How Successful People Make Every Day Count

Life is full of decisions. Not only do you have to fight against the desires and impulses that defeat you, but also wade through countless “good” choices each day in favour of what would be best for your life and goals.

Have you ever had a busy day, but then looked back at the end of it and realized you didn’t really get anything done? It can feel good to multi-task and jump around from one good thing to another, but you make very little progress in the end.

If you want to have an amazing year, then you need to make every day count. But with so many good and justifiable ways to spend your time, how do you know which ones are RIGHT?

How do you filter out the good things you COULD do in favour of the great things you MUST do, so you can finally move forward?

Let’s dive into the final step and create a plan that has the power to take you from here to where you want to go. Since this post is a little longer than usual, I’ll give you a brief overview of its contents, so you can see how it will all come together.

Part 1: Get Ready

1) List Your NEEDS
2) Set Your PRIORITIES
3) Make Them MEASURABLE
4) Determine Your DEADLINES

Part 2: Get Set

1) Add the HOW-TO
2) Add the WHAT-IF

Part 3: Go!

1) Set the SCHEDULE
2) Now START!


Part 1: Get Ready
Your action plan begins by reviewing the limitations in your vision system, which you can learn about here. As you put the pieces in order and fill in the visible holes, you end up with a plan that really works.

1) List Your NEEDS
Remember to keep your list as narrow as possible. There may be 100 things you want or need in the long-run, but if something isn’t going to serve your vision, it can become clutter that distracts you and makes you less productive each day.

Just because something is beneficial doesn’t mean it’s right.

My LEARNING Needs:

  • Understand basic marketing
  • Understand financial planning
  • Identify the right KPI’s (key performance indicators) for my department
  • See myself as a person who makes healthy choices
  • Develop more integrity
  • Value family more
  • See the world as a place of opportunity
  • Improve my writing skills
  • Learn to prepare healthy meals
  • Develop the ‘take action’ habit

My ACQUISITION Needs:

  • A financial advisor
  • A new piece of machinery
  • An editor or publisher
  • Increase my income by 15%
  • Find new office space

MY ACHIEVEMENT Needs:

  • Run 5km
  • Write a weekly blog post
  • Make 30 sales calls per day
  • Reduce order processing time by 5 minutes per order
  • Cut expenses by 15%
  • Inbound 15 new sales leads per week

2) Set Your PRIORITIES
You can’t do everything at once, so you need to be strategic. Take a look at your needs list and identify an order.

Is there a natural progression that needs to happen? For instance, you can’t get a publisher for your new book idea until you find a literary agent and write a proposal. You might want to run 5km, but first need the right equipment and a good coach to show you the way.

If the right order isn’t easy to see, then ask, “Where are my current bottlenecks?”

Is there a limitation that prevents other things from working properly? For example, you may want to increase your number of sales calls or the amount of time you can allot to a specific project, but you need to improve your administrative skills so the increased workload doesn’t bog you down.

You might be able to start with two or three things, or perhaps just one for now. It all depends on your situation.

3) Make Them MEASURABLE
If you don’t have a clear target, you’ll never know if you hit it. Do a quick check over your needs list. Are any of them a little too general?

For example, ‘cut expenses’ doesn’t give you a specific outcome. How much do you want to reduce it? A better way to be express it is, ‘cut expenses by 15%’.

What about something a little less tangible, like ‘learn how to prepare healthy meals’? You may want to break it up into measurable stages, depending on your current skill level.

  1. Level 1: ‘Learn how to prepare three healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners.’
    This allows you to get started without the stress of figuring it all out on the fly.
  2. Level 2: ‘Learn how to read a nutrition facts panel.’
    This empowers you to start making healthier choices on your own.
  3. Level 3: ‘Learn how to buy groceries with a weekly budget of $50.’
    Now you’re really getting equipped to make the right choices.

Finally, it might seem completely intangible, such as ‘develop more integrity’. Although a measurement may not be clear at first, it becomes easier by focusing on what you DON’T want, rather than what you DO want.

If you want more integrity, then you must have witnessed a lack of integrity somewhere in your life. In what instances have you been dishonest or insincere?

For example, you could seek to, ‘Develop more integrity so that when I make a mistake, I won’t offer up excuses or shift blame to other people.’ Now you have a clear way to measure your success.

