Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Founders must forge their own path, gather resources and take on huge financial risks—all in the hopes of avoiding the fate that 80 to 90 percent of startups suffer: failure.
So to be successful, entrepreneurs really have beaten the odds—especially young entrepreneurs. Starting with almost no wealth, network or business experience, many create more success in a few years than most people do in their entire lifetime.
To understand what they do differently, we interviewed several young entrepreneurs from 2014's Empact Showcase, an annual program highlighting the power these founders and their companies play in the community.
Rather than focus on generic insights or basic hacks, we looked at unique, concrete habits you can immediately adopt in your life and business that can have a game-changing impact.
1. Create a regimented schedule.
My overarching goal is to be consistent in my schedule, and as a result, I live a lifestyle that allows me to maximize the amount of work I get done. I believe this type of prioritization has made a huge impact on how quickly Fueled has grown.
My dinner ends at 11 pm., and I always have a solid work session afterwards until 3:30 am. Setting aside a block of time in my schedule for uninterrupted productive creation is vital to my work process. It is when I answer emails and do my thinking around bigger ideas without any distractions. Then I go to bed every day at exactly 4:00 am. and typically wake up without an alarm clock.
Other people might want to focus on other areas, like family, but a consistent schedule is key.
– Founder Rameet Chawla of Fueled
2. Ask yourself this question before going to bed.
Every night before bed, I think about this question: If I live every day the same way I did today, what kind of future would that create? It forces me to constantly evaluate whether or not my actions are lining up with my priorities. The future is shaped one day at a time, and it is never as far away as we think.
– Co-founder Jesse Lear of V.I.P. Waste Services
3. Take an adventure walk every weekend to connect the dots.
Every weekend, I go on a long hike in a place that I’ve never been before. I do the research in advance and sometimes, I drive as far as an hour away. My hikes are anywhere between one and four hours long. I take an old-school composition notebook with me, and I let the thoughts come; I don’t force anything.
The habit helps to relieve stress and unpack the ideas from the week. It's kind of like meditation. By constantly evaluating ideas and how they fit into your business, you can slowly render them into reality and watch your imagination unfold.
As an added benefit, research in the new field of inactivity studies shows that moving around daily is critical to health. In fact, sitting for an hour is worse than smoking two cigarettes, according to another study.
– Founder Ryan Kania of Advocates for World Health
4. Take a hot-cold contrast shower every morning.
My most unique personal habit is the hot-cold contrast shower. I've done it every morning, no matter where I’ve lived or what hotel I'm staying in, for 14 years. By doing 30 seconds of ice cold water, followed by 30 seconds of hot, then 30 seconds of cold water (always ending with cold water), I gain the energy and clarity to start my day feeling refreshed.
To get started in this habit do a normal shower. Then crank the water as cold as it goes for 30 seconds. Then crank as hot as you can stand it for 30 seconds.Then ice cold for 30 seconds (this cold-hot-cold is one cycle).
I'd start with one cycle for the first time. If it's too much, try it on the legs first. (That's what my girlfriend does; she also thinks I'm crazy.)
Not convinced? Learn about the research behind cold showers.
– Founder Phil Dumontet of Dashed
5. Reflect on critical open questions through different lenses.
Most of the technologies we've ended up inventing and developing, and most of the strategies we've ended up pursuing, have been borne by a long cultivation of an open question, followed by the nurturing of a slow hunch. I'm able to tolerate open questions for months, or years. Open questions could include queries about how to find a co-founder for your business idea when people have their own interests and projects to work on or how to sell your new product to an entity that is typically averse to risk (Answers: Work with them on their projects to show your worth and tempt them with interesting questions; show how to dramatically reduce a risk they already bear.)
Usually, the simple answers that come quickly don't satisfy me. But instead of giving up or forgetting it, I work at the problem each day from different angles, under different lenses—which can include but are not limited to: looking at extremes, considering what essential assumptions are and how to test them, and discovering how a different industry might solve a problem. Eventually I find some real traction with an idea that seems novel and has a good chance of working.
– Co-founder Danielle Fong of LightSail Energy
6. Set 3 specific goals weekly and monthly and ignore everything else.
There are a million things you can do to improve your business. The problem is, if you try to fix or improve them all at once, you end up not making much progress in any of them.
You need to be relentless in following your goals. At least once a day, I find myself asking, "Is what I’m working on directly helping one of the three goals?" It's easy to distract yourself with tasks that aren't critical. You just need to stay on top of it. This helps us accomplish big things quickly.
To hold ourselves accountable and stay on the same page, we have weekly meeting on Fridays. During these meetings, our company sets the goals for the upcoming week and see where we are on the previous week’s goals. It's a lot easier to say "what went wrong this week" then "what went wrong this quarter."
7. Make lots of lists as soon as you get to the office.
My habit is that I create lists for everything for one hour as soon as soon I get to the office every morning or the day before at the end of the day. I record these lists in Notes on my iPad, computer, and iPhone. I also use Gmail Tasks so I can link my lists to emails.
It forces me to think through my day, my week, my year, and my long-term plan before beginning to execute. This improves my organization and clarity. In the past, I got caught up with the day-to-day details, and I took my mind off of the big goals.
There is a great YouTube video that I love, which inspired me to start the habit.
– Founder Jonathon Nostrant of ivee
Forming the right habits is critical to success as an entrepreneur. In fact, 40% of our daily behaviors happen automatically as a result of our habits according to researchers at Duke University. So, if you choose the right behaviors to turn into habits, you have just supercharged a large portion of your day.
What is the single biggest productivity habit that has created the most impact in your life?
Related: 5 Characteristics Shared by the Most Successful Organizations
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