Here are the Little Things Highly Successful People do Differently to Get Ahead of Everyone Else
By Christina DesMarais
Achieving more in life doesn’t have to involve monumental effort. Think about it this way: If you got out of bed five minutes earlier every day, in a month you would have 150 extra minutes to get things done. That’s more than 30 hours of additional time over the course of a year. Here are some more ideas on simple daily habits which can help you get ahead of everyone else.
1. Train yourself to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
“Transitioning from high heat to very cold situations creates a stressful environment for your body, but this should be embraced. Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable–both mentally and physically–allows you to thrive, even in the most stressful situations.”
–Thomas Carlton, member of Dallien Realty’s top-producing agent team, The Hudson Team, which specializes in providing advisory services to New York City landlords and developers, and domestic and international buyers, renters, sellers and investors, closing over 100 transactions annually; and model with Wilhelmina International
2. Add to good karma by paying it forward.
“Paying it forward and solving small problems that affect the lives of many people can be very powerful and rewarding. It’s the same concept as what we see every year at Burning Man. Give something to the community without expecting immediate reward and everybody’s life will be richer for it.”
–Ivan Novikov, CEO of Wallarm, provider of an AI-powered application protection solution used by hundreds of enterprises and SaaS companies, and number 805 in Inc. magazine’s 37th annual Inc. 5000 in 2018
3. Encourage feedback and always assume positive intent.
“I encourage feedback and one habit I have come to stick to over the years is always assuming the intent behind feedback is positive. It’s all too easy for ego to get in the way of being a great manager, partner, or colleague, so–regardless of who I am receiving direct feedback from–I try to remain open to the sentiment and detail. If you can overcome the human urge to be defensive and respond without understanding, feedback can make a significant difference in your daily personal and business performance.”
–Zlatko Vucetic, CEO of FocusVision, an insights and analytics technology solutions provider used by 18 of the top 20 Fortune 100 companies, and the top 10 healthcare and CPG companies
4. Follow up.
“It’s so simple, yet so often overlooked. Whether it’s a short thank-you note or a quick email to a new contact or a gentle nudge to pursue an opportunity, I’ve mastered the art of the follow-up and it’s now a habit in how I do business. There would be so many missed opportunities if I hadn’t learned that gentle persistence is key to carving your own path.”
–Shannon Lohr, founder of Factory45, an online accelerator program that launches sustainable and ethical fashion brands which has grown by 900 percent since launching in 2014
5. Wake up early.
“With more than 15,000 clients around the world and a staff dispersed across continents, getting everyone on the same page quickly is critical. I’ve found that by waking up each day at 4:30 a.m., I’m able to communicate and collaborate more effectively with my colleagues in all corners of the world before my day gets busier with domestic communications and projects. Plus, I’m not only able to be more productive and efficient in the office, but also take time for myself and get a few important tasks done before the rest of the world wakes up and I have to turn on my work mode for the rest of the day.”
–Dux Raymond-Sy, CMO of AvePoint, an IT services provider and Microsoft Partner of the Year award winner serving 16,000 companies and 6 million SharePoint and Office 365 users worldwide
6. Continuously challenge assumptions.
“Success comes from seeing something before others see it, or by finding ways to do something better, faster or cheaper than ever before. By nature, most people take the world around them at face value, relying on the notion that things are the way they are and don’t change because ‘That’s the way we’ve always done things.’ It makes sense–certainty is a comfortable way to live. I tend to look at things a little differently, instead approaching most everything in life with the question ‘Why is this done the way it is done?’ Typically people have a surface level answer, ‘Because…,’ but I always drill down about four more layers of asking ‘OK, but why?’ Revisiting these assumptions uncovers bad or false assumptions, opening a path to new ideas and new ways to approach problems. If you want to create more value at work or in your family life, constantly revisit the assumptions you and others make about people, beliefs, processes, contracts, language and anything else that could potentially be improved with a fresh approach. I think you’ll find that your persistent curiosity can drive consistent innovation.”
