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THE INC. LIFE

25 Simple Daily Habits Which Separate High Achievers From Everyone Else

Everyone wants their life to be above average, but what are you really doing to make it happen?

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BY Christina DesMarais - 20 Jan 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Everyone wants their life to be above average, but what are you really doing to make it happen? In truth, succeeding in business and life often depends on consistency, diligence and discipline. At least that's what more than two dozen high-achieving executives say. Here are the daily habits they credit for being where they are today.

1. Take a hot to cold shower.

"Pressured water on your body in the morning is awakening to the body and mind. Outside of just getting a clean shower, the process of taking a shower can revitalize you for the day ahead. However, one trick to making this even more impactful is by turning the hot shower into a cold rush of water. Cold water showers cause your blood capillaries to expand and distributes more oxygen to the brain, which is like a brain booster. Psychologically it does something metaphorically magical. It allows you to conquer something uncomfortable and difficult at the beginning of the day. When you last through 30 seconds of cold water such that you let out a 'Yeeeeeeeaowe" you not only are awake, but you realize you can overcome many challenges that a day will bring you (the pain is never as bad as the fear once accomplished). I always accomplish more goals and tougher challenges in a day when I take a hot to cold shower, and the extra boost only takes 30 seconds."

--Andrew Witkin, founder and president of custom sticker and label company StickerYou

2. Every morning, delegate, defer, and delete.

"Then you're left with the things that you actually have to do."

--Brian Wong, cofounder and CEO of Kiip, a moments-based mobile ad and data platform

3. Start every day very early and with a huge bottle of water.

"Then I get in 60 to 90 minutes of exercise and/or meditation. Starting with hydrating and physical activity gets my energy up for the day, helps me focus, and ensures that I'm properly able to sleep at night."

--Bradley Lautenbach, SVP of marketing and product design at Light, a camera company

4. Take tea breaks.

"Before I pick up my phone and my first morning meetings start, I make myself a very good cup of tea. I then take my cup of tea and walk in nature for 45 minutes or so, regardless of the weather or season. It's a great way to start the day--it gives me a solid grounding for the day. Then, throughout the day when things get stressful, I take a break for a cup of tea. If I am in a meeting and there's a logjam, for example, we all take a break. We can then return to our discussion with a different mindset."

--Atul Bhatnagar, president and CEO of wireless broadband solutions company Cambium Networks

5. Get outdoors for physical activity.

"I spent the beginning of the New Year in the frigid weather of the Maryland countryside. At 10 degrees, playing hockey with people of all ages on a frozen pond was a delight. Walking in the woods bundled up is also a joy."

--Alex Glassock, cofounder and CEO of the wellness spa The Ranch

6. Focus on quality, not quantity.

"Too many leaders self-evaluate their own performance based on quantity. How many meetings did I take today? How many people did I connect with? How many emails did I answer? The longer you are in a leadership role, the more you will realize the quality of your efforts are exponentially more valuable than quantity. Real connections with people and getting their buy-in and support for what you are working to achieve can yield a powerful and long-lasting return."

--Chris Soukup, CEO, Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD)

7. Set aside 30 minutes to focus on long-term improvements.

"At most companies, but definitely at startups, it's not unusual to spend your week sprinting from fire to fire, solving immediate problems with quick fixes. The issue with this is that it only addresses the symptoms, not the root cause. You can save yourself pain in the future by dedicating time consistently to these bigger, long-term problems. It is much easier to chip away at them over time than to address them comprehensively at once. Challenge yourself to get in earlier or leave later and use that time to focus on finding better solutions to foundational challenges. Eventually, there will be fewer quick fixes and the organization will be better positioned to scale."

--Javier Benson, VP of business development and marketplace operations at RealtyShares, a real estate investment platform

8. Solve, don't just do.

"Each day, I challenge myself to focus on solving a problem properly, rather than just completing a task or checking something off my list."

--G Wu, cofounder and CEO of Adeptmind, a deep learning company that eliminates the "no results found" search problem for online retailers

9. Spend time alone with your dog.

"As the CEO of a company that tripled in size in six months and with three small kids at home (yes, things really do come in threes), I find that life is hectic. In the morning, I wake up early and spend some quality time with my dog, Vera, a very active and inquisitive Westie. I take care of her, feed her breakfast, and take her for a walk. Interacting with animals, which is even better when the rest of the world is sleeping, recharges the batteries and reminds you how the little things, such as the affection of a dog or simply feeding your pet, are life-balancing activities."

