Attack the Day Like a Real Leader

The lives of historical greats have always captivated me. I suppose I feel like it’s better to learn from the advice and mistakes of others rather than doing my own hands-on research. After all, it saves time, and who couldn’t use more of that in their life?

In my work, I often refer to a concept referred to as attacking the day. This is not my idea. It, too, comes as advice from one of history’s greats.

Marcus Aurelius, ruler of the Roman Empire from AD 161 to 180, wrote about this concept in a collection of his personal writings known as Meditations. In it, he shares his philosophy and thoughts on various aspects of life, including how to approach each day with purpose and determination. He’s my kind of guy.

It’s simple enough to say, but attacking the day can be a tough undertaking, especially in a world of technology, devices, and notifications that beg for our attention 24/7. If you struggle in this area, you can bet your team will, too!

In this blog, I want to explore five things you can do to win like a Roman Emperor when it comes to attacking the day. As you live a more productive life and demonstrate this principle, those around you will want to start winning, too.

Set Clear Goals

People often worry about what they want or need to do in the next ten years. My advice is to focus on what they can do in the next ten minutes to help them get closer to their goal. If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, each one of those next-ten-minute goals amounts to a step along the way.

You can start by defining specific, achievable goals for the day. These should be realistic and aligned with your long-term objectives. Break down large goals into smaller, manageable tasks to make them more attainable. 

Are you someone whose brain is spinning before they go to bed, already thinking about everything you have to do the next day? Use that to your advantage! Keep a notebook next to the bed and before you shut off the light, get those ideas out of your head and into a list so that when your alarm goes off in the morning, you already have a roadmap for your day.

Or, if you’re one of those lucky people who falls asleep before their head hits the pillow, make your list of daily goals while you’re in the shower or (if your phone hasn’t already started ringing) when you first sit down at your desk for the day.

Use whatever method works best for you. The point is to define tangible, realistic daily goals. This will help you maintain momentum; as you accomplish each task, you can measure the distance you’ve traveled and see how much closer you are to your long-term goal.

Prioritize Tasks

As a species of hunter/gatherers, you might think prioritization is a skill we are all imbued with. After all, if we don’t know how to prioritize naturally, if we don’t know how to identify our most pressing needs, how have we survived this long?

The plain truth is we are probably devolving in this department. Technology and its ever-growing demand on our lives make prioritizing much harder. 

The notification you just got for the sale on merch from your favorite YouTuber demands just as much attention—if not more—than your sales report that’s due tomorrow.  We have allowed this to happen to ourselves, folks.

It’s high time to take back your life and, even more critically, your potential. Start by looking at that list you made in step one and identify the most essential tasks you need to complete during the day. Prioritize them based on urgency and importance. Focus on completing high-priority tasks first to ensure you progress toward your goals. Bonus: Prioritizing your to-do’s also can help alleviate that feeling of overwhelm we get when our list is long and we feel a little lost.

If you take the time to do this each morning, you’ll end each day feeling more accomplished and inspired to do it all over again. 

Note: Of course, a pinch of discipline is required. If you struggle to maintain focus on your priorities due to notifications that throw you off your game, take time to change your settings and turn off the ones that deter you from your goals.

Create a Plan

You know that old adage: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail? Well, adages don’t become adages if they aren’t true. 

I don’t mean to suggest that you have to plan every day down to the last detail; rather, I mean that you’ll want to plan a structure for yourself to allocate the time and resources necessary to help you make daily progress. This becomes your schedule for productivity.

Organize your schedule by allocating time blocks for each task or activity. Or, if it is easier, allocate regular, recurring blocks of time dedicated to working toward a Big Goal; then, within that dedicated block, you have the freedom to work on whatever smaller, daily related task you’ve assigned yourself. Having a structured plan will help you stay focused and make efficient use of your time.

If you frequently get waylaid, wasting hour after hour wandering down every rabbit hole that looks appealing, your progress will suffer, which means you will, too.

When you plan, and you stick to it, you plan to win. 

Stay Flexible and Adapt

You’ve planned out your day. Tasks and small objectives are defined, and you are ready to hit the ground running. Then, your phone rings, and a fire needs to be put out before you’ve even had your second cup of coffee.

Ain’t that just the way? 

Unexpected obstacles or opportunities will inevitably arise, so be prepared to adjust your plans accordingly. Maintain a positive attitude and approach challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. That’s how you stay in the driver’s seat of your day-to-day affairs and make them work for you as a leader. 

One of the tenets of Marcus Aurelius’s attack the day philosophy is focusing only on what you can control. This is one of the wisest things any real leader can do. This approach fosters a sense of agency and resilience, enabling you to navigate the unpredictable currents of life with greater clarity and purpose.

Practice Self-Care

Want to hear an unpopular opinion? I think a lot of what passes for self-care these days is really just self-indulgence. Don’t get me wrong: I am all for treating yourself if you feel you’ve earned it; there’s nothing wrong with that. 

However, I believe true self-care goes deeper than that. It means regularly prioritizing your physical and mental well-being to maintain energy and focus throughout the day, to keep yourself in a state of peak performance, so that you can achieve your goals. 

As a servant leader, if you are serious about self care, it is possible to utilize it as a tool to actually give more to people. True self-care doesn’t have to mean taking away from anyone else.  

Take regular breaks throughout your day to rest and recharge; keep your blood flowing by moving around regularly; stay hydrated, eat nutritious meals, and engage in activities that promote relaxation and stress relief. It’s amazing what even ten minutes of fresh air and sunshine can do for your mind, body, and soul. 

Remember to get enough sleep to ensure you start each day feeling refreshed and ready to tackle whatever comes your way.

Changing your Habits

Okay, I hear you. I know I said these were simple things you could do to help you attack the day. The truth is, they may be simple in concept, but you might find them somewhat difficult to implement. That’s because what we’re really talking about is forming new habits.

Science has found that habits take time to change—about 60 days, in fact. So, while you may be eager to turn your entire way of being around overnight and really start anew, it’s going to take time. Remember, anything worth doing takes time.

As a go-getting, high achiever, you may be tempted to be hard on yourself. Please hear me when I tell you: If you are less than perfect in implementing your new habit, it does NOT mean you lack discipline and therefore will not succeed in the long run. 

You can still change your habits (or adopt new ones) in about 60 days, even if you miss a few days of your new practice. The important thing is not to give up, mostly on yourself. You can do this. I believe in you. 

You must acknowledge that you are human. While we are capable of extraordinary things, it takes time and effort to achieve greatness. With a plan, dedication, and a bit of discipline, I know you’ll get there. And I already know you have what it takes because you are reading these very words.

I’ll see you at the top!

P.S. Did you read this blog and think, “Nope, not for me. I want to lead, but ‘attacking’ really isn’t my style.”? Then, I encourage you to check out my new book, Turn Your Fear into Fuel (summer 2024). Get on the list for pre-release details today!

 

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“The scarcest resource in the world is not oil, it’s leadership.”

As Co-CEO of the largest independent financal services company in North America, John Addison’s skill as a leader was tested and honed daily. He retired in 2015 after taking the company and it’s people to massive heights. He’s just not done helping people get to the top. Today, he’s at the helm of Addison Leadership Group, INC working daily to mentor and educate new leaders.