If you want to achieve a higher level of success in life, you need to be intentional–it’s not just going to happen. Start by taking advice from more than two dozen executives who credit simple daily routines for helping them rise to the top.
1. Start your day with what matters most.
–Aaron Meyers, president and CCO of Hammer and Nails, a grooming shop for men with the brand having awarded licenses for nearly 300 shops and is working to have 250 locations open and operating by 2022
2. Look for ways to be 1 percent better every day.
“The key to building a better business or becoming a better version of yourself rests in making small, continuous improvements every single day. Instead of incorporating drastic changes in a short amount of time, focus on making something 1 percent better from the day before. That’s it, just 1 percent. It doesn’t sound like much, but those small improvements will start compounding, and that will gradually lead to the change you want. In time, you will start to see improvements in your business and in your life, and all it takes is a commitment to become just a little bit better every day.”
–Matthew Eichhorst, president of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, North America’s largest retail travel agency franchise, which opened 25 new franchise locations with 1,773 new vacation consultants in 2017
3. Run and work your brain.
“I start each morning with a run. Running activates a specific mindset and connects ideas in a sequential flow. It helps me dial in and focus my thoughts. You can’t establish this mentality in the office. Sitting at a desk with a pen and paper pad can only provide you with so much clarity. I’ve found that journaling a stream of unrelated thoughts does not aid problem-solving efforts. My best advice: run to uncover the best solution.”
–Shane Dunn, chief development officer of party bike brand Pedal Pub, which has over 40 licensed locations open and operating throughout the United States and aims to have 1,200 bikes operating by 2023
4. Keep your friends close and your pets closer.
“The day-to-day of an office can be stressful and taxing. One way I combat that is by bringing my [dog] with me to work each day. Studies have shown that hosting your furry friends in the work space, reduces stress levels and creates a more positive environment. Your company’s perception is also boosted, softening its image and presenting as progressive, lively and forward-thinking. While business is serious, I feel sorry for those who don’t get to have fun at work.”
–Mike Whalen, founder of Heart of American Group which employs more than 3,500 people across more than 40 restaurants, hotels and other retail; and CEO of Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, an expanding restaurant franchise with 15 locations across nine states
5. Minimize distractions.
“Start your day by setting clear priorities for yourself and then make a conscientious effort to minimize distractions. With leadership comes immense responsibility where the stress of not having enough hours in the day can become burdensome. With a few productivity hacks you can get creative to minimize distractions and maximize production. Limit the amount of small talk and conversations about current affairs, only check your email twice a day during scheduled times, screen your calls, and don’t be in a response mode all the time. Minor adjustments can help enhance your overall efficiency and benefit the entire team.”
–Mike Kernaghan, president and CEO of Bin There Dump That, a residential friendly dumpster rental service that has reached 100 territories in the United States in less than ten years with plans to operate in 300 more territories in both the United States and Canada by 2028
6. Leverage the knowledge of your team.
“To harness a diverse set of viewpoints and ideas, I always seek the input of employees to develop new initiatives or solve an issue. No matter what level an employee is at, listen to their ideas and ask for their opinion–their knowledge is our company’s most valuable asset. Hearing fresh perspectives and a variety of inputs is a great way to combat having a stale brand and leads to success in innovation and finding cutting-edge solutions. This also shows employees that they have a voice that is heard and matters, which elevates moral and gives them a true purpose within the workplace.”
–Dara Maleki, founder and CEO of The Pizza Press, a fast-casual, build-your-own pizza franchise with 17 locations in Southern California, Texas and Florida, with plans to have 30 restaurants opened by mid-2018
7. Begin the day with a specific purpose.
“I’ve found that being busy all day doesn’t necessarily equate to getting things done. It’s easy to get caught up in the fire drills, meetings, and typical busy work that rule our professional lives, but the drawback is that at the end of the day, rather than feeling accomplished, we end up just feeling exhausted–and maybe a little frustrated that our to-do list went unchecked–again. Something I try to do every morning is begin the day with a specific purpose. When I have a clear vision of what I want to accomplish, I’m more likely to be able to cross at least one item off my list at the end of the day. And chances are good that I’ll stay on track with other priorities, as well. One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits is to ‘begin with the end in mind.’ That’s great advice for anyone who wants to remain focused despite daily obstacles.”
