As the adage goes, when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Founders and CEOs face a daily barrage of situations that must quickly be assessed, prioritized and dealt with. Although adding anything new to a maxed-out to-do list can seem overwhelming, the five steps below are easy for even the busiest CEO to implement — and can lead to immediate improvements in your life and your business.
1. Show Gratitude Every Day
Showing gratitude has several scientifically-proven benefits, including better physical and psychological health, improvements in mental strength and self-esteem, and sounder sleep. Plus, showing gratitude can help improve personal and professional relationships, which can lead to tangible improvements in your company's bottom line.
There are several simple ways to incorporate a daily gratitude practice into your everyday schedule. Some founders keep gratitude journals to reflect on each day's high points. Taking 5-10 minutes to make a write in a notebook or app before bed can help calm your mind and frame the day's activities. Another popular gratitude practice: send one handwritten thank-you note each day to someone who has played a key role in your success. You may also choose to send an email each morning to someone on your team, acknowledging an action he or she took to go above and beyond. Regardless of which option (or options) you choose, the most important thing is consistency. Put dedicated time for your gratitude practice into your daily calendar and you'll start seeing results in no time.
2. Do Something Creative
Creative pursuits are important not only because they provide a break from work in which your brain can refocus, but also because they help promote a healthier work-life balance. Silicon Valley veteran Bonnie Crater told Business Insider that she won't even consider hiring employees without hobbies. (She's an avid tennis player.)
According to Joyce E. A. Russell, director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, “people who have hobbies are generally healthier, and have a lower risk of depression and dementia." They are often also more interesting, which can lead to boardroom benefits too; a potential customer will likely be intrigued when he or she hears about your love of rock climbing or pottery. Talking about your hobbies is a great way to connect on a deeper level and discover shared interests that may have otherwise gone unexplored.
Many of the world's most successful people credit interesting hobbies as part of their successes. Did you know Warren Buffett is an accomplished ukulele player? Or that Taylor Swift regularly paints portraits for her friends? Or that Meryl Streep is an expert knitter? If these titans can make time in their busy days to pursue creative interests unrelated to their livelihoods, you can too. Schedule 30 or 60 minutes to discover or develop a creative hobby. Before you know it, it may have developed into a full-blown passion that has the potential to significantly improve your long-term health.
3. Simplify Your Wardrobe
From Mark Zuckerberg to President Barack Obama, the benefit of wearing a similar or identical outfit every day is obvious: it frees up mental energy to make more important decisions. As the president told Vanity Fair, "You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."
Decision fatigue is real and affects everyone. Science says you have a finite amount of mental brainpower each day before decision making diminishes. Don't waste it on choices that aren't moving your business forward.
Simplifying your wardrobe doesn't have to mean sacrificing on style, as New York City advertising executive Matilda Kahl detailed to Harper's Bazaar. It's also not an all-or-nothing proposition: men and women alike can reduce closets down to a dozen or fewer staple items.
4. Fail At Something
Although planning to fail may sound counterintuitive, it's actually a wonderful way to regularly push yourself past your comfort zone. Self-made billionaire and Spanx founder Sara Blakely often cites her relationship with failure as a key ingredient to her success.
“My dad growing up encouraged me and my brother to fail," Blakely says. The youngest self-made female billionaire adds that her dad would ask her and her brother what they had failed at each night at the dinner table. “The gift he was giving me is that failure is (when you are) not trying versus the outcome. It's really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life."
By reframing failure, you'll find that you begin pushing yourself past what you previously perceived as your own limits. You'll also learn to bounce back more quickly from disappointments.
5. Stick To Your Calendar
Successful CEOs know that success comes from managing minutes, not months. If you don't take control of your calendar, other people will. How many times has an unnecessary meeting encroached on your day or a “quick question" from a department head pulled you off task for an hour? Put an end to interruptions by establishing rules around your calendar.
There are many schools of thought on the best tips for calendar management. Entrepreneur offers seven good ideas here. Ultimately, the key is to find a system that works for you. As a general rule, it's good to block off at least 90 minutes each day at your peak productivity time (for many people this is in the morning) to tackle the toughest, most important tasks. Many CEOs also swear by the practice of “batching" emails—checking and replying to them only at certain points throughout the day.
Create other rules that will help you be most productive. For example, you may decide only to take phone calls before lunch, limit out-of-state business travel to Mondays and Tuesdays, or do in-person meetings on Wednesdays and Thursdays only. Experiment until you find the best schedule for you, and then stick with it. Make sure your administrative staff and employees are familiar with your preferences so they can adjust accordingly.
Collectively, these five practices will help you become a stronger, more focused, more grateful leader. If you miss a few days in one or more categories, don't be discouraged. Every day is a new opportunity to be your best self.