--Massimiliano "Max" Versace, cofounder and CEO of deep learning startup Neurala

10. Stick to tea and avoid coffee.

"First and foremost, I need regular exercise in order to stay sane and sleep well. In an ideal world I would like for it to occur daily, but as of now that's not really possible--although with two young daughters at home, I do plenty of running around daily. Another life hack of mine is that I stick to tea and avoid coffee. This keeps me levelled and focused. In line with all this I try to manage my work/life balance. Having a great team who are the best at what they do really helps, but keeping my working hours under control and focusing on one project at a time is key for me and increases my productivity."

--Maciek Drejak, CEO of the Swedish app development studio Northcube

11. Make time for joy.

"It's important to compartmentalize the day in order to be the most productive on all fronts. My goal is to start my day early and focus on my children when they wake up. The working day begins when the girls have gone to school. When possible, I have a distinct 'on' and 'off' time. This separation makes work time more efficient. When it's time to work, I work. Two other areas that are often overlooked but are so important are joy and sleep. Make time for joy. It keeps you happy, creative and productive. And sleep is important, so get to bed early. I don't underestimate the need for recovery in the form of sleep. I have an ambitious goal to avoid looking at emails in bed (which I often fail to achieve), but making the effort to read a book before lights are out makes for much better sleep."

--Ebba Blitz, CEO of encryption provider AlertSec

12. Wake up early.

"I wake up early--around 5:30 a.m.--and start my day with a double-shot almond milk cappuccino while I read the morning news and catch up on emails. I draft my to-do list and then head to the gym to start my day feeling energized and clear-headed. I structure my workday so that I'm not in back-to-back meetings all day, and I make it a priority to get outside for a walk at least once. I also make it a point to connect with at least one person at the company each day who doesn't report to me directly and discuss the 'why' of our company. In the evening, I spend time with my spouse and on the floor petting the dog. Last but not least, I like to watch a bit of sci-fi before bed to take my mind off of the day."

--Colin Walsh, CEO of Varo Money, an intelligent mobile banking platform

13. Start the day with meditation.

"I recommend meditation in the morning. As an entrepreneur, there are many stressors triggered during my day. By starting with meditation, I can calm myself before undertaking the challenges in front of me. I then make some time to think about strategies and ideas. Also, I focus on spending time with the family over breakfast each morning, allowing me to stay grounded and connected to what matters most to me."

--Rajesh Kalidindi, CEO of LevaData, a cloud platform that helps companies improve gross margins by reducing supply chain costs

14. Listen, read and create something new.

"Every day I try to: have a discussion with a team member who doesn't report to me and mostly listen; read at least one pull request and one support ticket; listen to one new piece of music; read an article from a news source outside the U.S.; read something from a good historian about a time/place I'm not familiar with; make one new thing--a song, a document about a new idea, or a new recipe in the kitchen; help someone with a challenge they are facing; and find something I'm wrong about and change my position."

--Josh Stella, CEO of Fugue, a provider of cloud infrastructure automation products in support of Amazon Web Services accounts

15. Keep an eye on your product.

"I check in on the product every day. It's really critical to stay connected to the user's experience and be involved with the product's development. There are days when I have 12 hours of meetings--but I still use the product. I check the in-process design templates, I play with the beta version to find issues, I read documentation, and I check notes from development stand-up meetings--every single day."

--Abhinav Asthana, CEO of Postman, which helps developers share, test, document and monitor APIs

16. Check metrics.

"Every day I strive to get good-quality sleep to stay positive. I walk around the office and have informal chats with different people at different levels. I make a customer call and get their insights. I look for heavy processes to break, build agile teams and have fun. I also try to be both loving and tough--that's the best way to create a culture of high performance. And to further ensure high performance, I check metrics. Your KPIs need to be real time and actionable."

--Andres Angelani, CEO of Softvision, a global provider of digital and mobility solutions

17. Never book more than half your day.

"It's easy to get caught up rushing from meeting to meeting, trying to stay on top of everything happening in the business. The problem? Mistaking being busy with being productive. If you want to keep innovating and actually move your business forward, you need to make at least as much time to think as you do to manage. In order to make this time, I follow a simple rule of thumb: I never book more than half my day. I use the unscheduled time to walk around the office, join impromptu problem-solving sessions, and engage directly with employees at all levels of the organization. By avoiding a crowded calendar, I have the time needed to truly stay on top of where the business is today and where it's going tomorrow."