–Brad Hillier, CEO of Re-Bath, the largest complete bathroom remodeling franchise in the U.S. and named number six on Qualified Remodeler’s 2017 Top 500 list
8. Recognize important moments in the lives of employees.
“Whether someone has a loved one who is sick or passed away, had a child graduate from high school or college, is celebrating the birth of a child or grandchild, or is getting married or remarried, I try to write a short personal handwritten note recognizing and expressing my sentiments–hopefully congratulations but sometimes sorrow and condolences–about what’s going on in their lives. I certainly don’t do this every day, but you need to have an everyday mindset about this if you are genuinely committed to it and if you want it to become part of your management style. As much as monetary recognition is meaningful to people, these personal notes are also very meaningful and greatly appreciated, and I think this has helped us develop the caring culture we have in our organization today.”
–Dan Tarantin, president and CEO of Harris Research, Inc., (HRI), the parent company of home service franchise brands Chem-Dry Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning and N-Hance Wood Renewal, with the former having added more than 80 units a year for six consecutive years and has averaged more than 100 per year over the past three years and the latter having averaged close to 90 units a year over the past five years, more than doubling its system size during that time period
9. Commit to 30 minutes of exercise a day, no excuses.
“Whether it is in the morning to energize my day or at night to clear my head, I rely on this time as a mental reset. If I feel the need to jump start my day, a 30-minute workout gives me a feeling of accomplishment and puts me on the road to a productive day. If I need to reset my brain at the end of busy day a 30-minute walk or run allows me to relax my brain and think clearly on what I need to accomplish. I am a firm believer that the body fuels the mind.”
–Andrew Diamond, CFO and president of Angry Crab Shack, a full-service Cajun seafood restaurant brand which began franchising in 2017 and currently operates six corporate locations with one franchise location, with the goal of having 100 locations open and operating by 2023
10. Start your day alone without distractions.
“It seems selfish but you have to start the day solo without distractions, meetings or phone calls which means the first couple hours of your day are all about you. This allows you to tackle key items that unlock accomplishment and opportunity for you and your team, as well as maximize what is usually the most potent decision-making time of the day–the morning. This allows you to guide the day, rather than it being taken over by random distractions. It’s all about focus.”
–Michael Abramson, president and co-owner of D1 Training, a company focused on creating, equipping and unleashing the next generation of athletes across the country, with system revenue increasing more than 120 percent during the last annual fiscal cycle
11. Feed your curiosity.
“Set aside some of your prime work time every day to read and learn about anything that interests you. Innovation comes from making connections other people don’t see. Some of Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic genius was the result of his study of anatomy, mechanics, and engineering–fields that aren’t often linked to art. I couldn’t have predicted how useful my background in cognitive psychology and behaviorism would be in my current work creating learning software, but almost anything I read can lead me to a new way of thinking about our business. Whether it’s books about presenting, negotiating, making war, influencing, statistics, language, history, or anything else, there’s something there to learn about how to work differently and make connections other people don’t see.”
–Hilary Scharton, VP of K-12 Product Strategy for Canvas by Instructure, an open online learning management system (LMS) which has connected millions of instructors and learners at more than 3,000 educational institutions and corporations throughout the world
12. Only eat twice a day.
“The fewer small decisions I have to make, the more mental space I have for my business. This is why I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning at the same time. Instead of stressing daily about what to eat, I know exactly how my mornings will go because that decision has already been made. It’s one more thing off my busy plate. As an entrepreneur, I look for ways to systematize and optimize everything I do. Furthermore, when it comes to food, I only eat twice a day–in the mornings and evenings. Digestion takes energy, and the less energy I allocate to digestion the more mental energy I have for the rest of my day at work.”
–Francis Dinha, CEO of OpenVPN, a security-focused open source VPN protocol with over 50 million downloads since its inception
13. Keep a handwritten to-do list.
“I’m sure lots of people do this, but I review and prioritize it daily, marking which items were important and in what order depending on time sensitivity. I have decided not to digitize my to-do list because the process of writing my list helped me think through each item’s relative importance and also committed them to memory. Having a physical notebook also allows me to review and adjust it anytime I’m waiting at an appointment or in between meetings easily. As I complete items, I get the satisfaction of crossing them out and seeing what had been accomplished. When there are more things to add or too many items crossed out, I rip out the old page and rewrite my to-list every few days, when I again assess the priority of the items I’m writing. If it’s been a few weeks or months when I see the same items, I drop them from the list because they clearly weren’t important enough relative to everything else. This habit helps keep me focused on what is truly needed for both short-term and long-term tasks and keeps me disciplined on ensuring items that don’t get my attention get handled another way or removed as a distraction.”
