Long-term entrepreneurial success requires not just putting in the hours but using them well.
6 min read
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Becoming a successful entrepreneur doesn’t happen overnight. While it’s possible to gain short-term success quickly, turning that into long-term success requires a mindset shift. Long-term success doesn’t come from luck or working extra hard for a month or two; it comes from having the right habits in place.
Harvard Business Review recently published a study of nearly 30 CEOs (most leading large public companies), recording how each used his or her time over the course of a quarter. The CEOs’ executive assistants tracked their time in 15-minute segments, and the findings were consistent: These CEOs average 9.7 working hours every weekday, 3.9 hours on weekends and 2.4 hours on vacation days.
Not everyone can lead a huge company to success, but those who do share some unique habits. It’s not enough to work long hours; those hours have to be put to good use. Here are five daily habits to adopt for long-term entrepreneurial success.
Related: How Hard Do You Need to Work to Reach Success?
1. Determine your peak intelligence time.
Aspiring leaders need to identify the time of the day when they are most productive. Are they morning people? Night owls? People who thrive after lunch? Genetics company 23andMe’s research team sifted through the data of 89,283 testing participants to see whether their genes corroborated self-described morning or night lovers. Rather than one gene, the team uncovered 15 that might influence someone’s likelihood of being a morning person by a range of five to 25 percent each. In layman’s terms, that means there’s likely a genetic reason behind our night-owl or early-bird tendencies.
Everyone has some point during the day when he’s better able to work, but most don’t lean into it, choosing instead to stick to the 9-to-5 norm. Entrepreneurs should embrace their ability to set their own schedules and focus on working when they are most effective.
2. Create a routine around your peak intelligence time.
Everyone knows that the only way to change anything is by changing habits. If entrepreneurs don’t guard their routines and fight for them, they won’t be able to change. After identifying their preferred times of day, business leaders should use those periods to their benefit. I’m a morning person, so every day between 8 and 10 a.m., I write at least 500 words toward big copywriting projects I’m working on.
Consistently devoting the same span of peak intelligence time — at least four days a week — to important projects ensures that the maximum level of focus goes into that work every day. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek recently told an interviewer that creativity is more structured than people assume, saying, “Actually, the most creative people in the world schedule their creativity … so I try to do the same.” Ek reportedly declines most meetings and devotes most of his time to scheduled thinking and working sessions.
Related: 11 Ways to Avoid Distractions and Stay Focused
3. Remove triggers for distraction.
Everyone knows that, especially in the digital world, distractions are all around. But there’s a triggering moment before someone gets engaged by a distraction. One of my triggers, for instance, involves calls. I usually pour quite a bit of energy and effort into my calls, whether it’s one-on-one or a group conference call. When I hang up and feel spent, I usually feel a trigger telling me that I deserve a reward.
But now that I’ve identified this pattern, I know to stick to my agenda rather than getting up to get a snack or watching that YouTube video someone sent me. The HBR study found that successful CEOs have agendas that include open-ended goals with time-sensitive projects to keep them on track. On average, CEOs spent 43 percent of their time on tasks related to their established agendas. Identifying distractions from that agenda is key to accomplishing both short-term and long-term goals that lead to success.
4. Replace minor rewards with value-adds.
The way to level-up habits and create valuable change is to pursue the same emotional rush that small rewards like snacks give but through different mechanisms. The key is to identify what the distraction offers in terms of reward. For example, if I’m drawn to watching ESPN after a long call, it’s because it allows me to turn off my brain for five minutes, which turns into 10 minutes, which turns into 15. Instead of giving in to the distraction, determine a value-add activity that offers a similar reward.
I’ve started standing up and stretching instead of falling prey to digital distractions. It’s still a reward, but it’s healthy and gets endorphins flowing. Replacing a negative behavior as reward with a positive one keeps the productivity going. Adding in some type of movement or brief exercise as a reward might even help boost your creativity and productivity as well: Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey all cite an active lifestyle as one of their keys to success, according to CNBC.
Related: 8 Habits of Highly Effective Entrepreneurs
5. Answer email, Slack and texts less frequently.
I’ve heard it said that “the reward of answering digital correspondence is a temporary feeling of accomplishment followed by even more digital correspondence.” The more emails a person sends, the more he gets back. The key is to become OK with being off the grid, saying no and turning off devices more frequently.
Email is its own form of distraction; it too often makes the workday seem unending, and it can even creep in on family time. Entrepreneurs who think checking email first thing in the morning will help knock out an annoying task might be sabotaging their productivity. In an interview with SUCCESS, Influencive founder Brian Evans said checking email first thing “puts me in a responsive start and focused on everyone’s to-do list except my own.” Entrepreneurs should adopt strict practices of what messages get answered and when to both protect their own schedules and encourage employees to do the same.
Being a leader is never easy, but the best way to achieve success is to establish positive habits. Craft a routine geared toward long-term goals, and stick with it. These five steps can help lead the way.