I like to chat with people, hospital shaking hands and signing books afterward. Often during those times, someone will say something like, “I wish I could spend a day with you.” It makes me chuckle because, well, my days are pretty dull.
Yes, it’s exciting to speak to an audience, and I truly love meeting and helping people. But most of my life consists of regular routines and steady disciplines. I believe that’s true for most successful leaders. Why? Because the secret to your success can be found in your daily agenda.
The first step in determining your daily routine is figuring out what really matters to you. You can’t prioritize if you don’t know your priorities.
If you’re not certain of your principles, you can look at my pledges below and use them as a starting point.
1. Attitude: I will display the right outlook daily.
2. Priorities: I will act on the things most important to me daily.
3. Health: I will follow healthy guidelines daily.
4. Family: I will communicate with and care for my loved ones daily.
5. Thinking: I will practice good thoughts daily.
6. Commitment: I will make and keep proper promises daily.
7. Finances: I will properly manage dollars daily.
8. Faith: I will deepen and live out my faith daily.
9. Relationships: I will initiate and invest in solid relationships daily.
10. Generosity: I will model kindness daily.
11. Values: I will embrace good standards daily.
12. Growth: I will seek improvements daily.
With that for context, I’ll walk you through my typical day and teach you how to make yours as effective as possible.
Prepare the Night Before
If it’s going to be successful, my day has to start the night before. Before I go to sleep, I do two things. First, I reflect on the day that’s ending. You will never make the most of the day that’s coming until you evaluate the day that has passed. Who did I help? What did I learn? Did I do my best?
Second, I look at the next day to see what I need to accomplish. I know I can’t be at the top of my game every minute of the day. So I look at my schedule and to-do list and decide what will be the main event. Then I make certain I can give my all to that most important thing.
Don’t try to prioritize your whole life. Just prioritize the day. If you can figure out the best possible way to spend four, eight or 12 hours, you can be successful.
Ask the Right Question in the Morning
Because I wake up knowing how I will spend my day, I’m able to hit the ground running. That leaves me with just one question to consider each morning: How can I add value to people today?
Asking this puts me in the right frame of mind as I approach my responsibilities. I want to make a difference. If I look for ways to add value to those I encounter, I will likely be satisfied with how I use my day.
Give Your Best
Parts of my day are routinely the same: I prepare at night. I get my mindset right in the morning. I try to carve out time to exercise in the afternoons when I’m at home or in the early mornings when I’m on the road. And I do things to help me grow personally (more on that shortly).
The rest of the day varies. Sometimes I’ll be speaking to live audiences. Other times I’ll be in meetings with leaders of my teams. Or I’ll write. Or I’ll be recording or thinking through future projects.
Whatever the day holds, I try to give my best. Success in life and leadership consists of being good in the moment. If you can be totally present physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, you become a “100-percenter,” and those people are the ones who rise to the top and make a difference.
The best “100-percenter” I ever met was Bill Clinton. I got the opportunity to meet him at the White House during his second term. In our short time together, he focused completely on our conversation and made me feel important.
If you do everything I’ve listed, you will be able to add value to people and have a successful day. But how do you sustain that over the long haul? By adding value to yourself every day. I grow by practicing what I call the “Rule of Five”—five things that I do every day:
1. Read. I am constantly feeding my mind. I try to read one or two books every week. Some I skim. Others I fully digest. I also listen to podcasts and other audio messages, the best of which I have transcribed.
2. File. It’s not enough just to read. The No. 1 time-waster for most people is searching for lost items. Whenever I find a good quote or idea, I file it. That way I can retrieve it within seconds or minutes.
3. Write. I help others primarily through books and speeches. That means I need to write continually. Look in my briefcase or on my desk and you’ll find files of material I’m working with to create new lessons and ideas.
4. Think. Perhaps the most valuable thing I do every day is stop doing and just think. I evaluate experiences, weigh opportunities, consider how to help my team and ask God for guidance.
5. Question. Good questions unlock doors and reveal opportunities. I feel so strongly about this that I wrote a book called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, which will come out in October.
Renew Your Preparation
When I reach the end of the day, I repeat the process. I plan tomorrow and reflect on today. If I’ve added value to others, then I have done something to make my family, community and country a better place to live. Mission accomplished.