–Daisy Hernandez, global VP for SAP Labs (SAP Jam), who built an organization and team at SAP for a collaboration technology product with 51 million subscribers and over 2,600 customers, and has been recognized as SAP’s top talent for the last 10 years
14. Take care of yourself.
“It’s not easy being a surgeon, as each day carries its different challenges. But having an amazing team filled with talented and effective individuals and making sure I take the time to take care of myself–these are the things that have led to my success. Maintaining a daily routine helps me balance my life. I wake up and go bed at decent hours, minimizing overall stress and the potential to overwork. I start my day off with a glass of grape juice, fruits and coffee, which give me the energy I need to stay alert throughout the day. On days I don’t have surgery, I’m training with my personal trainer at 5 a.m. before heading to the clinic. I work out three to five times per week, focusing on cardio, hot Pilates and weights (I always preach core training to my patients). Sometimes after work I attend business meetings, network, and spend time with my daughter, helping her with homework. While I’m always thinking of ways to keep myself as sharp as possible, I also recognize the importance of downtime, decompressing, and reflecting on all that I have already accomplished. Keeping a work-life balance can be difficult, but having a healthy mind and body makes it much easier. It has also undoubtedly made me more successful.”
–Dr. Raj, a Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine and joint replacement expert who has been featured on E!, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, BuzzFeed, TMZ and more for his medical commentary
15. Make face-to-face connections.
“Always keep some time open on your calendar to connect with your team face to face. In my day-to-day, it is so easy to fill up every minute of my calendar given all the requests for my time. I think this is true for most executives. But I always keep a couple of open blocks to make sure I can respond quickly to items that need my attention on short notice. Those are also the times I use to recharge, connect with customers, or just walk around the office. I get a lot of energy from face-to-face engagement with our employees. There is a lot you can learn through ad-hoc check-ins that might not be revealed in scheduled meetings.”
–Mike Sullivan, CEO of Acquia, a digital experience company that was rated one of the hottest 100 private technology companies in cloud computing by Forbes Magazine and serves more than 3,500 customers globally
16. Be a positive presence.
“Smile, say hello, and generally be a happy, friendly face. We’re all busy, stressed and focused on the task at hand. When it comes to making the most of meetings, I like to ensure my colleagues feel valued. I try to understand what they need, seek to be helpful, and, at all times, thank people for their time and effort. We always have enough time to say thank you. Remember that while we are all working hard, we’re all people. If in the course of a busy day someone needs a quick answer, or is stuck, making just five minutes of time can help another save hours. The gift of one person’s time can in turn help others give the gift of their time. So, take a moment and pay it forward.”
–Kevin Cochrane, CMO of SAP Customer Experience, a business unit of SAP which was named Germany’s most valuable brand in 2018
17. Stay current on news, trends and tech developments.
“Every day for the last four decades, I’ve spent at least an hour scanning articles, ads, announcements, papers and videos, looking for new developments and improvements in hardware, software, algorithms, capacity, capability, and user experience. Getting in early on trends and new developments, in order take advantage of important technology changes, is a big part of entrepreneurial success. Advances in capacity, capability and speed, combined with rapidly improving economics, fuel my passion for building new products and companies.”
–Ken Gardner, founder and CEO of marketing analytics company conDati, and software industry veteran who has founded and led five analytics startups to successful exits
18. Use psychological strength to succeed.
“Every day, I try my best to use psychological strength in order to succeed at my profession.This includes being tenacious, having a clear vision, identifying a niche and going all-in on an opportunity, creating a warm, family-like work atmosphere, eliminating negative self-talk, and always seeking that next challenge. I was fortunate to be raised by parents who made sure I understood that I was capable and intelligent enough to do anything I wanted, if I only put my mind to it. I always try and keep this in mind whenever I’m faced with a professional obstacle, whether that be trying to improve the business through marketing, new procedures, or restructuring and optimizing the flow systems of patient care.”
–Alexander Rivkin M.D., a Yale-trained facial cosmetic surgeon, an Assistant Clinical Professor at the David Geffen, UCLA School of Medicine, and the creator of Non-Surgical Rhinoplasty
19. Leave your ego at the door.
“[My routine] starts with getting a good night’s sleep, seven to eight hours. I get up, work out for 15 minutes, meditate for 15 minutes, have a light, high-protein breakfast or smoothie, then go. This sets me up to come to work clear-minded and ready to support my teammates in our collective mission of alleviating suffering. When I get to my clinic, I leave my ego at the door. My central contribution to the achievement of our mission is not being too concerned about who gets the credit for our success. I want my teammates to shine. I offer support in all the ways that I can think of, and I ask for what support they would like. We support one another in identifying and letting go of whatever may get in the way of optimum performance. At the end of the day, we know we can accomplish anything with integrity and clear, honest communication.”
