The other day, I caught that old Fleetwood Mac song on the radio:
Don’t stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here,
It’ll be, better than before…
It dawned on me: We spend a lot of time obsessing over our tomorrows—how bright they look, how promising, how full of prosperity and success. I’ll admit, as a younger, career-building man, I found myself thinking the same way.
Then I discovered the value of today. I realized the priorities you set, the way you organize your agenda, the kinds of decisions you make today will set you up for great tomorrows. As an added bonus, you won’t look back when your todays become yesterdays and regret opportunities lost, time squandered.
In this life of a million distractions and endless choices, it can be tough to focus on the now. Let’s look at some strategies to zero in on what really matters.
1. Do a priority inventory.
Years ago, I made a list of the things that mattered most to me. They’re broad in scope and meant to carry me through life. They include:
- Health. After a heart attack at 51, I understood that eating right and exercising had to be part of my daily routine.
- Family. Our families often carry the weight of our ambitions. We promise that we’ll spend more time together, tomorrow. Treat your family obligations like your career ones. Schedule family time on your calendar, every day, in ink.
- Faith. I’m a former pastor. My actions have to align with my faith, and I need to set time aside for prayer, worship and spiritual activities.
- Generosity. I want to share the resources I have: time, money and knowledge. If I’m faced with two choices—one that benefits me alone or one that benefits others—I’ll pick the latter.
My list offered me clarity and simplified my decision making. I learned to disregard options that didn’t align with my priorities. I avoided emotionally charged, spur-of-the-moment decisions. I came to understand that the most successful people are those who settle their critical issues early and manage them daily.
2. Hone your decision-making skills.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the enormity of your undertakings? I sure have. One of my early goals was to triple the membership of Skyline Church in San Diego to 3,000 people. This would involve everything from outreach to fundraising to developing programs that congregants found relevant, exciting and faith-affirming. Where to start?
Small. I had to start small. One decision. Then another. Then another. Each day’s progress fed the next. Over the next decade, my leadership team and I achieved our goal.
Too many times, we fall into the trap of second-guessing ourselves, dwelling on past choices and reversing course. If your decisions align with your priorities, chances are you made the right ones in the first place. Honor them.
3. Be deliberate in your use of time.
If I parachuted into your life one morning, by nightfall I could tell whether you were going to be successful. That sounds presumptuous, but you can tell a lot about people from their daily habits. Do you start each day with a tangible goal? Is your agenda predetermined? Do you toggle aimlessly from website to website? Are your coffee breaks longer than your time on task? Are your life’s priorities evident from your daily actions?
“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Improve them, and they will become the brightest gems.”
Time is our most precious commodity, and the one we seem to squander most. Consider:
- To know the value of one day, ask the wage earner providing for his six children.
- To know the value of one minute, ask the person who missed a plane.
- To know the value of a millisecond, ask the silver medalist.
I’m not suggesting that we should be on-the-go all day, every day. That’s unsustainable. But could the 15 minutes you’ll spend fiddling with your phone be spent listening to an educational podcast? Could the hour you’ll lose to online shopping be devoted to an after-dinner walk, a book, a spontaneous date?
“Guard well your spare moments,” Ralph Waldo Emerson advised. “They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them, and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
4. Don’t mistake activity for advancement.
Time-management expert Alec Mackenzie says most executives don’t get to their most important tasks until midafternoon. Why? They are tackling the trivial stuff on their to-do lists just so they feel like they’ve accomplished a lot before lunch.
I read a story once about Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel in the early 20th century. Schwab’s company was successful, but he thought it could do better. He hired management consultant Ivy Lee to help him streamline operations. Lee told Schwab to write down the six most critical things he had to do the next day in order of importance.
“Now,” Lee continued, “put that paper in your pocket and first thing tomorrow morning, take it out and look at item No. 1. Don’t look at the others, just No. 1, and start working on it and stay with it until it is completed.” Once it was done, Schwab was told to do the same with No. 2, No. 3 and so on. Don’t worry, Lee said, if you finish only one or two items—Schwab would advance his company further if he met a few critical goals than he would if he took little bites off of multiple tasks.
Bethlehem Steel, of course, grew to become one of the most pre-eminent companies of its time.
I’m thinking about song lyrics again. This time, the refrain from U2’s “Beautiful Day.”
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
Our todays slip by too quickly, and we find ourselves stuck in tomorrows that don’t look anything like those of our dreams. Stop daydreaming, start prioritizing and wring every beautiful minute out of every beautiful day.
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.