--Ajeet Singh, founder and CEO of ThoughtSpot, a provider of search-driven analytics in the enterprise

18. Ask yourself the right questions.

"As a CEO, I am inundated with information, to-dos, and opportunities. It is crucial that I remain focused. To that end, each morning I reflect on several key aspects of Zoom's business using an acronym I developed called 'DECPC.' First, I ask myself: are we headed in the right direction? I think of the company as a big ship and I review our coordinates--the key company information I'm given every day--to ensure we're headed in the right direction. Then I consider if my team and I are doing all we can to ensure Zoom employees are happy. Does anyone have concerns, or is someone ill or going through a hard time? Do I need to recognize someone's extraordinary efforts? 'C' stands for customers. Are we working as hard as we can to meet our customers' priorities and address any problems as thoroughly and quickly as possible? Are we doing all we can to make sure they know we care about them and their businesses? I also focus on our products. For example, has a project been delayed or faced unexpected obstacles? How can I help? Finally, I consider cash flow: Are our revenues and expenses on track? Finally, I make notes to be sure I follow up on any actions needed and add a reminder to my calendar for any deadlines and dates."

--Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, a provider of modern enterprise video communications

19. Review key data and stay healthy.

"I'm a big believer in the power of data to drive growth... So, over breakfast each morning, I review key metrics related to Talend's progress. We use more than 300 data points to measure and improve productivity in every department of the company. I review certain pieces of data daily, and others weekly or monthly. We re-calibrate as needed. Our regular data reviews and refinements not only help propel our growth, I believe they also give investors greater confidence in our fundamentals. My other daily habits: get a full night's sleep, work out and eat a healthy breakfast. They help me hit the office healthy, alert and energized."

--Mike Tuchen, CEO of Talend, a provider of cloud and big data integration software

20. Keep your ears and mind open.

"Being quick to listen and slow to speak is a skill that often falls by the wayside and, just like any other skill, it must be practiced to be effective. Creating a culture of listening is imperative to fostering an all-in culture of engagement. By listening, observing, and asking the right questions, leadership can facilitate open communication where employees can share ideas, questions, or concerns without fear of repercussion. This open dialogue creates a collaborative learning environment and allows companies and their leadership teams to gather the right information to either validate existing strategies or course correct before it's too late."

--Tom Goodmanson, president and CEO, customer engagement software company, Calabrio

21. Get out of the echo chamber.

"I make it a personal goal to ensure I'm having regular contact with peers outside of my building, and I push and encourage my team to do the same. There is huge value in seeing how others are approaching markets, strategies, and problems."

--Billy Bosworth, CEO, DataStax, the leader in data management for cloud applications

22. Find a non-work activity to help you disconnect.

"Disconnecting goes a long way toward resetting your focus with a hectic schedule and the demands of work. For me, it's cycling that allows me to take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty of Utah's mountainous terrain outside of--and sometimes even during--the work day. And I'm a firm believer that cycling fosters creativity and collaboration. I've had some of my best ideas on my daily bike rides, and schedule over two meetings each month with my staff on bikes. Not everyone needs to be an avid cycler to disconnect. It's about any activity--cooking, running, or even a walk around the block--that gets you away from your desk."

--Brad Rencher, EVP and GM for Adobe Experience Cloud, a set of cloud services designed to give enterprises what they need to deliver exceptional customer experiences

23. Put creativity back on your to-do list.

"CEOs who are also the founders of their companies struggle to let go. The company is our baby and we spent a tremendous amount of time researching and executing (much of which was trial and error), to learn and run every function as we built it. Now, as our company continues to grow, we need to ensure that we don't become the bottleneck. Every day, it's great to look at your task list or responsibilities and determine items that are too operational and try to move those off of your plate so that you can focus on longer term business objectives. The ideal goal is that you spend less than 10 percent of your time in the business and 90 percent working on the business. You need to stop thinking of yourself as the founder and think of yourself as the CEO whose main role is to plan strategically, motivate and inspire your team to execute on your vision."

--Collin Holmes, founder and CEO of Chatmeter, a local brand management platform

24. Start your day switched off.

"I find there's a lot of value in getting a process set up each morning to clear my head and tee the day up unencumbered by distraction. I avoid email and phones first thing; taking time to myself to start the day calmly. And I exercise every morning to activate my brain and get energized for the day."

Frank Bien, CEO of Looker, a data platform with insights for every department

25. Visualize success.

"The process of visualization is a key part of my daily routine. When I'm in bed, in the shower, or on my way to work, I'm constantly visualizing important calls, meetings and presentations. By playing out those big moments in my head and picturing myself succeed, I build confidence and am able to perform at my best."

--Eyal Grayevesky, cofounder and CEO of Mya Systems, the creators of AI recruiter Mya

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