The importance of habit can’t be understated. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives, and being the unsophisticated mammals that we are, a huge amount of our daily behaviour is controlled by habit rather than conscious choice.
Super-successful people often differ from us mere mortals simply by having a set of habits that propel them to the top; habits that make them happier, calmer, more awake, more productive and more driven.
Whether you want to supercharge your career, become a more inspiring leader or simply improve your daily life, steal your habits from the most powerful people in the world.
1. Wake up early, even at the weekend.
Disney CEO Robert Iger claims to get up at 4:30am every single morning, including weekends. While I personally think this is terrifying and unnatural, he’s not the only one to swear by an early start.
Virgin’s Richard Branson gets up at 5am to work out and spend time with his family, Apple’s Tim Cook starts sending emails at 4:30, GM CEO Dan Akerson gets up between 4:30 and 5 to do business with Asia... the list is inexhaustible. And exhausting.
2. Automate small, repeated decisions.
‘Decision fatigue’ can be a killer when you’ve got a lot on your plate – take it from the man with the biggest plate in the world. ‘I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing because I have too many other decisions to make,’ Barack Obama told Vanity Fair.
The solution? Go minimalist with your wardrobe and find the black turtleneck to your Steve Jobs.
Write a to-do list with your Most Important Tasks for the day in the morning, and make it a habit to say no to everything else. Rid yourself of FOMO by remembering that saying yes to everything means saying no to your MITs, and ultimately your major goals.
3. Keep learning.
When Warren Buffet was asked the key to success, he advised reading 500 pages of non-fiction a day. Bill Gates reads 50 books a year, mostly educational. SpaceX founder Elon Musk learned to build rockets by reading books and loves autobiographies of successful people.
5. Don’t multi-task.
Productivity machine Tim Ferris and chess/martial arts/all-round prodigy Josh Waitzkin both slam multi-tasking as killing productivity and ability.
Many studies back this up: chronic multi-taskers perform worse at tasks even when they’re not multi-tasking, and researchers have found that checking email while working creates a 10-point drop in IQ - making it a greater detriment to mental ability than smoking weed or losing a night’s sleep.
6. Make time for peace.
Whether it’s yoga like Arianna Huffington, Transcendental Meditation like Oprah, or spending a week per year in the forest like Bill Gates, schedule time for rest and reflection like you schedule important meetings. Taking mindful breaks improves your health, your productivity, and your happiness (plus it’s a lot more fun that 4am starts.)
7. Give something back.
Some 90% of entrepreneurs donate money to charity, and 70% donate their time too. It’s not just through a sense of civic duty: Richard Branson wrote that ‘it is amazing how focusing your mind on issues like health, poverty, conservation and climate change can help to re-energize your thinking in other areas.’
Professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, backs this up: ‘the majority of successful people out there began giving long before they achieved greatness [...] I would love to redefine success to say it’s not just what you achieve, it’s also what you help other people achieve.’
Most of us can’t afford to give $1 billion a year to charity like the Zuckerbergs, but everyone can spend an hour at the local soup kitchen.
Being super-successful takes time, effort, and commitment - speed things up a little by adopting proven habits for success from the best of the best. Waking up early, automating small decisions, working out, avoiding multi-tasking, relaxing and giving back will set you on the path to being the best you you can be – and what more can any of us ask for?