19 highly accomplished execs share the one daily habit that's the key to their success

  • The habits you return to every day can predict your success in both your professional and personal life.
  • According to business executives, simple activities like jogging, meditating, list-making, and taking lunch breaks are great for your mental health as well as productivity.
  • If you adopt any of these 19 routines, you’re more likely to be less stressed, more focused at work, and happier at home.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Everyone knows it takes time, discipline and focus to be the best at something andto achieve really great things. That’s why the good and bad habits which you return toevery day are the best predictors of whether or not you will soar in your personal and professional arenas.

Here are the routines that successful executives say have been most instrumental in helping them achieve their goals.

1. Always take your lunch break

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re too busy to take a break from work, even if it’s just a 30-minute stop for lunch. But doing this can actually be very detrimental to your business and your own productivity. Downtime is incredibly important … You need to step away and recharge your batteries so you can return to the task you’re working on with a fresh perspective.”

—Ed Molyneux, cofounder and CEO of FreeAgent, which provides award-winning cloud accounting software services to over 70,000 UK accountants, small businesses and freelancers

2. Honestly assess your behavior for the day before you fall asleep

“Before falling asleep each night, I ask myself: ‘Do I like how I showed up today?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ then I explore why. If the answer is ‘no,’ I examine why. This inquiry is about how others experience me and the quality of my day. It is not about what I get done, but rather who I am in the face of the day’s experiences. This to me is a simple yet essential ingredient for being a conscious leader.”

—Tom Eddington, Silicon Valley strategic advisor and owner of Eddington Advisory Services which helped client Hewitt Associates expand from 2,200 to 25,000 associates in 12 years

3. Use tech tools

“Productivity apps like Asana are key for keeping organized and maintaining visibility across the entire company. In other words, it makes sure you get things done. By using tech tools to support my day-to-day action items, I can be productive by identifying areas that need my assistance or offer input where attention is needed. Tech tools like Slack also help to stay connected nearly 24 hours of the day. By providing yourself, and your team, the ability to leverage productivity tools and apps, you empower the entire team to make decisions and create a culture of doing so.”

— Edward Woodford, cofounder and CEO of Seed CX, a digital asset exchange for institutional investors which has raised $25 million in funding to date

4. Turn off all your notifications and block time for work

“No, seriously, do it. ‘I can’t find the time to do actual work!’ I hear this all the time. But what people usually mean is ‘I haven’t yet learned how to prioritize what is important for me or my work, and get it done.’ Do this: block at least three- to four-hour chunks every day to do work and protect that time furiously. And, permanently turn off all of your notifications on your phone and computer. Scared of missing out? This is the difference between a reactive and a creative leader: As long as you are driven by other people’s priorities you will never be able to accomplish what is important to you and your work.”

— Marina Malaguti, director of data engineering at Jellyvision, a 400-plus person employee benefits communications software company serving more than 100 Fortune 500 companies and more than 1,500 large enterprises across the US

5. Take a breather

“A very wise person told me that when you chase into projects, you’ll always be behind, always striving to get to something that is moving. It has proven to be incredibly true: When you take a few minutes and reset yourself and then engage with the task at hand, when the task is at hand (not before it is at hand) … magic happens.”

— Brendan Caulfield, cofounder and chief revenue officer at ServerCentral Turing Group (SCTG), a cloud consultancy and data center operator with 120 employees and nine data centers on four continents

6. Focus on what counts

“Our brains love the feeling that comes from juggling multiple things at once, but it actually hurts productivity. Start the day by deciding on a very small number of important tasks that you need to accomplish and zeroing in on those items only. Close out of email, Slack, etc., and methodically go one-by-one down the list of to-dos. You can concentrate with no distractions, and you’ll feel more accomplished having crossed a few solid tasks off your list as opposed to making incremental progress on a lot of different things.”

— Ryan Coon, founder and CEO of Avail, an online property management software for independent landlords that handles things including rental applications and maintenance requests used by more than 115,000 landlords and 230,000 tenants

7. Take a cold shower

“A day is often filled with hard choices, from addressing tough issues at work to choosing healthy meals over junk food. I like to start the day with a cold shower, because no matter how many times I do it, it’s never the easy choice. You could turn the tap [one way] and have that nice, warm and comforting shower, or turn it [the other way] and have the shock of a stark, harsh cold shower. You always feel better after the cold shower, but at the time you make that decision, it’s always hard. This small act helps condition me to be comfortable doing the difficult things that success often requires.”

