Richard Branson wakes up early to exercise. Cameron Diaz slugs a whole bottle of cold water that she has put in the fridge the night before. Albert Einstein was reported to insist on ten hours sleep. When we question the key to success, often we imagine it as some secret magic bullet that will transport us from the mailroom to the CEO’s office.

Overnight success can happen – but mostly only in movies. The road to success is built on something that doesn’t sound at all glamorous: habits.

While habits and routines may sound boring to a budding entrepreneur, they are in fact essential to reach our full potential. As writer and philosopher Will Durant said ““We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

What are habits?
Habits are activities that we establish and practise daily to make us healthier and more productive.NThese habits are part of an ongoing journey to reach one’s goals. Sticking to routines does not mean that we eliminate change and creativity. On the contrary. Successful people will build, adapt, and rebuild their habits as they constantly reflect on what works and what doesn’t.

While everyone’s habits may differ, there are some key ones that many successful people practise that you may like to try to see if they work for you:

1. Rise early and have a morning routine
Tom Corley’s bestseller, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life, found that fifty percent of the self-made millionaires that he interviewed for his book get up a few hours before their workday starts, and used this time to both plan their day, exercise, or work undisturbed on a particular project. “Getting up at five in the morning to tackle the top three things you want to accomplish in your day allows you to regain control of your life,” he writes. “It gives you a sense of confidence that you, indeed, direct your life.” Janine Hall, the Kiwi founder of Bali retreats Escape Haven, recommends this, too. She calls it the 5am club. “A time when you can exercise and map out your whole day. Or do yoga and meditate at sunrise.”

2. Make self-care a priority
Ferraris need petrol, diamonds need polishing, and even Albert Einstein needs his shut eye. You cannot operate at your best if you are not prioritising the basic habits of a healthy life that will fuel both your physical body and mind. The three keystones of good nutrition, exercise, and sleep will ensure you are working at optimum levels to achieve your goals in all aspects of life. When we are busy working towards a goal, we may skip meals or grab something unhealthy, or work way into the night but this is counterproductive. Lunch is not for wimps, but for smart people.

Successful people make time to eat well and ensure that regular exercise is part of a daily routine. This doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym for two hours 6 days a week. Choose exercise that you enjoy whether it be walking in nature, swimming, running, dancing, biking or yoga. Keeping the body moving and feeding the body and brain with a healthy combination of carbs, protein and fats will keep you at your best. While all-nighters were heroic when you were a student, no one can be at their best without a regular sleep routine of at least 8 hours.

3. Goal Setting
A goal is just a dream with a deadline. Use a journal or computer diary to set daily and weekly goals in writing and give them a deadline. Set short term specific goals with action plans and deadlines. These goals should be part of your long-term goals. In the action plans include what resources you need to help you reach that goal. Clear goals will help you use your time efficiently as below.

4. Plan time and avoid time wasting
Link your goal planning above to your daily tasks. Of course, there will always be additional and unexpected things that arise that you need to do but as far as possible your daily to do lists should be In line with your short-term goals. Write a to do list at night and keep a notepad by your bed in case you think of anything else. This also makes for a more restful sleep as you have it written down. Tackle your to do list first by prioritising it. First, eat the frog. That is tackle the most unappealing or difficult job first. As Mark Twain said, “If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat the frog, then you can continue your day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day.” Next tackle your emails. As they constantly come in, the danger is you get caught up on your emails for a large part of the day. Instead check your emails twice or three times a day at set times. Use an automatic response message that assures the sender that you check emails twice a day and will respond soon. Switch your mail notifications off so you do not get distracted. While we all love a good scroll on social media it can be a time well. Set yourself specific times to check your social and turn notifications off for the rest of the time.

While brainstorming and talking and listening to other people is an essential part of being successful – make set times for this or you may find yourself losing hours on the phone or at the water cooler. Be assertive with your boundaries but still open to listen. Say something like, “That’s so interesting, I would love to hear more but I am on a deadline right now, but shall we catch up next week (or when convenient) to discuss?” It’s is much better than being a martyr and listening to your colleague’s monologue or than shutting him off completely saying, “Sorry, I’m busy.”

5. Learn to say no, in a constructive way
Billionaire Warren Buffett, is quoted as saying… “The difference between successful people and really successful people,” he says, “is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” As above, while it is tempting to see people pleasing as a key to success, if you take on too much you end up losing sight of your own goals. Set your own boundaries and learn the N word. You can still be helpful by pointing people in other directions or offering recommendations.

6. Make time for continuous learning.
Read widely. Listen to others. No successful person made it on their own. See your life as a journey of learning and gaining inspiration from others. Build a valuable contact book. Make networking a priority. People you meet may reinforce your beliefs or cause you to question. We all love to talk but listening is a key habit to practise. The smartest people in the room are often the quietest. Good listeners bring out the best in others, as well as discovering that “a ha” moment when listening to someone and you realise it’s relevant to what you’re trying to achieve. Seek out people who inspire you and learn from them. Enlist a mentor or business coach.

7. Work life balance
Make time for relaxation where you switch your phone off and spend time with friends and family. Schedule things that you enjoy, whether it is a round of golf, the bridge club or simply dinner with friends and a movie. During these times, make it known that you are not available unless it is an emergency. Plan short and longer breaks throughout the year.

8. Be flexible: Learn to sail the rocky waters
Life rarely goes to plan despite one’s best efforts to plan. Successful people are flexible when roadblocks or issues arise. Make it a habit to see these challenges as opportunities rather than problems. This will help you develop a success mindset where you look for positive solutions to move you forwards, despite what life throws at you.