Ask anyone who has achieved some level of success in their careers how they did it, and they’ll point to some sort of system or foundational set of habits.
These are non-negotiable pillars in the person’s life that ensure what needs to get done, gets done. And every founder or CEO has their own recipe for success. As Tim Ferriss detailed in his most recent book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World, the most accomplished people in every industry tend to share one thing in common, and that’s a strong morning routine. Whether it’s a small habit or an entire series of rituals to start the day on the right foot, what matters most is the consistency and repetition of the action—day after day after day.
However, the morning is just the beginning.
Entrepreneurs and industry leaders all have their own methods for approaching their busy schedules. For example: Elon Musk is known for breaking his extremely busy days into five-minute time slots to ensure maximum productivity. On the flip-side, Jeff Bezos, has a personal rule to never schedule early-morning meetings—so that he can spend more time with his family and achieve some semblance of work-life balance. Some CEOs like Gary Vaynerchuk thrive on the non-stop hustle of it all, while others deliberately schedule time for themselves to rest and recharge.
According to the CEO of Absolut, Anna Malmhake, that personal time spent “doing nothing” is essential to long-term success.
“Every day, I make sure to get at least a little bit of time on my own,” said Malmhake. “15 minutes on the subway to work, if nothing else. Or in an airport lounge. During this time, I try to think about nothing—and by the end of that attempt, my mind has usually focused in on something very important and decided on an action step toward a solution. It is amazing what your brain can do when you don’t bother it with too many emails and unimportant details that just make you feel busy but do not really lead anywhere. So I treasure time spent sitting and staring into nothing.”
Malmhake isn’t the first CEO to mention the benefits of sitting in silence. Some classify this as meditation. Others call it a much-needed break from the hecticness of their demanding schedules. Either way, it’s mentioned time and time again as a foundational habit leaders cannot (and should not) ignore.
Building on what Malmhake shared, it is interesting that so many CEOs, entrepreneurs, and even successful individuals in industries ranging from professional athletics to entertainment and beyond, attribute so much of what they do to the act of not-doing. Even the legendary NBA coach, Phil Jackson, believed enough in the importance of mindfulness that he instilled the habit in the teams he coached.
So the next time you ask yourself what you can do to be more successful, as a leader of an organization or as an individual, it’s worth also asking how often you’re taking time to yourself. Sometimes, less is more, slowing down allows you to move faster, and sitting in silence for five or ten minutes is what sparks your next big idea.