–Joshua Siegel, founder and CEO of StoneCastle, a financial technology company managing over $14 billion on behalf of its clients
7. Enjoy, measure and maximize every minute of your life.
“When I finally sit in my armchair in years to come… I want to be able to reflect on my life and think I could not have tried any harder or achieved much more. I have experienced all the things I wanted, worked hard, had fun and made a positive difference to my family, especially my daughters, the people around me and those I worked with and businesses I have built. Life is in your hands. Do not make excuses, take responsibility and make things happen. When certain aspects do not go as planned, it’s best to move on quickly. Take responsibility to get things sorted, as focused activity in equals results out. I assure you that even when things look tough, if you keep going, circumstances will change and you will be successful and look back thinking, ‘Well, that was an experience.’ That’s what makes life fun–it is unpredictable.”
–Mark Holweger, president and CEO of the insurance division of Legal and General America, a top 10 U.S. life insurer that ended 2017 with in excess of $703 billion of coverage in force with 1.3 million U.S. customers
8. Carry a notebook into every meeting.
“When speaking with a client, an employee, a vendor, or anyone, as a manager I need to keep track of what was discussed and what needs to happen as a result of the meeting. Can you remember what you discussed with someone two months ago? It has to be a [paper] notebook because many times a chart may be drawn on a whiteboard, or a picture might be scribbled out and those just are not easily transcribed without major interruption. I’m not a technophobe–I worked at Apple with Steve Jobs many years ago–but the technology just doesn’t beat the notebook in this situation. I make all of our interns learn this skill.”
–Barry L. Star, founder and CEO of Wall Street Horizon which provides corporate event data covering more than 7,000 companies worldwide and over 40 different event types
9. Be respectful of people’s time and inboxes.
“We’re living in a time where email, texting, and chat tools make it all too easy to feel the many effects of information overload, and that will only continue to be a key risk to success in the future. For any email chain I’m included in, I consciously move those who aren’t needed for decision making to bcc, and keep only those who need to come to the virtual decision-making table on the chain. By doing this and encouraging my team to do so as well, we’re able to make faster decisions and spare email inboxes, thus saving significant time and energy.”
–Gabriele Columbo, executive director of FINOS, the Fintech Open Source Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization which connects global financial services organizations like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, BNY Mellon, and Citigroup with technology innovators to bring open source technology to the finance space
10. Get out of bed immediately after waking.
“As a young Marine I learned that how you wake up and approach the day could be life or death… There is no shortage of examples of successful people who believe in getting up early. If you are like me, it takes a lot of discipline to not give in to the voice in your head telling you to ‘sleep just five more minutes.’ It might seem like a harmless thing to do, but it’s a trap. I am a big believer in intention, and if the first intention of your day is to give in to procrastination or laziness, then you could fall into that same trap with important decisions that have more impact in your life. Living a successful life is difficult to do without intent. You can formalize your intent by writing out your goals. Those goals in turn shape your daily actions, and in the words of one of my favorite authors Napoleon Hill, ‘The way to success is the way to action, based upon organized thinking followed by action, action, action.'”
–Daniel Sloan, cofounder and SVP of BlockchainSaw, a software development and services company which helps clients understand the blockchain-based technology landscape, its value proposition, and its potential business implications which also does blockchain development for a number of Fortune 500 companies including Audi, Exxon, and Rocket Lawyer
11. Be prepared.
“Prepare, prepare and prepare–that’s the only way to improvise and adapt when the situation calls for it. Don’t try to have the perfect day, work on balancing things out so you have the perfect month (internal/external, strategy/operations, thinking/doing, work/family). And finally, take life seriously, but not too seriously.”
