Some of the following are tech entrepreneurs, while others run more conventional businesses. For variety, I’ve also included a restaurateur and celebrity chef, a screenwriter and executive producer, an ex-Navy SEAL (because no list is complete without a SEAL), a chart-topping guitarist whose career spans three decades, and a creative director, author, and judge on Project Runway.
Even so, you’ll find that each person’s “one thing” is almost always personal– instead of strictly professional. Because after all, success ultimately comes from within.
Here they are:
I shift my day. I found long ago that I have my best ideas and am at my most productive early in the morning. I used to lose this time in the rush of getting the kids out of the door and getting ready for work, and then I found myself trying to remember the great idea I had as I was putting on my mascara.
So now I go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier–I’m up by 4am–which gives me a few hours of super-productive time before the craziness of the day starts and my mind gets jumbled with the mass of tactical decisions to be made.
— Sallie Krawcheck, owner of 85 Broads, former Head of Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney
I’ve always equated business with creativity, since the majority of the activities involve solving problems or just figuring stuff out before our competitors do. Therefore my daily routines are about preparing myself to be as creative or effective as possible and I approach it from a physical and mental perspective.
I try and run a couple of miles every morning just to clear my head. Then after a frantic hour of parenting (breakfast and lunches for my 3 boys, breakfast and walks for the 2 dogs), I get in the car and listen to music; I find it to be a great distraction and inspiration. The volume knob is adjusted based on the level of distraction required and the music I listen to most are the artists I find most inspiring. Obviously this is a very personal choice but my taste tends to be along the lines of the Dead, Dylan and classic rock like the Stones, Led Zeppelin etc. But I also am a huge fan of early punk like the Clash, the Ramones and most everything from that era.
I believe that all of these guys had the courage and talent to blaze their own trails, and it inspires me to want to do better and not be afraid to take risks.
— Jordan Dolin, co-founder of Emmi Solutions
After a long day at the office I enjoy driving to a supermarket, buying groceries, and preparing dinner for my family. It isn’t just the satisfaction of cooking or the very basic emotion of feeding your kids but also a great way to find balance as an entrepreneur.
A lot of my work deals with medium- to long-term decisions. As an entrepreneur you are always trying to predict the future, to detect trends both within and outside of your company, and to plan ahead. At the end of the day it is very relaxing to focus on something that gives me instant feedback and satisfaction. I shop, I prepare and then I service.
The feedback is instant: I see smiling faces around the table or the occasional raised eyebrow. Whatever the result, I’m happy and I find it makes dealing with stress and uncertainty better.
— Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, founder of The Next Web
When a topic intrigues me I become nearly obsessed. If I don’t fully indulge my desire to hunt for information–interviews, posts, research reports, etc–my work suffers… and there’s no living with me. So even though most people feel it’s most productive to prioritize and then stick to a set schedule, I readily shuffle my day when possible, so I can stay in the flow. While going down the “rabbit hole” may not work for everyone, it definitely works for me.
Fortunately I’ve worked for individuals who have said, “Go ahead, take some time and explore that,” and their understanding was a gift that shaped my future. While we generally do need to stick to the agenda, employees need the opportunity to be creative and, at times, to indulge their instincts.
— Dr. Marla Gottschalk, Industrial & Organizational Psychologist
I pride myself on not being routine, because as we like to say, “One size fits one.” That’s true for my time and for the way I interact with each team member.
So for me it’s about being present. You can’t be everywhere for everyone, every time. But if there’s one thing I work tirelessly to do, it’s being present when I am there.
There’s nothing worse than a leader who gives you their time but not their focus. (Just like there’s nothing worse than reading a story to my kids at bedtime and having my mind drift off to all the other things I have going on.)
Being present is something I focus on every day.
— Randy Garutti, CEO of Shake Shack
I ride my bike to work because it creates a stress-free time. I get my best ideas on my bike, especially in the morning on my way in to the office. Unlike driving it really creates a space for me to be creative. Riding also gives me time to relax and decompress on my way home.
— Tania Burke, President of Trek Travel
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family so I feel it’s never too early to start. Every morning I take my 21-month old son out of his crib and have a 5-minute conversation about how my day went yesterday and what my plan is for today.
So every morning around 7 a.m. we talk about all things Jeremy Argyle. He nods, claps, smiles, offers a few words of encouragement. It probably sounds a bit silly but I love that I get to share what I’m doing with my Jack Maverick, my son, and I also feel like it helps me get a summary of my previous day out and helps me plan to tackle the current day.
— Brian Guttman, founder of Jeremy Argyle
I hand write three thank you cards every day on the train ride in to work. Totally-old-fashioned, I know, but how do you feel about your email volume these days? If you’re at all like me, even getting a thank you email can be annoying.
