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How 12 Highly Productive People Used The Power Of Routine To Achieve Greatness

How 12 Highly Productive People Used The Power Of Routine To Achieve Greatness

Admit it. You’ve wondered.

In those quiet moments when you thought no one was ‘listening’ you’ve asked yourself: “Could I be next Steve Jobs? or the next Warren Buffett? Or >insert name of famous person<?”

The truth? You can. The secret to being a high achiever is a lot simpler than you’d imagine. It’s all about routine and focus.

I mean, sure, these high achievers like Jobs and Branson are incredibly talented. There’s no question about it. They all have unique qualities and abilities that many of us don’t have. But here’s the thing: We all have unique talents. What most of us don’t have is the ability to create routines that help us focus and make the best of our natural talents. As you’ll see later in this post, Jobs was able to harness his talents through incredible focus by asking one simple question every day. That one question directed his focus and helped him first develop his talents into powerful skills. He then used these skills to create world changing products and companies. Many times.

You too can make the best of your natural gifts. What you need is a system that helps you to hone your skills. And then apply those skills in a focused way to make the world a much better place. And a great place to start? Study their daily routines of some of the highest achievers the world has ever seen.

Here are the routines of 12 high achievers who made a huge impact on the world:

Steve Jobs changed the world by asking himself one question everyday

9 minutes and 10 seconds into his 2005 Standford commencement speech Steve Jobs talks about one daily habit that probably made the biggest impact on his life and work.

Everyday he’d ask himself “If today was the last day of my life would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” When the answer was “no” for too many days in a row he knew he had to change something.

This question kept Steve focused on what really mattered.

He goes on to explain “Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to make the big choices in life. Because almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, fear of embarrassment and failure, all these things just fall way in the face of death. Remembering you’re going to die, is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Warren Buffett generated a personal net worth of over $57 billion by nurturing one important habit

Buffett’s daily routine includes a lot of reading. In fact, he spends about 80% of his day reading.

And he does this every day.

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I remember watching an interview on CNBC where he mentioned that he reads at least 3 annual reports or company prospectuses (a couple of hundred pages each) every day. When asked how to get smarter he held up a stack of paper and said. “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”

When he’s not busy reading, Buffett is deep in thought — usually assessing various companies’ competitive advantage. This is how he decides on what stock to buy. Right from the beginning of his career, he’s applied the principles in Benjamin Graham’s book — ‘the intelligent investor’. And he’s never deviated from them in his entire career that spans well over 50 years.

As at October 2014 Forbesreported his net worth to be $67 billion. His company called Berkshire Hathaway is now the fourth most valuable public company with a market capitalization of $330 billion!

So how did he become such a great investor?

Routine. Consistency. Habits.

Buffett’s routine involves reading widely and thinking deeply. All this reading and thinking has one single focus— to be the greatest investor of all time.

Winston Churchill had an unusual but effective approach to making world-changing decisions

Churchill had a fairly unusual approach as far as high achievers go. Most high achievers jump out of bed early, and use their first few hours as a springboard for success.

Not Churchill. He didn’t physically get out of bed until about 11 AM. He would use his early hours effectively though. He’d wake up at 7am, catch up on local news and speak with secretaries. He’d then bathe, walk outside, then start work with whiskey and soda. Though he didn’t physically get out of bed till 11 AM, he used those hours between 7am and 11am to do his most important thinking and decision-making. This routine helped him set the tone for a productive day.

Benjamin Franklin started and ended his day with one simple question

According to this article in fastcompany Ben Franklin’s morning routine stretched from 5am to 7am, which started with one question: “What good shall I do today?”

Having set his agenda for the day by 7am, Franklin would work from 8 to 11am, and then again from 2pm to 5pm. At the end of the day he’d ask himself “What good have I done today?” His routine had a singular focus —doing the most ‘good’ each day. In the evenings he’d revisit the day’s events to see if he’d achieved his goals from the morning. He’d ask himself how much ‘good’ he had done during the day.

