Routines are the Compound Interest of Your Life

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.” – Albert Einstein

“My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest.” – Warren Buffet 

“Understanding both the power of compound interest and the difficulty of getting it is the heart and soul of understanding a lot of things.” – Charlie Munger

A few years ago my co-founder Rory talked about the importance of compound interest not as a financial mechanism, but in terms of routines, processes and even lifestyle. I’ve noticed others have talked about the same concepts since. Routines — both good routines and bad routines — end up compounding on themselves over time. I have been meeting recently with a freshman at Stanford interested in CS and we talked about something he is still learning: the importance of building good routines. It inspired me to write this.

Here are some of the routines I’ve seen adopted by CEOs and founders that I think are particularly valuable in terms of their compound impact. While some could be viewed as restricted to one’s personal life, I’ve found that each of them end up improving professional performance. I know very few, if any, CEOs that do all of these things effectively. Collectively they should be thought of as a North Star — don’t beat yourself up if you’re still trying to get better in some areas. There are several on this list that I wasn’t good at when I was CEO. Over the past six months I’ve been investing a lot into routines to make these easier to maintain when I am in a similar role again, but many of these I need to work more on. 

Sleep– If you don’t get enough sleep, quickly everything else in life begins to fall apart. There is a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. If you think you can really get by on five hours or less, I would urge you to talk with a doctor. Some hacks I’ve found helpful: eating before 7pm; blue light glasses at night; no TV/screens in bed; cooling sheets; regular exercise; no wine; and using an Oura ring for feedback on sleep quality. (I also tried a weighted blanket but didn’t stick with it.)

Exercise– Like many things on this list, it feels like you don’t have time to exercise. Or maybe you don’t know how. A lack of exercise hurts sleep, focus, happiness and overall health. Invest in a (virtual) trainer, or go to a class (I love Barry’s Bootcamp and Yoga). Aim to work out for an hour 3-4 times a week. I’ve found the routine is easier to stick with when I schedule exercise on my calendar and make it known that it is sacred time. Other teammates will (and should) feel empowered to do something similar. The result will be a happier, healthier and more effective CEO and team. That’s a more valuable and impactful company. 

Eating– With meetings all day coupled with endless email/Slack messages, it is hard to eat right for most CEOs. Information comes in like a Matrix-style IV plug in the back of your head and often a CEO can forget to eat or not find enough time to figure out how to get healthy food in a day. Everyone is different, but I’ve found sacrificing variety for health — not going through the mental overhead of trying to find something new and healthy every day — helps me stick to a healthier diet. Over many years as CEO, I had basically the same salad from the same restaurant delivered every day (I paid). It wasn’t super enjoyable, but not eating — or eating poorly — had worse implications. 

Meditation- I’ve been doing transcendental meditation for about seven years and I love it. This is one I absolutely need to calendar or it’s easy to realize it’s 8pm and you haven’t done it. I’ve found my mind is more calm and centered on days when I meditate.

Date Night- I think almost every CEO I’ve ever talked to has expressed concern over their love life, particularly if married. Building a small routine like a date night 2-4 times a month helps to keep things centered.

Time with Family– Like time with your partner, time with kids (if you have them) is vital. On the days or weeks when I didn’t invest here I felt less happy and more distracted at work. Dedicated family time is often hard for CEOs who have travel and late work commitments. Can you reserve time on the schedule to take or pick up from school or practice? What about family dinner? This is another area where effectively every CEO I’ve ever talked to feels like they are failing — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try by consciously building it into your schedule. Build in at least three weeks of vacation in a year. If you don’t, your team won’t – and burnout will occur.

Time with Friends Some of the items above are about eliminating or preventing pain. Others are about creating joy. I found that I too often focused on activities that would eliminate or prevent pain. I wasn’t good at maintaining time with friends when I was CEO and I regret that. I think it had an impact on my joy and also overall mental health in part because I found fewer opportunities to open up to others. 

Management Coach A great management coach is incredibly valuable for a CEO. I believe in them so much that we allowed all managers to get coaches when I was CEO. Try to invest the time to find a great coach — talk to your investors and other CEOs to get recs. Finding one requires a meaningful upfront cost in time (and money) — but they are worth it. 

CEO Support Group I found it hard to casually have coffee with other CEOs and for both parties to be vulnerable unless we were very close. Much more common was a coffee that would end up in a measuring contest with humble brags (or direct brags), which led me to feel lonely and isolated. But when I’ve been able to find a regular CEO support group, like YPO or Leaders In Tech, I’ve found them to be immensely valuable. I am a better CEO because of those groups. 

Therapy The most difficult periods in my life were also those when I didn’t go to therapy. I regret that. Finding a good therapist is incredibly difficult, but if you have had a history of mental health issues, many — including depression and anxiety — end up getting exacerbated by being CEO. Consider investing in finding a good therapist and meeting with them regularly. 

1:1s Just as you’re trying to build time to invest in the most important relationships outside of work, make sure to build time to invest in your most important relationships at work. There is nothing that creates more leverage for the CEO than their executive team. Weekly, or bi-weekly, one on one meetings are vital for these relationships and the overall health of the organization. Model their importance by showing up on time and engaged. 

Skip Levels There are too many routines and processes that help organizational health to list here, but one that is fairly easy — and extremely valuable — is holding skip level meetings throughout the org. I found that doing 5-10 per quarter helps keep a good pulse on the organization.

Exec Team Dinners Days are long and people have many other commitments — as we mentioned above — but executive team dinners are a great way to come together as a team. As CEO I did a poor job of investing here and I wish I had done these more often.

360 Surveys and Pulse Surveys Pulse and 360 surveys every 6 months help to create data and feedback for you and the team to grow. It’s a routine that will pay dividends and help to prevent cracks in the culture from getting too wide. 

To reiterate: no one does all of these well. There are a lot of routines and habits I didn’t mention. The point here was to lay out some I’ve found that really compound (in a good way) if done consistently and done well.