–Adolfo Hernandez, CEO of SDL, a global content management, translation and customer experience company that works with 85 out of the top 100 global brands
12. Plan ahead and leave time to unwind.
“Prepping is crucial before another busy day begins. I like to look at my calendar the night before to see what my schedule looks like. I’ve found that, if I prepare myself even a little bit, I’m already a step ahead and can mentally prepare myself for what the day holds. Planning ahead and staying focused is not only an asset for myself but also for my team. It’s also important to limit your to-do list to what is actually achievable. Do the easy tasks first (maybe even on your commute), and then dive into the harder tasks when you have the right space to work in. Knowing what you need to accomplish helps you focus on the tasks at hand and leaves more room for re-energizing for the week ahead. At the end of the day, I make sure to unwind, get a good night of sleep and I wake up refreshed knowing what’s to come.”
–Amy LeBold, head of people at AdRoll Group, a growth platform company helping businesses compete online to grow revenue, with over 500 employees in six offices around the world
13. Invest in yourself.
“I feel the most empowered when I’m cycling or training for a triathlon. Being a tri-geek, as I call it, allows me to take my mind off of work and focus on doing things that benefit my state of well-being. Plus, it clears my head, makes me feel more determined and overall, helps me be a better version of myself. I’m more focused and more productive at work. No matter how plugged in I am on a daily basis, it’s factored into my schedule to spend time on bettering myself. Ultimately, investing in myself allows me to invest in those around me, which is the real key to success.”
–Keith Eadie, VP and GM of Adobe Advertising Cloud, which acquired TubeMogul in 2016 to simplify media planning and buying across TV and digital devices
“It’s no secret that how you start your morning can set the foundation for the rest of your day, so I make it a priority to begin mine with a brisk run. I believe it’s one of my ingredients for success. No matter where I am, or what weather conditions I may be in, I’ll make sure to tie up my running shoes and take a quick-paced 10K run before I begin my day. Doing so lets me clear my mind so that I’m fully prepared to handle the challenges that may be waiting for me.”
–Taj Manku, CEO of Cognitive Systems, creators of the patented WiFi Motion technology which is licensed by major semiconductor platforms including Qualcomm technologies, Cypress, and Marvell, and also a serial entrepreneur who previously sold Sirific Wireless to NVIDIA for nearly a half billion dollars
15. Do something new.
“One of my most important daily habits is making sure I don’t fall into habits but rather, doing something different or out of the ordinary every day. For me, this often means going somewhere new, because you never know what could inspire your next great idea. Whether it’s something small like taking a detour to work or trying out a new lunch venue, the environmental change helps me stay creative and alert. It even allows me to meet new people, discover hidden gems in every city I visit and educate myself on cultures and lifestyles that differ greatly from my own. While we may consider ourselves too busy to deviate from our regular routines, I believe that breaking out of the norm by visiting somewhere new can actually make us more productive and inspired.”
–Gary Morrison, CEO of Hostelworld, an online hostel-booking platform that offers over 36,000 properties in over 170 countries, and features over 10 million guest reviews
16. Learn something.
“Every day I try to read something that’s interesting, in-depth and totally outside of the domain that I spend the rest of the day thinking about. This is usually a long magazine article or detailed blog post. Articles about startups, telecom or wireless technologies don’t count. Recently I’ve learned about topics like cost disease in medicine, high roller suites in Las Vegas and how the McDonald’s Monopoly game was rigged. Thinking about different areas and taking a break from thinking about work topics are important ingredients for creative problem solving.”
–Zach Brock, cofounder and CEO of wireless internet service provider Common Networks which recently secured a $25 million Series B financing led by General Catalyst
17. Make a list every day.
“Making a daily to-do list helps me keep my busy professional and personal life under control. Doing this gives me the peace of mind to focus on the task at hand without worrying that I’m forgetting something. Creating a list daily is the secret to pulling this off. Every day I create a list which includes everything that did not get crossed off from the list from the day before and everything new I need to add. Usually I write it down on a piece of paper, sometimes I put it on my computer. One side has work to-dos and the other side has personal to-dos. I find that when all aspects of my life are organized and I know nothing will slip through the cracks I am much more effective in the moment.”