When my staff, customers, partners, investors, media and others get my thank you cards, they love them and it cements my relationships with them. But the main reason I hand-write three thank you cards every day is that it allows me to focus on others and transforms my mood from bad to good, from good to great, or from great to ecstatic. You can’t be upset and grateful at the same time, and this practice puts me in a great mood–to have a great day–every single day.
— Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local
Contrasts are not only just on trend, they also make me who I am.
One contrast that I negotiate on a daily basis is between the digital and the real world. In biology class, we are taught that we are all made up of cells. In the digital world, our lives are constructed by pixels and our digital universe is created by a series of ones and zeros. I always found it fascinating that a jpg, a tweet, a video from YouTube, etc. are just combinations of numbers: mere data. I am constantly shuffling between cells and data: being a mother of two kids and trying to master the digital world.
Finding this fine balance is what defines me. Books and magazines make me as do iPads and smartphones. The web has helped me to get in touch and meet new people, but I haven’t forgotten my old friends. I love twitter, but I also love a real conversation that escapes a 140 character limit. I love to read fashion blogs but nothing can compete with the tactile touch of a haute couture gown.
— Nina Garcia, Creative Director at Marie Claire, judge on Project Runway
We have a very casual “jeans and t-shirt” environment at Road ID but I still never leave for work without ironing my t-shirt.
Yes, I iron my t-shirts.
I use this simple routine as a subtle reminder to myself that Road ID, like every company, needs a leader. Even in a super-casual environment, the boss should look the part. Nothing says, “The buck stops here,” like a neatly pressed t-shirt… right?
— Edward Wimmer, co-founder of Road ID
It’s important to keep the fire in the gut burning because without passion or purpose you become complacent–and complacency kills. I give myself a gut check every day to make sure I’ve still “got it” because over time it’s easy to lose sight of what matters to you and instead focus on what is important to others (think new employee versus senior leader).
For me, the connection between mental and physical fitness is important–in the SEALs and in business–and something I continually try to strengthen by doing crazy gut checks like driving across country in 42 hours straight with no (read zero) sleep (not something I recommend, by the way) or waking up at five am every day to play guitar, write my blog, and exercise–rain, sleet, or snow–before heading into work.
If you lose the fire in the gut then you lose the values that define you.
— Jeff Boss, former Navy SEAL (every list needs an ex-SEAL) and CrossLead team member at theMcChrystal Group
The one thing I try to do every day is review my “ideas” list in my workbook: song ideas, production ideas, new guitar techniques, etc.
Also on the list: books to read, subjects to research, art projects to undertake, marketing ideas, creative people to reach out to.
I pore over the list, imagine following through on some of the entries, add new ideas, and eliminate those that no longer appeal to me. This helps me feel that I’m moving forward creatively and gets my priorities straight.
Then I get to work!
— Joe Satriani, 14-time Grammy nominated guitarist and member of Chickenfoot
I eat oatmeal and blueberries every morning (Starbucks in my preference.) I’ve found that having a healthy “breakfast strategy” gets my day started right regardless of where I am in the world. Then I send personal email to employees hitting milestone anniversaries with ExactTarget–they build culture and deepen my personal relationship with our highly-tenured employees.
I also send a weekly email to all employees called “Scott’s Friday Note” using our software (HTML with pictures, etc) with insights from my travels and meetings along with key metrics, events, partnership, community activities, etc. I haven’t missed a Friday Note since we started the program 5 years ago! Rain or shine!
— Scott Dorsey, co-founder and CEO, ExactTarget
Every day I have my rituals, which includes making offerings to Buddha.
I also offer all the merits that I have acquired during that day and in the past to Buddha, so that these accomplishments are not lost in time or space.
— Eric Ripert, co-owner and chef, Le Bernardin
I write for hours every day and also talk with stressed-out CEOs for hours. Those things are important and worthy but they tire me out. If I’m depleted by noon I’m no good for the people who rely on me in the afternoon.
So I take a break every day and poke around on YouTube, listening to old songs I love and new ones I haven’t heard. Then I post a new song every day on LinkedIn: jazz or rock or 70s’s funk or glitch-hop or whatever strikes me.
Ten minutes spent indulging my inner DJ refuels me.
— Liz Ryan, CEO of Human Workplace
Every day I wear the same outfit and eat the same dinner. As an entrepreneur there are hundreds of micro-decisions I need to make, and decision fatigue can be a huge problem, so I try to eliminate any decisions I don’t have to make.
For example, I only own 5 white t-shirts. In the morning I never need to think about what I’ll be wearing: it’s going to be a white t-shirt. I also only own 2 pairs of pants.
I do the same thing with meals. I have the exact same dinner 6 times a week (1 sweet potato, 1 chicken breast, 1 red bell pepper, 1 zucchini, pan-fried with tomato sauce) for the exact same reason. Staying focused on eating healthy can take a lot of willpower, and I’d rather spend that willpower on different decisions–so I created a healthy meal I can eat every day. The fewer decisions you have to make, the better decisions you can make.
— Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer
I have an exercise mat in my office and three times a day I close my door for just a few minutes and do pushups and sit-ups.
This keeps my blood flowing and my energy levels high throughout the day so I accomplish a lot more.
— Dave Lavinsky, founder of Guiding Metrics
Anytime I see anyone in our lobby, I stop, say hello, and ask if they’ve been helped and if they’d like a coffee.
I started doing that when we were a tiny company and didn’t have a receptionist, but as we grew and hired more people I noticed that all the employees had started doing it–it’s actually become part of our culture.
It’s a little thing, but it really sets the tone and makes people feel very welcome. I definitely think it’s helped us win over customers and new employees.
— Art Papas, founder and CEO, Bullhorn
Every morning I help at least one person who isn’t expecting it. As I’ve become busier, most of my giving is reactive, but I thoroughly enjoy proactively finding ways to contribute to others.
It’s very motivating to start my workday by making an introduction, sharing a tidbit of knowledge, or recognizing someone whose important contributions have been invisible.
— Adam Grant, author of Give and Take
I update my “Joornal,” a tool I use to help me keep track of priorities.
Joornaling is easy. First, identify what’s important in the various roles you play: at work, as a parent, as a spouse, as a friend… and also what is important for you. Then track how you’re doing. I use green, red, and yellow smiley/neutral/frowny faces to indicate how I’m doing. If I feel great about something, it’s green. Terrible, it’s red.
The real key is to determine why something goes from green to yellow or red. If something flips from green to yellow and then right back to green, I might not need to spring into action… but I should think about why I had an off day–and what I can do differently next time.
It’s a quick readout on how things are going so I can focus my energy on the areas that are most important to me.
— Joel Basgall, co-founder and CEO, Geneca
Every morning I take my dog for a walk. Now I know that’s not very unusual, although I do recommend it. Walking is better than running. Running is bad for the bones and, even when done alone, always has a competitive element to it. Runners are obsessed by how far and how fast they run, plus they usually listen to music while doing so, removing themselves further from the world around them.
Of course one has to have a pretext for walking, and the dog is mine. I pretend to be taking him for a walk, but in fact he’s just accompanying me on mine. His name is Pepys, by the way, after the famous Diarist, and he’s a Paterdale terrier, but that’s by the way.
I nearly always walk around the same fields opposite my house. They are not very interesting fields, being flat and agricultural, and the river down the bottom is choked with weeds and fallen trees. I remember when I was a child I had a favorite field, which I would often think about when I was trying to get to sleep. My children regard this as strange and unnatural, but then they never go walking themselves and take no pleasure in fields, copses or trees, or the distant glimmer of sunlight on the sea.
I digress again. For there is something which makes the fields interesting–and I don’t mean the badgers, the buzzards, the deer, the foxes, the barn owls and hares which live in and around them. I’m talking about human artefacts. My house was built, or at least begun, around 1420. It was a late medieval hall–a large, one-roomed building of wood, wattle and daub, where the lord would sit at one end on a raised dais and open fires would burn and blacken the great timber beams overhead. (They are still black to this day, although the Tudors added a barn and brick chimneys to the house, and the Victorians later added stone walls.)
For those of you interested in history, the great King Henry V, victor of Agincourt (“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more into the breach”) was still on the throne. But in any case, people of many kinds and stations in life have lived in this area probably since time immemorial, way back to the Romans and even the Celts before them. And all these peoples have left evidence of their brief existence, mainly in the form of shards and fragments of pottery.
Like a beach-comber scanning the sand for interesting detritus after the tide has gone out, so I scan the earth, the furrows that the plough has made, the fresh earth that the badgers and foxes have dug in search of these broken tributes to man’s industry and civilization. (“These fragments I have shored against my ruin” as T.S. Eliot quotes in The Waste Land.)
I have found the handle of a pot which was identified as medieval because it had a scrape of green glaze still upon it. But most of the shards are small, and insignificant in their own way, although occasionally patterned and sometimes a lovely blue. For me, part of the pleasure is simply noticing things. Thomas Hardy was always described as a perceptual poet, a poet who “noticed things”, who had a sharp eye for the natural world as well as for human nature. But these fragments also connect me to history.
I write movies and drama series and most of what I write is historically based. I like researching, digging into old books and records, delving into the past and seeing characters and story-line emerge. But then I also enjoy connecting this historical material to the present. Making it real and pertinent to contemporary audiences. For me history is not past and dead but living and continuous. And the shards and splinters of cups and plates and bowls and jugs in my fields is evidence of that.
I have quite a collection now. Although I should also point out that I have found many golf balls, whose presence among the rows of wheat seems almost as mysterious as Roman coins.
— Michael Hirst, creator, writer, and executive producer, Vikings