4) Determine Your DEADLINES
We all need deadlines. Parkinson’s Law says that, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Whether it’s a school assignment that isn’t due for three months or a project in your backyard that doesn’t need to be completed until the family reunion next year, we have all fallen prey to putting things off.

Now that you have an order and a measurement for every item on your list, decide exactly when each one should be completed.


Part 2: Get Set
Every item on your needs list requires that you do something differently. It could be a one-time action or a long-term habit, but you can’t keep doing the same old things and expect a new result.

1) Add the HOW-TO
Deciding the right HOW-TO begins with a bit of brainstorming, but let me first define what it means.

Your needs list is an outline of HOW you will reach your vision, but it’s still very conceptual. Although it’s great in theory, you can’t just understand personal finance, value family more or run 5km simply because you want to.

Consider your legs. Taking a physical step forward, sideways or backwards might seem easy to you now, but it wasn’t always that way. When you first started out, your brain and muscles had to learn how to balance, move everything in the right order and hold up your weight.

If you wanted to teach someone else how to walk, you wouldn’t simply say to ‘take a step’. Instead, you might give instructions like this:

  1. While standing on two feet, shift your weight to your left leg
  2. Raise your right knee up until only the ball of your right foot is touching the ground
  3. Lift your right leg off the ground and move it forward, using your right hip flexor
  4. Place your right root on the ground approximately 6” ahead and to the right of your left foot
  5. As you move your weight to your right foot, allow your left foot to roll from flat on the ground to up on its ball
  6. Lift your left leg up and swing forward using hip flexor
  7. and so on…

“Ten steps” might be HOW you get from your living room to your kitchen, but the HOW-TO isn’t quite so simple. Your vision is no different.

A lot of people know, in general, the HOW of accomplishing what they want. However, they don’t drill down the extra level to make it actionable with HOW-TO; the deliberate and measurable things you do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

Are you ready?

Take a single item from your needs list and write down everything you can do in order to make it happen.

For example, you may have written, “Better understand financial planning so I can start investing this year for retirement.” Your HOW-TO list might look something like this:

  • Read Money: Master the Game by Tony Robbins (or any of the other personal finance books that are currently sitting on your shelf – unread).
  • Ask Jeff (friend/colleague) about his financial advisor.
  • Download and listen to the podcast, Radical Personal Finance.

The list doesn’t have to be long; it might be as short as one item. The important thing is that you think each need through and identify the best path.

Pro Tip: Make Them MINI
At this point, you should have a clear sense of what your vision needs, as well as the required steps to get it done. Many of your HOW-TO items are likely habits that you now have to create, because without consistency on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, you won’t make any real progress.

The problem with new habits is that they feel uncomfortable, and your brain fights against them. In his book, Mini Habits, Stephen Guise explains the idea of making them as small as possible.

This strategy does a few things:

  1. It all but eliminates the amount of willpower required to get started.
    When you need to devote a big chunk of time and energy to a new habit, you’re often overcome with resistance. When the requirement is so small that it takes neither time nor energy, your brain poses no real opposition to it.
  2. It opens the door for the full habit.
    A common phrase, taken from Newton’s first Law of Motion is, “an object in motion stays in motion.” Getting started is the hardest part, but if you can get yourself moving, you have a high chance of following through. For example, you might have zero interest in reading on a daily basis, but you’ll find that if you simply sit down, open your book and take in a few words, the inertia dissipates and reading for 30 minutes is no problem at all.
  3. It makes it easy to feel good about progress.
    When a 30-second action is all you require of yourself each day, it’s easy to feel accomplished. You lower the demand you place on yourself and, as a result, you end up doing more than if you set your sights on something much bigger. However, if life gets crazy and all you were able to do was open and close your book, you’re able to feel good about that, too.

Here are a few examples of turning regular habits into mini ones.

BIG Habit: Read for 30 minutes every day.
MINI Habit: Open a book every day.

BIG Habit: Listen to a podcast every day.
MINI Habit: Open the podcast app every day.

BIG Habit: Workout 3 times per week.
MINI Habit: Drive to the gym 3 times per week.

Are you getting the idea?

2) Add the WHAT-IF
Sometimes it pays to worry. A lot of things can go wrong on your way to success, and while choosing ignorance might feel better, it’s only going to hurt you in the long run.

