Do you ever wonder why one person is successful and another isn't? Some people are smarter than others, but that can't be the only factor. There are as many unsuccessful smart people as there are mediocre intellects who are very successful. Some people work harder than others, but again, that can't be the only factor. There are plenty of people working long hours, sometimes at several jobs, who are only marginally successful, while others hardly work at all and enjoy great success. And yes, sometimes success is simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but there are also plenty of people who have failed to take advantage of the opportunities that good fortune has put in front of them.

There are many factors that help define success--how much money we earn, how many people we supervise, how much respect we have among our peers, how happy we are with our home life, and a variety of others. And that makes it difficult to point to any single characteristic that distinguishes successful people from everyone else. But when I look at people who are successful in the remodeling business, I find one common denominator: They have all developed habits that breed success.

By "habits," I mean ways of thinking and doing that become second nature, or "automatic." A success habit is one that you perform so often and so regularly that you become unconsciously competent at it. It can be a routine activity, such as always getting to the office at 7 a.m., or it can be something more complex, such as a way of thinking or a process that you consistently follow.

Here are a few success habits that you may want to acquire.

Time for planning. A legendary motivator said, "Plan your work today, everyday, and then work your plan." Successful people know that you need a plan--not just to successfully build a remodeling project, but also to get to where you want today, this week, and this month. Successful people spend 20 minutes to 60 minutes planning their day. This is not just a "to-do list"; it is a thoughtful, strategic plan that takes into account not just what to do, but when, for how long, and with whom. It doesn't have to be mechanical, but without a plan your day or week is less productive. Getting this habit started begins with committing to the time required.

1+1 = 3. Successful people are always looking for ways to combine ideas and actions such that their collective effects are greater than their individual effects. That's called "synergy," and some people are born with the ability to think this way. But you can nurture this skill by always asking, "How can I leverage this situation?" or "Who else could benefit from this knowledge or experience?" or "Is there another way of looking at this?" Successful people not only have mastered this way of thinking, but they surround themselves with others who think this way, as well.

Failure is not an option. Successful people are far from invincible. They fail or fall short often, maybe even more often than others who are not as successful. But they also understand that success is generally achieved because of the extra 1% or 2% of effort they apply.

We often see this in sports such as football or golf, where a matter of inches can make a huge difference in the outcome. Successful sports figures, like all successful people, leave nothing to chance, and put in that little bit of extra effort that gives them the edge they need to win.

The first step in developing these habits is to make success a priority, and then to commit to a written plan to achieve it. Although it will be difficult at first to employ these practices and ways of thinking, if you routinely make the effort, it will become easier over time. Intelligence, hard work, and luck will help, but it is discipline that will make success habitual.

--Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman and Remodeling Services, Bethesda, Md. He was named a Maryland Ernst & Young Entrepeneur of the Year for 2006