Successful entrepreneurs tend not to have complicated approaches to how they spend their time. After all, a day full of business decisions can be complex enough on its own without adding more confusion to the mix. As a result, most entrepreneurs tend to do certain things every day (even if those tasks aren’t exactly fun).
Go to the gym, no matter how much you don’t want to
It’s a rare entrepreneur who doesn’t wind up glued to his desk most of the day. Unless you’re one of the rare exceptions, you’re going to need to make sure that you exercise regularly if you don’t want a sedentary lifestyle to catch up with you eventually. Unfortunately, however, fitting a regular exercise habit into a busy schedule can be incredibly difficult.
Your evenings are almost certainly going to be full of social engagements, networking events, and other obligations. Scheduling time during the day is just asking for something to go wrong and push back or cancel your exercise appointment. The only real option is to get up in the morning and work out before the rest of the day catches up to you.
It turns out that getting up early (as well as exercising) is a common habit among successful entrepreneurs. The CEOs of Xerox, Apple, and Pepsi (among others) all start their days well before 6 AM. Those hours before the office are bustling may be some of the most valuable time an entrepreneur has — perhaps because it may be the only time you’ll get to yourself for the rest of the day.
Set a routine you can stick to, come hell or high water
It’s tempting to think of an entrepreneur’s life as one where new and interesting things happen every single day — but the reality is that the most effective entrepreneurs have daily routines that they’ll stick to no matter what else happens.
Your routine can make amazing amounts of work possible: Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of both Twitter® and Square®, spent some time putting in eight hours a day at each company (for a total 16-hour workday). The only reason that schedule was at all possible was because Dorsey set a routine, down to batching all work of certain types on to certain days of the week, across both companies.
While you may not get too excited about having to go through a humdrum process every single day, your routine may enable you to do something that appeals a little more: you get to say ‘no’ to things that you can’t fit into your routine. Your schedule isn’t meant to be a straitjacket, of course, but it does make an excellent excuse for getting out of things that don’t work for you. In fact, a good routine means that you don’t even have to make too many decisions about what you’ll be doing at any given time — you just move on to the next block of time on your schedule
Prepare for tomorrow before you head to bed
If you were lucky enough to have a parent who always asked you to lay out your clothes for the next day before you went to bed, you’ve already built a habit that will make other entrepreneurs jealous. Taking the time to plan out at least the first few steps of your day (even when you’re on the verge of falling face first into your bed) can let you jump straight into your work tomorrow. Especially if you find a little time to work before anyone can distract you or before something can derail your day, not having to dither around to decide what to work on first can be crucial.
You may also find that making a head start part of your evening routine lets you make far more effective decisions about your priorities. The choices we make in the moment aren’t always the same as when we have some distance — when we’re not about to dive into whatever crisis has floated to the top of the pile, we can think about what we really need to do today to achieve our larger goals.
And as much as it might drive you crazy, a good entrepreneur usually has a bed time. Being in bed and asleep by a certain time is key to getting up early, as well as sticking to a routine — a less-than-stable sleep schedule can throw you off kilter far more than anything else.
Check in on your goals, even if you’re not making progress
At some point in your daily routine, it’s important to check in on how quickly you’re progressing towards the goals you’ve set for yourself and your company. If you’ve broken those goals down into tasks you need to complete as a part of your routine, so much the better.
At a bare minimum, however, you need to be able to see what sort of progress you’re making so that you can check if you need to change your priorities for tomorrow or otherwise adjust how you’re spending your time. Even Benjamin Franklin, who was an entrepreneur as well as an inventor and a diplomat, scheduled time into his day to think about what he had accomplished. Each evening, he set himself the question, “What good have I done today?” We can get a little more specific these days, though having a guiding question like Franklin’s can pay off.
It’s worth keeping Franklin’s example in mind in other ways: he set himself a routine, but struggled with sticking to it. You don’t have to be perfect (especially when you’re just starting out), but you need to keep at building your routine and doing those things each day that may not thrill you.