If you’ve ever done anything to improve your situation in life, you know it took some effort. Whether it’s earning a degree, landing a new job, sealing an important relationship or improving your fitness, getting ahead isn’t going to happen without you taking some different steps. But it’s not always big changes which reap the most rewards. If you ask high achieving people about their secrets to success, more often it’s the little things they do every single day which point them in the right direction and keep them headed there. Here’s are the routines 20 executives say help them perform to their greatest ability.
1. Work out in the morning.
“It’s the only quiet time in my day, and I can focus my mind before heading into work. Further, when I take vacations, I often visit places where it’s hard to reach me. During that time, I can be in the moment without the distractions that can always come looking for us.”
–Ed Eger, CEO of Rewards Network, a restaurant finance and marketing provider which has been used by more than 90,000 restaurants
2. Surround yourself with joyful people.
“Misery is contagious. It’s slippery, it’s insidious, and it’s sneaky. You don’t even realize it’s shaded your sunshine until it’s too late. And then there you are: stuck. Stuck in a dark vortex of unhappiness, having lost all momentum to live your best life. But, here’s the thing: Joy works exactly the same way. You want to be happy? Surround yourself with a ‘framily’ — that combination of friends and family who shine your own standards of excellence back upon you, demand that you bring your best, and foster joy. Joy, too, is contagious, and compounding.”
–Laura Gassner Otting, former presidential appointee in Bill Clinton’s White House and author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life
3. Give yourself a daily dress rehearsal.
“In the morning, as I get up, get ready for work, make a cup of coffee, and then jump in the car, I talk out my upcoming day, literally out loud. Critical discussions I have on today’s docket, important meetings in which I intend to state my case or make an appreciable contribution, difficult messages I need to convey such as an employee termination or a contract dissolution, and of course, any official presentation I’m scheduled to deliver, I rehearse these things aloud so that by the time I’m in the moment, I’ve already explored and landed upon my favorite (and not-so-favorite) ways to express myself accurately and succinctly. It’s a great exercise to increase your confidence and power as a communicator, and to work out the bugs so you don’t inadvertently put your foot in your mouth.”
–Denise M. Dudley, behavioral psychologist and founder of SkillPath Seminars, a U.S. training company that delivers over 18,000 training sessions per year
4. Know when you are most productive.
“I don’t schedule meetings in the morning. I’m most productive in the morning and after 6 p.m., so I try and reserve that time for critical thinking and creative work.”
–Ryan Lessard, VP of marketing and growth at EaseCentral, a benefits enrollment platform used by more than 50,000 businesses
5. Eliminate small decisions.
“Throughout the course of the day, you make thousands of decisions. Some are trivial, like what song to listen to while you’re getting dressed, and some are major, like how to handle a big crisis at work. Eventually your brain reaches decision fatigue, which lowers the quality of all the decisions you make. I try to eliminate as many small decisions as possible by sticking to routine. During the work week, I eat the same food for breakfast and lunch, and stick to a pretty consistent wardrobe of basics to make the time I spend thinking about clothes and food as limited as possible.”
–Caroline Klatt, cofounder and COO of Headliner Labs, a chat marketing platform used by brands including Saks Fifth Avenue, Cole Haan, Sally Beauty, and Kenneth Cole
6. Question the status quo.
“Several times a day, I reflect on whether my team and I are taking the best approach in achieving our goals. I try to do this before I start any significant task that I work on myself or delegate. Advocating such an approach might seem obvious but actually people can quite quickly fall into the habit of doing things the same way they’ve been done before — by others or yourself — and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing things the ‘right’ way, in terms of efficiency, efficacy or creativity. It’s about questioning the status quo. The only way to keep innovating and to inspire your team is to keep asking whether what you’re doing actually makes sense. You’d be surprised how often you’ll think of improvements.”
