3 Habits That Shape the Lives of Successful Entrepreneurs

Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” And it’s true – our habits are powerful things. They shape our lives and define our personalities.

Successful entrepreneurs know this – even if only in an intuitive way. Positive qualities like work ethic and tenacity may start out as simple choices, but they eventually develop into routines. Having an eye for business opportunities and the resolve to capitalize on them – these are useful mental habits to cultivate.

Developing effective habits through conscious choice and then reinforcing those habits with repetition is one of the best ways to become better at anything – entrepreneurship included.

This post examines three habits that are carefully cultivated by well-known online business achievers, and also looks at how to reinforce good habits for success.

1. Set and Measure Your Most Important Metric

If you want to accomplish something really challenging – like becoming a successful entrepreneur – you need more than just a vague intention. You need to set a clearly defined goal, and for most businesses, that means tracking your Most Important Metric (MIM).

As soon as you take ownership of your numerical goal, research shows that you are automatically more committed to it. Tracking a real number is a positive habit to adopt because it helps to change wishful thinking into real action.

As an example, SumoMe co-founder Noah Kagan he built a dashboard to track his company’s growth – with a unique twist. Instead of dividing his focus among dozens of metrics, Kagan focused on one number: unique visitors reached.

entrepreneur habits image
Image: Kissmetrics

Remember to make your goal measurable, and to celebrate your success along the way. That means setting a time frame to achieve each milestone. Rewarding yourself when you achieve each one, even in a small way, can really reinforce your new habit pattern.

Question: Does your business have a key metric you track every day? If not, what can you start measuring?

2. Get Up Early (Or Find a Way to Successfully Work From Bed!)

When you have an extremely busy life, (and most of the world’s achievers do), it helps to get a head start on the competition. It’s old-fashioned advice, but it works. The morning hours are usually the most productive.

Business Insider shared a list of 21 entrepreneurs who strictly follow this habit. The list includes Apple CEO Tim Cook, who regularly wakes up at 3:45 am to get the jump on his email, and also to fit in some gym time. Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey wakes up before dawn for a 6-mile run. Coffee, exercise, news and reading make up the morning to-do list for most of the early risers.

If, like me, you’re not a morning person, and changing the habit seems impossible, you’ll have to make it work to your advantage. While morning larks have some advantages, night owls tend to have better attention later in the day. Being a “morning person” is not strictly necessary for success, though it undoubtedly helps.

Interestingly, Business Insider ran another article a month later listing successful people who don’t wake up early. Box CEO Aaron Levie clears out his inbox from bed, following the example of Winston Churchill who reportedly woke up around 7:30, but did much of his daily work from the comfort of his bed.

So in the end the real secret is making the best use of your most productive hours.

3. Make Time Today to Plan for Tomorrow

While it’s true that you can’t plan for everything in life, making a habit of preparing for what you can predict just makes sense. You’re better able to anticipate problems, and it gives you the opportunity to come up with that handy plan B, just in case. It gives your day some clear direction, and makes you more effective.

Scott Cullather is one entrepreneur who consciously cultivates this habit. The CEO of inVNT, a thriving live events agency in New York, meets with his key support team before the close of business religiously to go over what’s coming up the next day. He explained why this strategy is so important for success:

“We review and forecast what tomorrow is going to look like and how we’re going to get through that. It gives us an opportunity to re-prioritize. It also allows us to go to bed at night. Your mind does a lot of work for you while you’re sleeping. You get there the next day and are much more efficient and productive.”

Cullather isn’t the only entrepreneur who adopts this sensible habit. Patrick Ambron of BrandYourself likewise says that planning “forces me to think through my day, my week, my year, and my long-term plan before beginning to execute.”

How To Establish and Reinforce Good Habits

Charles Duhigg examined the science behind habit formation in his recent book The Power of Habit. He identified a pattern that gives us a useful way to manage them:

“The habit loop is a three-part process. First, there’s a cue, which is kind of a trigger for an automatic behavior to start unfolding. There’s a routine, which is the behavior itself … and then there’s a reward, which tells our brain whether we should store this habit for future use or not… Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD. “

Consciously examining and crafting your daily habits can make you a better entrepreneur. But how? The trick is to identify the cue or trigger, the routine and the reward associated with each habit.

Then you can experiment with the process. Find out which triggers work for you, and which don’t. Try to identify your healthy routines and your unhealthy ones. Think about what reward you’re getting out of those behaviors – and make a point of rewarding yourself for forming a new, helpful habit.

For example: When I see CUE: (A reminder on my phone set for 3pm every day) I will do ROUTINE: (Plan ahead for tomorrow) in order to get a REWARD: (A fifteen minute break with a cup of coffee and a chat with a friend after I’ve planned.)

In the same way you can change unproductive habits, or replace them with good routines by either eliminating the triggers or removing the reward. Use a new cue to trigger a different behavior, and reward yourself with something that you’re craving to reinforce it.

“But I Don’t Have Time…”

If you feel like there are never enough hours in the day, you probably need to create systems that can run without you, so you can focus putting a dent in your #1 metric.

In his now-famous book Built To Sell, author John Warrillow shares specific strategies business owners can use to offload time-consuming tasks–and make their businesses more valuable in the process.

Warrillow writes:

Most business owners find that stepping out of the picture is extremely difficult because their business relies too heavily on their personal involvement. Without them, their company—no matter how big or profitable—is essentially worthless.

When you leverage automation to win back time, you can re-invest those hours into hiring, software, and processes that create even more time. It’s a virtual cycle. And with some surveys saying that US workers spend more than half their day on email, automating your business email with Drip is a great place to start.

Here are a few specific examples that will save you time:

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Our repetitive traits, rituals and behaviors are what constitute our character and personality. We are the architects of our lives, and all the bricks are made of small habits. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is a big thing, but that one big thing can be broken down into a list of small, but highly effective routines.

Firmly establishing those good habits takes a bit of perseverance, and some bad habits are harder to break than others. If you’re determined to succeed, though, it’s worth taking the time to reinforce good  routines like the ones we discussed:

  • Visualize your goals clearly, and own them. Write them down.
  • Get an early start (or if you’re a night owl, cultivate an effective work-from-bed routine).
  • Plan tomorrow today.

What are some good entrepreneurial habits that have become part of your daily ritual as an entrepreneur? Share them with us in the comments section below, we’d love to hear about them.