It is said that one way to achieve success is to emulate the habits of successful people. But an examination into the routines of several famous people reveals one dominant common thread: each routine is as unique as the individual who followed it. Winston Churchill spent a good part of his day in bed. Benjamin Franklin was up and about early in the morning, but passed much of the day in his birthday suit. French novelist Honoré de Balzac fueled his day with up to 50 cups of strong black coffee. Charles Darwin’s day was punctuated with frequent self-initiated interruptions.
Nonetheless, there are several common features that are shared by many successful people – those of the past and present day icons of success. Adopting these rituals and habits won’t guarantee you will share the same type of success. But you may find that your days are more productive and that you have a better overall perspective.
1. They Follow Regular Routines Which Many of Us Would Find Boring
Of course, what most people consider “regular” may or may not at all resemble the routine of various successful individuals. For instance, Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mister Ripley, the first of a series of titles featuring anti-hero Tom Ripley, had a diet that almost never varied: bacon and fried eggs at nearly every meal. Architect and designer Le Corbusier was devoted to a daily 6:30 a.m. calisthenics routine that resonates with many health-conscious people even today.
You don’t have to rise with the chickens or adopt your own version of the Atkins diet to emulate successful individuals. Instead, set a routine that suits your personal characteristics and stick to it – and be sure to schedule creative work during your most productive hours. If you are a natural morning person, follow Le Corbusier’s example and create a routine of rigorous early a.m. exercise to get your blood flowing. If you are a night owl, set your alarm for the small hours of the morning without guilt.
2. They Make Personal Connections & Keep Them
Shortly before retiring, poet and writer Maya Angelou regularly shared what she had written during the day with her husband. Obie McKenzie, Managing Director at BlackRock passes his daily commute by chatting with his wife, who rides with him on the train. Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, made time every evening to talk with his mother before settling in for a late night of writing.
Many creative people need solitude to properly focus. Many introverts prefer to spend much of their time alone on general principle. But research consistently demonstrates that social isolation is detrimental to mental health. And aside from recluses like Howard Hughes, it’s also normal to crave interaction with others.
3. They Are Disciplined, Sometimes In Weird Ways
Successful people exercise discipline although not always in a conventional manner. Charles Dickens isolated himself into solitary contemplation and demanded complete quiet while he was writing. Honoré de Balzac, wired with coffee, would work continuously for nearly half his waking hours, pausing only for a brief nap. Barack Obama plans his day during the previous evening, so that barring the inevitable political crisis; his day is laid out before his feet hit the floor. Before shifting his focus almost exclusively to Square, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey logged 16-hour days, devoting a full 8 hours of work to BOTH Twitter and Square.
If you’re launching a startup while holding down a regular job, you may very well log workdays that stretch well into double-digit hours. Otherwise, there is no need to chain yourself into a 16-hour day or fill your veins with caffeine to achieve success. Instead, the take-home lesson from these examples is to commit yourself to accomplishing certain tasks during the day. After all, if the President of the United States can manage to plan his day in advance, you should be able to do so, too.
4. They Set Rules & Boundaries…. To Themselves
David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, is as connected as any other twenty-something Millennial. But he sets one boundary that may surprise you: he never checks his email until after he arrives at work; typically about 9:30 a.m. Karp explained his position in a quote from Inc. magazine: “Reading e-mails at home never feels good or productive. If something urgently needs my attention, someone will call or text me.” Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Workweek, instructs his assistants to refrain from contacting him on Mondays or Fridays, just in case he wishes to extend his weekend.
Setting boundaries is essential to assuring that you have enough time to devote to yourself and your goals. If you’re the type who finds it difficult to say “no,” remind yourself that you are not being selfish; you are taking care of yourself. The distinction is important. By taking care of yourself, you are ensuring that you have the energy and stamina to honor your commitments to your work, your family and your community.
5. They Love Their Bodies & Use Them To Their Advantage
Composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky and Michelle Gass, Chief Customer Officer of Kohl’s Department stores and former president of Starbucks are just three of many extremely successful people who were and are devoted to regular exercise. Gass awakens at 4:30 a.m. for a morning run. Tchaikovsky was devoted to daily walks that stretched for hours. Beethoven was also a devoted walker, carrying a pencil and music paper along to jot down any inspirations that came to him.
There is nearly universal agreement among health and wellness experts that exercise is not only good for your body, it’s good for your psyche. Exercise helps you keep your weight down, your blood pressure normal and counteracts depression. No matter how busy you are, there is only good to be gained from regular exercise. If you’re absolutely crushed for time, taking a few moments to stand and stretch is better than nothing.
6. Contemplation Is a Regular Occurrence
Benjamin Franklin began every day by asking “What good shall I do today?” and ended each night by asking “What good have I done today?” Poet John Milton began each day in solitary meditation. Charles Darwin routinely lay awake in bed, solving problems in his head until he finally fell asleep.
The common theme is that successful people are conscious of how they conduct themselves. Charles Darwin aside, puzzling over difficult problems late at night may be a better recipe for insomnia than creativity. But Ben Franklin’s daily questioning of himself represents a good way of gauging whether your efforts are productive. If too many days find yourself answering “not much,” that’s a clue that significant changes are needed.
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