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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.

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.

Featured photo credit: antb via depositphotos.com

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Last Updated on April 22, 2021

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation Is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

4 Steps to Define a Win
  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines

    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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