–Heather Sittig, founder and CEO of Relola private social media broadcasting platform for enterprise currently in Oracle Scaleup Program, recognized by Inman News as Woman to Watch in Real Estate Tech, and previously founder and CEO of Maison Nouveau acquired by McGuire Real Estate in 2011
18. Nurture your network.
“I carve out a bit of time to nurture my network–everything from making mutually beneficial introductions to suggesting candidates for open roles or quick notes of congratulations on promotions or new roles. You never know who you can help or who might end up being a great resource since technology has made the business world much smaller and more interconnected. The effort and results are quite satisfying.”
–Kelly Leach, COO at Blurb, a creative self-publishing platform with 3.2 million titles published by its global customer base of over 2 million photographers, designers and creative aspirants
19. Limit screen time at work and home.
“We all spend more time than we anticipate on redundant, menial activities at work–plugging numbers into spreadsheets to sorting through emails. Over the years, the time I spend doing these tasks has only increased, and my productivity and creativity have suffered as a result. I’ve been able to reduce the time I spend on necessary but unskilled activities through automation–where I can–with my emails, and maximizing my time through bots and apps. Cutting out menial tasks has left me more fulfilled, empowered and productive. It allows me to get back to the creative roots of my role… This translates to life outside of work as well, where productivity apps like IFTTT and virtual assistants cut out screen time, and let me get back to the good stuff with my family.”
–Simon Shah, CMO at Redwood Software, a robotic process automation provider with 25 years of experience helping thousands of customers globally, including many Fortune 500 companies, to free staff from repetitive, menial tasks
20. Take good notes.
–Casey Ryan, president and CEO of Coolpad, a mobile technology manufacturer with strategic partnerships in numerous countries around the world
21. Have a disciplined meeting schedule, stay in touch and adapt to people.
“I travel a lot, but even with a busy schedule it’s important to stay in touch with teams. I have a very disciplined meeting schedule that I always try and stick to. If I absolutely must cancel, I’ll reschedule the meeting for the same week–no exceptions. Having this disciplined schedule also helps to maintain relationships, which is one of my top priorities. In addition to keeping all my meetings I will send an IM to random people and ask if they have a minute to chat and catch up. It’s imperative that as leaders and managers we learn to adapt to people, understand their personality, understand what motivates them. This is a special skill that often times leaders seem to be incapable of. Because if you cannot adapt to people and help them be productive and enjoy a rewarding career, then you should not be a manager. The best managers don’t let their title dictate their behavior. For me, it’s important to not change who I am, simply because of the title I possess.”
–Michael Morton, CTO, VP and Dell Fellow of Dell Boomi, an independent business unit of Dell Technologies that helps more than 7,500 organizations accelerate business agility by connecting data and applications to run faster and smarter
22. Tackle the biggest challenges first.
“My top two daily habits for success include tackling the biggest challenges first and maintaining flexibility in my schedule. I like to make a list of the biggest–or most daunting–tasks I have at hand first, and try to address those issues before jumping into my daily routine. This enables me to ensure that my top priorities are driving the use of my time. I also try not to pack my days with meeting after meeting. Giving myself some open time leaves me with room to think, read and reflect. It also grants me the flexibility to use those open windows to address urgent or last-minute tasks and projects.”
–Neil Araujo, CEO of iManage, a technology company building document management and artificial intelligence solutions used by over one million professionals at over 3,000 organizations in over 65 countries
23. Always backup your data.
“Store everything digitally in the cloud and backup your data. By storing all your documents in the cloud you can easily access your necessary files for work from anywhere and almost any device. With this you lose the need for carrying around your work laptop every day from the office and can stay productive at home and from holiday locations. Now, it’s even possible to access your information and be productive from most mobile devices making it possible for you to deliver output even in your down time in commuting.”