–Joeri De Turck, CTO of OTA Insight, a provider of cloud-based business intelligence solutions for hoteliers which supports more than 40,000 properties in 168 countries
7. Track your habits.
“While I sip my coffee and eat my morning oats, I fill out my previous day’s habit tracker in my bullet journal. I have two journals that I love to update regularly: my training journal, where I stay organized with my training, and my bullet journal, where I keep track of my personal life, goals and aspirations. My favorite part is my habit tracker, where I keep a record of all the habits I am trying to form, such as regularly taking an iron supplement, stretching, meditating, and doing rehab exercises. When I fill in a bubble for each task I completed the day before, I am left with a huge sense of accomplishment and can go about the new day with a positive mindset.”
–Colleen Quigley, 2016 Olympian, Team USA track and field member and model
8. Practice gratitude before bed.
“Every night before I go to sleep I write down ten things I am grateful for. This practice provides perspective each night and shows me how blessed I truly am. My gratitude journal is an especially helpful reminder when things don’t go well at work or I’m having internal issues with my team. Knowing that things could be much worse helps me realize the issues I’m dealing with can be solved and aren’t worth the energy I’m spending worrying about them. This habit also puts me in a peaceful mood before bed that continues a positive tone when I wake up the next morning.”
–Sue Hawkes, founder and CEO of YESS!, a $1.3 million consulting firm that helps people succeed
9. Practice silence.
“I first notice the reassuring sounds of life around me: birds calling, traffic rumbling, people chattering. But if I then shift my focus inward — whether on a walk or in yoga, in meditation or before sleep — I tap into a realm of ideas, inventions, and solutions my rational mind could never have known. It’s easy to become frenetic over the tasks at hand and try to power through, but if I simply take the time to hear the how, everything else falls gracefully into place.”
–Suzanne Skees, founder of the Skees Family Foundation, which has invested $1.7 million in education and job creation to end global poverty
10. Answer every inquiry.
“Even if you don’t necessarily see the opportunity for mutual support with someone at first, building that connection and adding them to your network could prove fruitful in the future. You may simply thank them for the outreach, provide them with a helpful article or share a unique personal story but responding in a timely manner with appreciation for their time will plant that initial connection seed. Having a diverse and engaged network that knows you for giving first and asking later can pay off in dividends when it comes to company, career and entrepreneurial success.”
–Judy Robinett, author of Crack the Funding Code: How Investors Think and What They Need to Hear to Invest in Your Startup
11. Make purpose-driven action lists.
“I start any major initiative with a clear vision and higher purpose, then align my actions accordingly to make it into a reality. Every night I maintain an actionable list (no more than five to 10 doable tasks) that provides clarity and brings me closer to that vision and my ultimate goals. Then I prioritize the tasks that are in service to my highest level of commitment. By establishing a true north for myself, it’s easier to stay on course when distractions come up.”
–Gregg L. Witt, chief strategy officer at Engage Youth Co., a hybrid insights and marketing agency, and coauthor of The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In and Build Credibility
“Meditation has been shown to have mental benefits, such as improved focus, happiness, memory, self-control, performance and even reduces stress. So, first thing in the morning I reflect on what I’m grateful for. Then I spend about 20 minutes on Christian meditation that includes reading a devotion and passage of scripture and prayer.”
–Jesmane Boggenpoel, author, former head of business engagement at the World Economic Forum in Africa and co-shareholder and director of African Women Chartered Accountants Investment Holdings, a professional women investment company with over 2,000 women beneficiaries
13. Make a daily battleplan and avoid distractions to your goal.
“Every morning I make a list on my smart phone that I will look at often throughout the day of objectives I must accomplish that day. I add a few in that I would like to accomplish as well. That keeps me productive and paying attention to the objective instead of the many diversions that can take my eye off the ball. I move all diversions, like Facebook, to another folder on my smartphone that go to when I am not working. This keeps me focus on my goals, distraction free.”
–John Kearney, founder, CEO of Advanced Training Systems, which provides patented aerospace motion-and-virtual-reality simulators to train commercial truck drivers and used by some of the largest global trucking and shipping companies, as well as U.S. community colleges
14. Get up and go to bed early.
“I have seven things I do religiously every day: get up early — I work out early every day (including weekends) to jump start my batteries; visualize — during my workout I see my day and envision success; eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner; in addition to my medical practice, I produce at least one new thing new (write a blog, read a medical article, or record a podcast); practice mindfulness and meditation during a lunch walk to stay focused; spend time with my family; go to bed early to be fresh for the next day.”