You need to enter into your plan with eyes wide open and with a clear WHAT-IF strategy in mind.

You need to ask two important questions and create a response in advance.

  1. What will stand in the way and resist my attempts to change?
  2. What could go terribly wrong?

a) Planning for RESISTANCE:
Whether it’s sticky old habits that don’t want you to change, or another person who doesn’t like what you’re up to, you need to anticipate everything that will resist your efforts. By planning ahead, you won’t have to react (often poorly) while under stress.

You can phrase your pre-planned actions as If/Then statements that are ready to execute in a moment’s notice.

The Resistance: Feeling criticized and disliked when making a tough decision.
The Response: If I feel criticized and defensive, then I will take a breath, smile and thank those who disagree with me for their opinions, and objectively explain why the decision must be made.

The Resistance: Sugar craving at 2:30pm every day.
The Response: If I crave sugar, then I will take 10 deep breaths, drink a glass of water and go for a walk.

The Resistance: The urge to finish your plate while eating out.
The Response: If I eat out, then I will ask the waiter to bring half the meal in a to-go bag

The Resistance: The urge to drink when driving past an old favourite bar.
The Response: If I feel tired and weak after work, then I will drive the long way home to avoid the bar.

b) Planning for CONTINGENCIES:
Creating a contingency is about having a Plan B in case things go wrong. It helps to bulletproof your main plan, and it keeps hope alive when life takes a bad turn.

Here are a few example questions you could ask:

  • What if the big deal falls through?
  • What if your partner doesn’t deliver on his/her promises?
  • What if the currency takes a nosedive and you can no longer afford raw materials from your current suppliers?
  • What if you lose your job?
  • What if you can’t find a publisher that likes your book?

I’m not suggesting that you obsess over every possible problem and create multiple in-depth plans, “just in case”. However, you DO need to consider the possibility of failure and what you will do if that happens.

It’s nice to think that life works out for those who plan well and work hard, but that isn’t always the case. Choose to look at potential problems, no matter how uncomfortable they feel. Assuming it will all be fine is naive and, in some cases, dangerous.


Part 3: Go!

1) Set the SCHEDULE

If you talk about it, it’s a dream, if you envision it, it’s possible, but if you schedule it, it’s real.Tony Robbins

You likely have a sizeable HOW-TO list that will take time to implement. Although you’re much closer to success than most, there’s still a big piece missing from the puzzle: a schedule. Unless you decide exactly when each task or habit will be completed, you will be likely to either forget or push them off. 

Your Perfect Day
We’re all limited by a set number of hours in a day. If we don’t learn to schedule as many as we need, those precious moments quickly slip away, and we end the year no further ahead.

Close your eyes and imagine your perfect day.

Take your HOW-TO daily habits and determine the best time for each one. You may be fresh for reading and writing in the morning, while exercise and quality time with your family could be better planned for the evening.

Create a schedule from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, and put everything in 15-minute blocks. You don’t have to assign every minute of the day, but you do need to slot in everything that matters.

The Next 30 Days
Now that you have your daily habits scheduled, you need to pick a date and time for each non-habit item on your list. If you need to ask Jeff about his financial advisor, for example, when are you going to do it?

Perhaps you want to attend a course, meet with a specific person or work on an important project.

Take your coming month calendar and decide when and where you will do each item, but don’t try to be a super hero. It’s easy to look ahead and assume that life will align with our intentions, but that rarely happens. Depending on the demands of your daily life, you may not want to schedule more than 60% of your time; leaving the rest open to whatever comes up.

The last thing you want is to build the perfect schedule that falls to pieces on day one. The next 30 days won’t be your last, so give yourself some space.

2) Now START!
If you have gone through all four steps in this process of discovering and living towards your dreams, then there’s nothing left to do but start. The best laid plans in the world accomplish nothing when they stay on paper.

Don’t wait for tomorrow, next week or next month. Success is for those who choose to act right now, regardless of the present circumstance. Every little step matters, and the longer you wait to start, the further you fall behind.

What are you going to do today to get moving? What can you do right now?

Life is waiting to see how serious you really are about this big dream of yours. Will it continue to be the grande idea you talk about with whomever will listen? Or do you have the guts to fight the odds, get it done and actually show them what you meant?

Ready? Good. Now go make every day count.

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