–Oscar Carlsson, CIO at Cint, an online insights exchange platform hosting 50 million registered consumers worldwide in over 80 countries, connecting community owners to researchers, agencies and brands, for the sharing and accessing of consumer data
24. Be open to diverse feedback.
“As a global citizen of the world, I have learned that everyone regardless of their background or title can bring a unique perspective to a challenge or project being worked on. Incorporating feedback from a diverse group of people allows for an organization to see a situation from all vantage points and build better solutions.”
–Maria Pousa, CMO of Integral Ad Science who has more than 15 years of experience in media and technology companies, leading branding and marketing for three company exits including Interclick, Mediaocean and IAS
25. Pay attention to your creative peaks.
“I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning and clear all my emails before I leave the house. When I arrive at work I spend the first hour thinking creatively and not touching my computer. This allows me to focus on innovation without distraction. At the end of every day I spend the last hour reflecting on the day that’s been, reading and talking to my staff to ensure we are constantly tracking against our priority business goals.”
–Alan Booth, CEO of Cryptopia, a cryptocurrency exchange platform with more than 2 million users
26. Discipline your mind and body to be a more effective leader.
“One thing I’ve learned early on from having served in the U.S. Navy is the importance of discipline. Strong discipline results in better leadership, teamwork, and commitment. My daily habits for success are simple. I start each day with a 4 a.m. workout to keep my mind and body energized. The rest of my day is largely influenced by how I interact with others. I surround myself with strong and positive people who challenge me to always learn and listen. In turn, I always try to inspire and challenge others to do the same. It’s important for me to mentor others in life, business, and health.”
–Reza Kazemipour, chief revenue officer at Silicon Valley-based inui Health, creator of an FDA software approved in-home urinary analysis test device with offices in Boston and Dubai which has received venture funding from investors including Relay Ventures, Redmile Group, Laboratory Corporation of America (Lab Corp.), Tencent Holdings Limited, Fosun Pharma, iGlobe Partners and Three Leaf Ventures
“Don’t keep secrets. Tell everyone what you can, and often. People are cynics, at least in New York. The need for communication cannot be understated. Sharing challenges especially is important. It calibrates and anchors against those times when you tell people that performance is going very well. It helps establish that you’re honest.”
–Todd Krizelman, CEO of MediaRadar, an advertising intelligence and sales enablement company used by publishers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg
28. Prepare yourself mentally and give your brain periodic breaks.
“I start my day envisioning my priorities to prepare myself for meetings and challenges that I’ll face during the day. I also make sure to take daily breaks to refresh ideas. It may be as simple as taking a longer lunch or meditating. Additionally, as I work through daily activities and situations where I have to make decisions, I keep in mind three simple rules: listen to your team, always take a step back to look at the big picture and be transparent.”
–Alessandro Gil, chief experience officer of VTEX, provider of a cloud-based commerce platform used by brands including Coca-Cola, Lego, Sony, Red Bull, Whirlpool and Walmart and others in more than 25 countries and across over 2,300 online stores
29. Draw inspiration from your passions and apply it to your professional life.
“I love design, and as a developer, I often draw inspiration from sci-fi movies like Tron, Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Film is a creative medium that is well-positioned to elicit emotion, and I like to apply the same principle to things I design and software I develop. When you look at the interface of certain technologies, does it trigger excitement, curiosity, comfort or happiness? You may not be passionate about film or tech, but it’s important to identify aspects of things you are interested in and view it from a professional lens.”
–Nour Addine Ayyoub, founder and CEO of ZaiLab, an omnichannel cloud-based contact center solution with offices in Dublin, Cape Town, and the United States
30. Hire to a skill set rather than a job description.
“When recruiting staff–especially in an entrepreneurial environment–rather than creating a detailed job description, start with the two or three key skills that address your company’s most critical needs. Hiring to fit top priorities rather than a pre-defined role ensures that new employees add immediate value and expectations are aligned with company success. Talented professionals who may not have the title or role-specific experience of a structured job description may offer exactly the essentials that your growing organization needs to flourish.”