–Mark P. Trolice, M.D. and director of Fertility CARE, an in vitro fertilization practice with success rates higher than the national average, and recipient of the American Medical Association’s Physicians’ Recognition Award each year since 2007
15. Look at metrics.
“I make it a daily habit to examine a series of key metrics to determine the condition of the business. That is, rather than just listening to what my executives tell me, I have a dashboard of statistics that shows me how we’re doing. Then I can make my own determination of where to focus. After all, much of the time I know I’m going to get information from the staff that is processed to make a point. If the data is properly collected, statistics don’t lie, and that’s what I rely on most. I always make it my focus to look first.”
–James D’Arezzo, CEO of Condusiv Technologies, a I/O reduction software company providing solutions used by 90 percent of the Fortune 1000 and almost three-quarters of the Forbes Global 100
16. Apply something learned from a mentor or coach.
“I rely on a personal mentor that’s ‘been there and done that’ as my own sounding board and I take action on guidance previously given on a daily basis that helps me keep the habit of progress over perfection front and center.”
–Stuart Long, CEO of Infobionic, a digital health company which has raised $50 million for expansion of its MoMe Kardia system for remote, wireless outpatient monitoring and diagnosis of cardiac arrhythmias
17. Keep a to-do list.
“My big tip for sanity is that I create a to-do list every day at the end of the day. I found I used to sleep with a pad or my phone by the bed and I would wake up in the middle of the night making notes for ‘don’t forget to do this tomorrow.’ I create the nightly list as a ritual. The act of writing down what needs to be done helps me feel less anxious and tasks become more manageable when all laid out in front of you. I will even add items to my calendar if they require future follow up part of a future to do list. Many individuals underestimate the value of an old-school to-do list, but the value it provides is undeniable.”
–Scott Taylor, president and COO of Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar, a full-service family sports bar on track to double its size in 2019 with over 100 locations in development across 15 states
18. Spend quality time with family.
“I have three teen and pre-teen daughters. Every night — sometimes over dinner, sometimes just before they go to bed — I’ll ask at least one of them: what was the best, the worst and the funniest thing that happened to you today? The answers are sometimes surprising and spark some great follow-on conversation. Other times, they’re pretty mundane. Every time though, these moments of simple reflection allow us a brief opportunity to pause and to connect… My kids frequently turn these simple questions… back onto me, and I find answering them and articulating those answers in approachable terms my kids can relate to a great way to keep a clear-headed perspective on my day, my responsibilities and my relationships in the office.”
–Jason Herthel, president and COO for Montage International, which includes Montage Hotels and Resorts, Pendry Hotels, Montage Residences, and Pendry Residences and golf courses and private clubs with more than $400 million in revenue in 2018
19. Get involved in your local community.
“I find that being involved in my local community, such as participating in alumni boards or attending philanthropy events, allows me to build new relationships with professionals outside of my industry and be proactive in sharing and hearing opinions on topics within my industry, as well. As someone who has lived in many different parts of the world including Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America, participating in local events helps me feel grounded, decompress outside of work and bring unique perspectives to work based on the pulse of what’s happening in my community.”
–Kanuj Malhotra, EVP of corporate development and president of digital student solutions for Barnes and Noble Education (BNED), a provider of higher education and K-12 educational products and solutions which serves about 100,000 subscribers in more than 15 countries and receiving more than 20 million unique monthly visitors to its sites
20. Keep learning.
“Knowledge is everywhere, and you need not attend the finest universities to get it. You can learn from people you meet. People do not mind sharing their knowledge with you, if you only care to ask interesting questions. When you stop learning, you ruin your chances of becoming a front-runner. I try to: listen to a TED talk while doing the dishes; listen to a lecture from a university when I run; read an article when I am on a bus or flight; read at least two to three pages of new literature before I go to bed; read different newspapers and watch different TV stations regularly; and meet new people with curiosity.”
–Soulaima Gourani, author, World Economic Forum expert, TED Talks mentor and global keynote speaker with over 200 global talks per year