5 habits to build a stronger business and a more balanced life

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The secret to entrepreneurial success is simple: building good habits. But I know that’s easier said than done.



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As head of a global technology incubator, DMZ, I have worked with hundreds of early-stage founders. Building a business is a huge undertaking, and time and again I’ve seen entrepreneurs become so focused on the day-to-day demands that they forget to think strategically. However, long-term success requires thinking beyond the horizon—and implementing the right systems is what helps make room for this critical work.

For founders, this starts with prioritizing time management, networking and leading their teams. Small but powerful, these habits are the foundation of your success.

Related: 5 Small Habits All Leaders Should Have To Grow Their Businesses

This was something I learned early on when I was in the infantry in the Canadian Armed Forces. As soon as the alarm went off at 5:00 am, we were trained to jump up and make our beds. At first it wasn’t immediately clear why such a simple task mattered so much in our routine, but I soon realized that this small act set the tone for the day. It helps to get that first task done, so you feel like you’ve accomplished something, even if the rest of the day might not go as planned. That’s the way I look at good habits even now – they help you get into the right mindset for whatever comes next.

These are the five habits I recommend every entrepreneur implement in their life:

1. Plan your time effectively

All founders can fall into the trap of wanting to succeed more than anything else. But I try to do everything will lead to burnout. To make sure you have the time you need to do your most impactful work, you need to be ruthless with your schedule.

I suggest we get into the mindset of building “buckets” of time. I have seven or eight buckets that are really important to me: there is a bucket for work, professional development, family, travel, exercise and so on. Each has a time dedicated to it and when I focus on one, I try to be fully committed to it. Use your calendar and schedule time for everything. And I mean it everything. It sounds funny, but I’m blocking time to think.

There is so much truth in the idea of ​​loving yourself first – it allows everything else to fall into place. The moment you start putting everyone else before yourself, you dig yourself into a really dark hole that can be hard to get out of. Love yourself enough to know what things to put first for you—that aren’t related to your business. Maybe it’s waking up and meditating, going to the gym, or going for a long walk. Whatever it is, the first thing you do every morning should be something that puts you in a positive mindset and ready to attack the day.

Related: 7 Great Tips to Improve Your Time Management

2. Read the news

It’s such a simple thing that entrepreneurs often overlook, but it’s extremely important. Being informed about what’s going on in the world is all about relevance – you need to be able to participate in conversations about how markets, economic and social issues are developing. To be strategic about your business, you need to be able to understand both macro and micro trends. Make it a habit to check the news every morning to stay up-to-date.

3. Consult your staff about more than work

My number one rule for being a good manager is to touch people for themselves, not just for their work. I’m a walking manager, in the sense that I’ll talk to everyone as I move around the office (and I mean everyone from the guy who cleans the coffee machine to the people who manage the programs and partnerships internationally). When managers actively listen to their people, it encourages better communication, builds a better culture, and helps them feel more comfortable approaching you with important questions or the next great idea.

4. Network — the right way

Networking is another essential habit – it opens doors, offers new ideas and inspires. Some people are, of course, much better at this than others. For years, I went to three to four networking events a week, if not more, and when I got home I felt completely exhausted. I had to learn how to make networking more conversational and figure out how to be myself instead of trying to be someone I’m not. I am now much more conscious about the events I attend and always have a clear idea of ​​three things: why I am going, who I want to connect with and what points I want to make.

I’m also putting more energy into other forms of networking, including social media, where a strong presence can unlock countless opportunities. I make it a habit to regularly post my perspective on various issues on LinkedIn. These posts prompt my followers to engage with these topics, which often leads to people reaching out to me asking for more talks or inviting me to be a guest speaker. It is resource intensive; it does take time and energy, but in the end it opens new doors. It’s also worth it purely from an access point of view because you’re hitting thousands of people in seconds instead of chatting with five people in an hour.

Related: How strategic networking can deliver big results at your next conference

5. Set goals and say them out loud

I also make goal setting a habit. I do not like this; I just write down the four big things I’m aiming to achieve in the next six months with my team, for example. Then I tell people about them. Going public with your goals means you can be held publicly accountable, so don’t be afraid to show yours. This will keep you honest and motivated to figure out how you are going to achieve these things.

It’s also important to review your goals, whether they’re daily on your to-do list or big goals that could take months to achieve. Circumstances change and you may need to change your priorities. And that’s okay—goals are a navigational tool. They keep me on track and give me the ability to understand my purpose because I always come back to the question “why am I doing this again?”

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