And that is how this high achiever used his routine to focus on his outcomes.

Beethoven created immortal music with a routine that started at dawn

Beethoven would wake up at dawn, have a cup of coffee and would work till 3pm. He’d usually take a small break for lunch followed by a midday walk.

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In fact, Beethoven had a tendency to take frequent, well-timed breaks — a trait common to most great achievers. He knew how to pace himself and avoided burnout. Beethoven spent winter evenings at home and devoted them to serious reading. He never composed music in the evenings – this was done in the earlier part of the day. He went to bed at 10pm at the latest.

So Beethoven’s mornings were focused on his most important work – creating music.

Barack Obama starts off each day by transforming himself into an endorphin machine

Obama has a fairly regular routine that allows him to fit everything into his day. He starts his day with a workout at 6.45am. Vigorous exercise is known to stimulate endorphin production — a feel good hormone in the body.

After this great start, he has breakfast with his family and usually gets the Oval Office at about 9 AM. He makes it home for dinner but sometimes goes back to work and stays as late as 10 PM. He sorts through odds and ends, catches up on work and gets ready for the next day. Obama’s also very careful to minimize decision fatigue — he prefers not to make decisions around food and clothing.

Obama’s routine is all about getting him to focus on the things that matter and eliminating ‘noise’.

Charles Darwin made huge contributions to science thanks to a rigid schedule, which incorporated a lot of walking

Charles Darwin stuck to a very rigid schedule that started at 7:00 in the morning. Having been an avid hiker in his younger years, Darwin’s routine incorporated plenty of walking. He’d start off the day with a short walk, followed by breakfast. He’d then work through the morning till lunch at 12:45. This was the biggest meal of the day.

His afternoon consisted of two walks, reading, and backgammon. Darwin could not tolerate much socializing, and kept it to a maximum of 30 minutes at a time. Darwin’s rigid schedule included regular exercise – another attribute of highly successful people.

Gandhi used a minimalist approach to lead the world’s largest democracy to freedom through non-violence

M.K. Gandhi would start his day at 4 am followed by his prayers at 4:20. He’d then do a bit of writing, after which he’d work or rest. He’d have breakfast at 7am, followed by a brisk morning walk that spanned 5kms.

Gandhi was a true minimalist. He ate from a small bowl to remind himself to eat small portions. He ate mindfully and slowly. He possessed very little apart from the clothes he wore and some utensils for cooking and eating.

He dressed very simply in a humble white cloth — which represented his allegiance to the average Indian who lived a frugal life.

When he met the king of Great Britain in London in his simple wrap around cloth a journalist asked him “Mr Gandhi, did you feel under-dressed when you met the King”. Gandhi replied, “The King was wearing enough clothes for both of us!” Gandhi worked hard to minimize distractions in his life and focused on what mattered most to him and his cause — freedom through non-violence.

His laser-focused approach enabled him to become a prolific writer, a great speaker and a greater politician. His routine enabled him to generate incredible resilience and keep him doggedly focused on his goals. His daily habits enabled him to lead India to freedom through non-violence — something that hadn’t been believed possible before.

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Richard Branson leverages his morning routine to successfully run over 300 companies

According to this business insider article (which includes a charming video interview with Richard Branson) he attributes his successful running of over 300 companies to waking up with the sunrise – at 5.45am.

Branson is a great believer in getting fit and healthy and often kicks off his day with a swim around his island. If the wind’s up he goes kite surfing and occasionally has a game of tennis. This is followed by a good healthy breakfast and then work.

He also loves to incorporate a bit of music into his day.

John Grisham built a career as a writer by harnessing the power of ‘one page a day’

When Grisham first began writing, he still had his day job as a lawyer.

To do both, he’d wake up at 5:00am,shower, and then head to work — five minutes from home.

By 5.30am he was sitting at his desk with a cup of coffee and a yellow legal pad.