— Oliver Yonchev, US managing director of Social Chain, a global, social-first marketing agency with clients including Amazon, Coca-Cola, Nokia, DreamWorks, and Disney

8. Experiment with out-of-the-box ideas, and be OK when some of them fail

“I try to experiment with as many crazy ideas as I can when it comes to building my business. You never know what’s going to unlock a new growth channel or solve a problem you’ve had on your mind for weeks. You might spend 30 minutes on something that turns out to supercharge your business — but chances are that happened in the midst of hours, days and weeks trying other things that fell flat. People are successful not in spite of their failures, but because they are willing to fail a lot and determined to keep trying new things.”

— Katherine Prescott, founder and CEO of VoiceBrew, a digital media brand that helps people get the most out of Amazon Alexa and has experienced 224% growth in subscribers month over month since February 2019

9. Be present to those close to you

“Woody Allen has said, “80% of success is showing up.” For me, this starts with spending time with my wife and five children before dropping off the three oldest ones at school. Doing so is a great reminder of why I work as hard as I do each day. When I get to the office, I review all the emails, texts, and voice messages from the prior day to make sure I have responded appropriately. It sounds so simple, but just being present often leads to great success.”

— Rich Ransom, CEO of Reliefband Technologies, which offers patented, FDA-cleared, wearable technology that treats motion sickness through neuromodulation and is available at retailers such as SamsClub.com, Amazon, and FSAStore.com

10. Tackle the biggest priorities on your to-do list first

“I love starting my day early and getting to the gym (even if I’m only there for a quick 30-minute session), to refresh my mind. Doing so helps me start the day with a ton of energy. The night before, I create a clear to-do list with the deliverables I need to tackle for the day ahead and the remainder of the week. I always write my tasks down on paper and sort by biggest priorities first. I suggest taking on your biggest priorities first thing in the morning so you can ensure you have enough time to dedicate to these important tasks. I also share my to do-lists with my team so we can collaborate when necessary, too.”

— Dani Egna, founder and CEO of INKED by Dani, a hand-drawn temporary tattoo brand available in over 6,000 retail locations, with retailers including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Hot Topic, American Eagle Outfitters, Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters

11. Focus on the people you love before picking up your phone in the morning

“For me, taking time for myself does not set me up for a good day. It’s hard for me to imagine meditating and then running five miles when I am waking up with a wife and two young kids at home. I try to make sure I have spent relaxed time, even a few minutes, with the members of my family, before I pick up my phone. That device is going to communicate stresses and urgent opportunities to me that I have to act on right away. I’m going to face those with far greater strength if I have made the people I love feel my presence before I get started. Otherwise, what’s it for?”

— Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Piano, a subscription management and customer experience technology provider powering over 1,000 media brands

12. Go for a run every morning

“If I don’t go for a run before making it into work, my day is thrown off. Running, especially with my dogs, is a way for me to reconnect with myself and the day ahead of me. I’ll use the time to think through the day and any problems I have to solve, so by the time I make it to the office I feel refreshed physically and mentally.”

— Marissa Tarleton, CEO at RetailMeNot, a savings website and app which provides online and in-store coupons, codes and cash back offers that facilitated nearly $5 billion in global sales in 2018

13. Wake up early and designate “deep thinking time”

“I wake up around 6:30 a.m. every day. This is because in the early-morning hours, when the business is still and silent, I find I can focus and concentrate best. I use this time to see things through, brainstorm, send inspirational content and ideas I’ve found to my team, analyze data and set myself daily targets. It’s essentially my designated ‘deep thinking time.’ Accompanied by freshly brewed coffee and lounge music, I find that I can reflect on the previous day and that I don’t get distracted. Sometimes I find I’m even more productive if I start my day at my favorite cafe rather than at home or in the office. A different location to the norm gives me more headspace.”

