“People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Leonardo da Vinci

Highly successful people don’t wait and hope for desired results. Success is never accidental for them. It’s the direct result of preparing, planning, and aligning their time with their most important goals. Here are eight ways that successful people make the most of their time:

1. They save their decision-making muscles for important stuff

Obama only wears blue or gray suits. Zuckerberg’s uniform is a gray shirt and jeans. Steve Jobs wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck almost every day. Highly successful people simplify their wardrobe. They minimize the amount of decisions they make on trivial matters.

Only a few decisions truly matter. They’ve internalized that every decision doesn’t have to be optimal or perfect. This frees them to make quick decisions most of the time. They automate and simplify decisions.

They don’t think about whether they will go to the gym. They don’t deliberate about what they will eat for breakfast. They workout at the same time every day. They eat the same breakfast every day. They use their willpower and flex their decision making muscles on the highest impact decisions they face each day.

2. They have a consistent morning routine

They create momentum at the start of the day through consistent morning routines. Successful complete a combination of the following activities in the morning: meditate, read, journal, exercise, prioritize their day, envision a successful day, and eat a nutritious breakfast to fuel their day.

For example, motivational speaker Tony Robbins takes a cold plunge to reset his system and reduce inflammation in the morning. He also does breathing exercises and expresses gratitude during a ten minute priming exercise. What we focus on expands in our minds. Through his morning routine, he chooses to expand gratefulness over fear and anxiety.

A precise formula that produces an effective morning routine doesn’t exist. Highly successful people experiment with different activities until they find the morning routine that fits their lifestyle and sets them up for a successful day. They also create routines for the end of the day…

3. They have a consistent nightly routine

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Alexander Graham Bell

Successful people don’t wait until the morning to prepare for a successful day. They start the night before. They unplug from their devices, read, meditate, and plan for the next day. They wake up relaxed and stress-free because they have already designed the blueprint for a productive day. However, they don’t start planning the night before.

4. They plan ahead thoroughly

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Abraham Lincoln

One of the major differences between highly successful people and average performers is detailed and strategic planning. Successful people spend more time thinking about their big picture goals and ideas. They zoom out regularly to analyze their lives from a 50,000 foot view.

This enables them to make key decisions deliberately, methodically, and strategically. Average performers make those decisions in a reactive mode while they’re in the thick of the forest of their lives. Successful people plan thoroughly and reap the rewards down the road.

Their detailed planning provides clarity on what they should be working on at any given time. They produce at high levels because they separate the planning and creation processes. They don’t plan when they feel like it.

5. They have a system for planning

While Bill Gates was the Chairman at Microsoft, he secluded himself from the distractions of daily life twice a year during Think Week. Visitors were banned during the week. He read many papers (his record was 112) about Microsoft as well as new ideas in technology during Think Week. The space and time he carved out during the week allowed him to take a step back to review the projects and ideas at Microsoft.

Greg Mckeown, the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, advocates conducting a quarterly personal review to define your most important objectives for the next three months.

What doesn’t get scheduled, doesn’t get done. Successful people regularly schedule time to review their priorities, goals, and road maps to achieve them. They schedule time to monitor their progress on key objectives and iterate their plans based on results and lessons learned. They schedule their projects on a daily and weekly basis. They set aside time to plan and strategize as well as time to execute those plans.

6. They prioritize

Successful people understand that if they don’t prioritize their projects, they will be swayed and pushed around by the agendas of others. They consistently evaluate their priorities and re-organize the order as circumstances change.

Since their priorities are crystal clear, they quickly assess whether a request fits into their big picture plans. They cultivate the habit of turning down requests that don’t align with their most valued goals. They learn to say no in a firm and graceful manner to requests that don’t fit their plans.

Effectiveness trumps efficiency for them. They focus on working on the right things over getting more done. They strive to produce at their highest quality for their highest priorities.

7. They focus on important projects

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” Stephen R. Covey

In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey lays out a quadrant with the following categories: urgent and important, not urgent and important, urgent and not important, and not urgent and not important. The quadrant where you spend the majority of your time determines your life’s destiny.Average performers live in the urgent quadrants. They are constantly putting out fires.

On the other hand, highly successful people focus on activities that are important and not urgent. These activities don’t yield instant results. However, they produce massive long-term results.

8. They work on the most important project first

Willpower is a limited resource. As we make decisions, run errands, and work on various projects throughout the day, our willpower is depleted. Successful people leverage the full tank of willpower in the morning by working on their most important project first.

In the morning, the stresses and obstacles that arise throughout the day haven’t cluttered their mind yet. They take advantage of their fresh and clear mind. In addition, they take advantage of the lack of distractions in the early morning. They get a head start on the world by making progress towards their most valued goal in the morning.

Featured photo credit: TechCrunch via flickr.com

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