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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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