–Dr. Steven L. Mandel, a board-certified anesthesiologist with a master’s degree in psychology whose clinic–Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles–specializes in the administration of ketamine to dramatically improve the quality of life of patients battling depression, suicidality, anxiety, other mood disorders, and chronic pain
20. Juggle your business and personal priorities.
“To be successful in our always on-society, I advocate integrating work and life to ensure you are meeting your employer’s expectations as well as those from your family. My career (I love where I work and what I do) and my family (my wife and children are core to my success) are all very important to me. As a leader in the office and at home, this means that I may need to manage a personal matter in the middle of the day or navigate business-related activities in the evening. To make it all happen, I use my calendar extensively to prioritize commitments. As long as I don’t miss deadlines or important events–whether its quarterly company reporting or attending my son’s basketball game–I’m able to perform at my very best. This flexible approach to juggling business and personal priorities has been key to my success.”
–Eric Johnson, CEO of Nintex, an intelligent process automation company which recently announced Thoma Bravo as its new lead investor
21. Take five minutes to reflect and build your mental muscles.
“Every evening, I reflect for five minutes before falling asleep. In my role, every day is busy but also completely different from the last. It’s important I take a step back and reflect on what was accomplished, what I learned from those new experiences, and what I can improve on next time. I encourage my team to do the same and take stock of what they were proud of that day or what they think could have gone better. Most importantly, this ritual is a chance to consider what we can do tomorrow to be a better person to others. Committing to this practice every day builds the muscle of calmness and gratefulness that positively impacts both your professional and personal lives.”
–Adnan Mahmud, founder and CEO of LiveStories, a platform that helps government agencies manage, visualize and publish data, a 2014 graduate of TechStars Seattle, and named to the GeekWire 200 as one of the fastest growing startups in the Pacific Northwest
22. Plan tomorrow before going to bed tonight.
“Take the time at the end of the day to assimilate everything that happened that day, wrap up loose ends and have a clear game plan for the next day. This helps me sleep better and wake up ready to tackle the day right away. I was influenced early on by Stephen Covey’s classic ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ and per his advice, I try to have goals and daily plans for all my roles–at work, in the community and in my personal life.”
–Mary Pat Donnellon, CMO of CallRail, a provider of call tracking and analytics to more than 90,000 companies and marketing agencies in North America that received $75 million in funding last fall
23. Block out time for your best thinking.
“Figure out what part of the day you are the most productive and block that time out for important work. During your less productive hours, you can use that time to read and respond to operational work and status reports. For me, my most productive hours are 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., so I often defensively schedule that time to work on tasks that require a high degree of concentration and do my best to ignore interruptions like emails and phone calls. I then spend mid-afternoon and my train-ride home on items that require attention or awareness on my part, but not my best thinking.”
–Nate Ulery, managing director at West Monroe Partners, a business/technology consulting firm which was recently named one of the country’s Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services by consultancy Great Place to Work and Fortune
24. Address issues as they happen.
“I always believe that it is best to deal with problems as they occur and not procrastinate through avoidance. An example would be issues that need to be corrected with team members. Deal with them professionally and rationally as they occur, use them as a learning experience and never surprise a team member in a quarterly or annual review. If there is a performance issue, it should have already been dealt with so that costly mistakes are not repeated.”
–Pete Baldine, president of Moran Family of Brands, a franchisor of general automotive repair, transmission repair, window tinting and driver safety products with more than 120 franchise locations across the country
25. Record your top three most important tasks of the day.
“Many of us have commutes that take our thoughts in different directions, but sometimes we fail to capture or remember them. I find the early morning commute to be the best time to capture my most important to-dos for the day. When a business thought or task crosses my mind, I immediately record it no matter how trivial that it may be. Once I get to the office, I prioritize my most important to-dos into a top three and I do not leave until they are accomplished. Some of the bigger ideas go into another list that I work on as time allows.”
–Matt Phillips, president and CMO of AdvantaClean, a national franchised provider of light environmental services and ranked 85th on Entrepreneur Magazine’s fastest-growing-franchises list
Correction: An earlier version of this article misattributed tip No. 5, minimize distractions. It was provided by Mike Kernaghan, president and CEO of Bin There Dump That.