And this is when the ‘one page per day’ plan kicked in. He’d set himself a simple target. To write one page each day.

Sometimes this page appeared in just ten minutes, while other days it took one or two hours. Regardless, he stuck to his routine and finished that page before he started his day’s work (as a lawyer).

Stephen King became one of the greatest writers by faithfully following rituals – some of which he didn’t understand

Here’s an extract from the book Lisa Rogak, Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King

“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write,” he said. “I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.

“It’s not any different than a bedtime routine,” he continued. “Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on? I mean I brush my teeth, I wash my hands. Why would anybody wash their hands before they go to bed? I don’t know. And the pillows are supposed to be pointed a certain way. The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed. I don’t know why.”

Victor Hugo — a prolific writer and artist — woke up each morning to the sound of a gunshot followed by a public ice-cold bath on his roof

Hugo would wake up each morning to the sound of a gunshot from a fort. This was followed by a public ice bath on his roof in water that had been left out overnight. This days would include long strenuous exercise on the beach and a daily visit to the barber.

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When Hugo set out to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the fall of 1830, against the seemingly impossible deadline of February 1831, he bought himself an entire bottle of ink in preparation and put himself under house arrest for months. He did this by locking away his clothes (to avoid any temptation of going outside) and lived in a large grey shawl which reached right down to his toes.

He finished the book weeks before the deadline, using the entire bottle of ink to write it.

So there you have it. Some of the greatest achievers and their daily routines.

So what do all of these great achievers have in common?

Three things:

  1. The stay focused on their cause or their life goal. They were all masters of eliminating distraction that took them away from their main focus.
  2. They were all early risers and made the most of the first few hours of their morning.
  3. Almost every one of them incorporated some form of exercise into their daily routine.

You can do this too

You want to make a huge impact on the world? You can.

You want to devote the rest of your life to a meaningful pursuit that leaves the world in better shape than you found it? You can.

The thing is you have enormous untapped potential just like Steve Jobs or any of these other high achievers did. You just have to work out how to access that potential. And a great way to start is to develop a routine that eliminates distractions and keeps you focused on your objective.

You need to focus on turning your talents into skills through a consistent routine, and deliver them to the world in a way that makes a massive impact. It won’t be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. In fact, I can guarantee that there will be many times when you’ll want to quit.

People will call you insane for dreaming those audacious dreams. But the worst crime you can commit is to believe them and not yourself. See, our job is to be the elite few that dare to lead the world away from mediocrity and into excellence. It’s to defy self-imposed boundaries and accomplish things that were previously considered ‘impossible’. It’s to contribute to the world in such a powerful and meaningful way that the ripples are felt for decades to come.

You can do this.

I believe in you.

So get started.

Right now.

Featured photo credit: antb via depositphotos.com

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How to Fight Information Overload

How to Fight Information Overload

Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

What you need to do is focus on these 4 steps:

  1. Set your goals.
  2. Decide whether you really need the information.
  3. Consume only the minimal effective dose.
  4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming too much information.

But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

The Nature of the Problem

The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem. This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

When we see some half-baked blog post we don’t even consider reading it, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it. We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

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No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on. The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control. Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it. But first…

Why information overload is bad

It stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here. When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work, or enjoy your passion.

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So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with your goals.

1. Set your goals

If you don’t have your goals put in place you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

2. What to do when facing new information

Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans then skip it. You don’t need it.

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If it does then it’s time for another question. Will you be able to put this information into action immediately? Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks? Or is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away? If the information is not actionable in a day or two (!) then skip it. (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant. Self-control comes handy too … it’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future then SKIP IT.

3. Minimal Effective Dose

There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour Body,Tim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs. Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life. Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming more information

Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

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Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

In Closing

As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance. I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over. I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

Feel free to shoot me a comment below and share your own story of fighting information overload. What are you doing to keep it from sabotaging your life?

(Photo credit: Businessman with a Lot of Discarded Paper via Shutterstock)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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