and I don’t let too many outside forces determine my mood or productivity. I also do not sleep with my phone at my head; it’s charging in the living room away from me. I pick it up as I am ready to start my workday, and not before.”
— Melinda Emerson, known as SmallBizLady, who reaches more than three million entrepreneurs each week online and is the author of Fix Your Business: A 90-Day Plan to Get Back Your Life and Reduce Chaos in Your Business
17. Embrace positivity and nurture personal relationships.
“I wake up every day with the attitude that I am going to conquer the world. It’s easy to dwell on negativity, but even easier to succeed when you approach each new day and project with a renewed sense of positivity — what I like to call ‘short-term amnesia,’ the mentality that we will still achieve greatness despite any inevitable setbacks we may face. It’s a given, but positivity is contagious — whether you radiate positivity in the workplace or in your personal life, it will make a difference to those who surround you, and that small change in attitude will lead to success, no matter how big or how small. In our digital world, it’s imperative to recognize the importance of our attitude and communication style and how it affects our relationships. Putting positive energy and dedication into one-on-one relationships transfers directly to the way in which we approach our careers and peers in the workplace. What you put in is exactly what you will get out.”
— Taki Skouras, CEO of Cellairis, a cell phone repair and accessories brand with 500 locations across the U.S. and which has expanded internationally to Canada, Jamaica, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, and Dubai, for a total of more than 600 company-owned and franchise locations