And we don’t recommend trying some of them at home.
We can’t say if people are successful because of their odd habits, or in spite of them, but they are fascinating. Benjamin Franklin purportedly took “air baths,” waking up each morning to spend some time in his birthday suit in the outdoors. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is known for his “two pizza” rule: if project meeting participants cannot be fed with two pizzas, the project is too large. Here are 8 more, plus 10 habits that aren’t quite so weird from the highly successful people we work with!
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” –Steve Jobs
Hungry is right. The Steve Jobs biography (2011) by Walter Isaacson details the Apple co-founder’s tendency to eat only one or two foods, like carrots or apples, for weeks at a time. Some of his early employees remember his skin taking on an orange hue from eating nothing but carrots. Jobs also spent some time as a fruitarian, a subset of veganism that means eating only fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables and grains and no animal products.
“The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.” –Nikola Tesla
When he said “really worked,” he meant it. Inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla was known to begin work each day at 3 a.m. and continue until 11 p.m., which likely contributed to the mental breakdown he suffered at age 25. Once he recovered, he continued the same working habits for 38 more years without a break in his schedule.
Keval Desai, a partner at InterWest Partners and former Google product director, likes the night shift. He told Lydia Dishman at Fast Company that he chooses one project per night and doesn't go to bed until the project is done. His penchant for working late began while he was in high school in Bombay, where he lived in a small apartment with his family. “The only option to get my studies done would be to work on it at night after everyone was asleep and there were no friends, neighbors, or random visitors dropping by." Habits born from necessity can be the most productive kind!
“The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison
Or, you know, give up on sleep. Inventor Thomas Edison shunned such necessities as sleeping. Edison adopted a polyphasic sleep cycle, a nap-oriented sleep pattern that is supposed to free up more waking time over a person’s lifetime. While the concept has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity, most experiments on polyphasic sleeping have yielded poor results.
“I don't believe in balance, not in the classic way.” – Marissa Mayer
Speaking of sleep habits (and balance), according to Business Insider, Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer only sleeps about four hours a night. She compensates by taking a week-long vacation three times a year to find time to unplug and stay refreshed.
“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou
American author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou was never able to write at home. The prolific author wrote seven autobiographies, hundreds of poems, plays, lectures, and articles, always working in ugly hotel or motel rooms. “I try to keep my home very pretty,” she said in a 1983 interview, “and I can’t work in pretty surroundings. It throws me.”
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve.” – Bill Gates
Feedback…or intensive time tracking by your boss with an eidetic memory. During his early days as co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates would reportedly memorize the license plates of his employees so he could track how many hours they were putting in. Even he admits that this was a bit “fanatical,” but it probably wasn’t a breeze to work for him back in those days.
“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” – Warren Buffett
Feel free to try this one at home (unless it cuts into your job search or work time). Billionaire business magnate, investor, and philanthropist Warren Buffet reportedly spends eight hours a day reading. That’s a level of reading that most of us outside of college intensives have likely never attempted—at least, on a regular basis. He is one of the richest men in the world, after all.
I won't name names, but an informal poll of some of the most successful people in our offices turned up a top 10 list of habits like these:
- Brush your teeth in the shower (saves time in the morning).
- Walk around a completely dark house and shower in the dark (heightens other senses and forces you to experience your surroundings in a different way).
- Outsource chores like grocery shopping or house cleaning, and use the time to focus on creative work (how much is your time worth?).
- Always wear shoes that you can slip off in order to work barefoot (a grounding technique that can help you focus).
- Listen to instrumental music—no lyrics—while working (words are distracting, music isn’t).
- Never drink coffee or energy drinks (this avoids drops in mood, energy level, etc.).
- Think about how your mentors would have reacted to a problem, and attempt to emulate that (imitation is the most sincere form of flattery!).
- Plan your week on Sunday so Monday is easier (and a great way to avoid workweek dread).
- Check your calendar every day before you leave work to ensure you have everything you need for the following day's meetings (and it helps you mentally prepare for your day).
- Turn away from your computer and put your phone down when interacting with people so you can pay close attention (you’ll be less likely to get distracted or zone out if you’re not multitasking).
These have been tested and approved, so feel free to try them at work or at home!