—Dustin Figge, cofounder and CEO of Homelike, a $20 million startup which enables business travelers to book long-term business accommodation online

14. Get into the habit of frontloading your work

“One of the most important habits I’ve developed throughout my career is frontloading. Regardless of whether I’m working on a massive six-month long project or a task that will take me a few days, I’ve found that it is critical to put in maximum effort at the beginning. This saves a lot of time in the long run and gives you more breathing space to think about and improve your work. Leaving things until the last minute may work for college students, but in the business world where lots of things are always flying around, frontloading is key. I give this guidance to all of the startups I work with. If they establish this as a habit from the first day building their business, it can help them to establish a high speed working style that will help them succeed. On a separate note, daily exercise and meditation keeps me calm and collected, even if I have a really busy schedule or am travelling.”

—Magnus Grimeland, cofounder and CEO of Antler, a global startup generator which recently launched in New York City and has invested $5 million in 47 portfolio companies in Singapore and Stockholm

15. Brutally dismiss all activities that don’t matter

“Whatever you’re doing, know you can’t do everything, be everywhere, and manage all things. So instead focus only on what is important and dismiss everything else. This may sound easy, but it’s not. Be brutal: this means cancelling all meetings, phone calls, emails, or activity that doesn’t impact what is important. This stops you wasting time chasing opportunities and doing things that don’t matter. Color-code your calendar into meetings that matter and meetings that don’t impact what is important. You may be surprised with how much you can cut out. If you only focused on the things that matter, you’ll get there a lot faster. It’s easy to be busy. It’s hard to get things done.”

— Peter Briffett, cofounder and CEO of Wagestream, a ‘get paid as you earn’ app which recently raised $50 million

16. Exercise and practice mindfulness

“When I first get up I endeavor to either do 30 minutes of gentle yoga or 10 to 15 minutes of mindfulness practice as I find that it really clears my mind, relaxes me and sets me up well for the busy day ahead. I also make sure I have breakfast with my three young children at least three times during the week before work as family is the most important thing to me, plus they are hilarious and always put me in a good mood. For the same reason, whenever possible I make sure that I am home to put the kids to bed. I then tend to do a workout as I have much more motivation to work out in the evenings than the mornings. Lastly, both my wife and I try to stay away from our phones for a couple of hours and spend a bit of quality time together.”

— Matt Poll, cofounder and CEO of Neos, an insurance startup which provides customers with smart security technology to help protect their homes and named no.11 in the world’s top 100 most disruptive businesses by disrupt100.com

17. Surround yourself with smart people and trust them to do their best

“My whole approach to life — to managing, to parenting, to everything where I’m in any sort of leadership position — is that I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I will show you how to do it. Listen. Everybody is going to nod their heads whenever the boss speaks, and if I tell an employee to do X, well, they’ll do X. But it’s better to give them the tools and knowledge and then trust them to do their best work, because honestly, that’s what most people are out to do: their best. I don’t want a team that’s motivated by fear of losing their paycheck as much as animated by the fact that I trust them to achieve their best. I always say I want to be the dumbest person at my company, and surround myself with smarter people. You don’t have to be the best player on the team to be good at directing traffic. The trick to success, and the habit I’ve worked hard to build is to know when to step back instead of just barking orders.”

—Eric Yaverbaum, founder and CEO of Ericho Communications, a 35-year market veteran, and author of bestselling books including PR for Dummies

18. Measure as much as you can

“I try to find ways to make my life quantifiable: what can I measure, what can I count? That may not seem like a big deal, but it really is. It lets me build daily specific goals that I can know whether or not they have been achieved. So, for example, I try to walk five miles every day, without fail. But this goes further … How many times have I emailed my employees today to encourage their work? How many team members have I singled out for praise today?”

— Liz Elting, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and cofounder and former co-CEO of TransPerfect, a provider of language and technology solutions with over $700 million in revenues and more than 5,000 employees in over 90 cities around the globe, as well as founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation

19. Stay on top of industry news

“The first thing I do every morning — and all throughout the day, honestly — is check my industry news. News, markets, statistics and even facts these days are constantly shifting … I subscribe to all the best industry press, keep up with my news notifications and triple-check every article I read to be sure that I’m not reading or spreading misinformation. Staying on top of the news in your field is my personal key to success.”

— Arran Stewart, cofounder and CVO of Job.com, a blockchain-powered, rewards-based recruitment platform with more than 60 million users worldwide

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