Workaholics Anonymous—A 12-Step Program of Recovery and Personal Transformation (Step 8)

[Index: INTRO, Step 11b233b4566b7899b1010b1112]

The Sharpening of Your Ax

Winning is determined by what happens before the game.

Discovering methods to achieve substantially more in your life—in the same or less time—is the purpose of this 12-step program. Each step offers solutions to do more with less effort and stress. In our current work culture, we create so many tasks that we end up in a constant state of doing without enough contemplation of what we are doing and how to do it more effectively.

I know some people who are constantly working, continually executing (and stressed and frazzled because of it), but at the end of a week, month or year, their results don’t end up being much, and they don’t seem to get better at what they do along the way.

Don’t let that person be you. In order to advance your life further, faster and with less time and effort, learn to plan and prepare.

Planning and preparation will give you a 10-times greater chance to achieve your goals. It will reduce wasted time and effort, while improving and maximizing results.

“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret to success.” —Henry Ford


The book Learning to Think Strategically explains how Japanese executives are required to block out at least two hours a day when they simply do nothing but think. No phone calls, computers, or paperwork, no interruptions and no exceptions.

During this time they are asked to stop their movement, think through the actions they are to take that day, over the next 90 days and for the next five years. They are required to “back up from the trees so they can see the forest.” They plan and assess the strategic value of their actions and the actions of their team and organization before moving further.

This process allows them to constantly stay on strategy, dismiss distracting projects and continually operate at the highest level possible.

During this time you should assess:

  • Where do I (or my business) want to be in five years?
  • What are my top three goals for this year?
  • What do I have to achieve by the end of this month?
  • What is the single most important accomplishment for this week?
  • If I can only do one thing all day long, what’s most important to achieving the goal?
  • If I can only do two things, three things?
  • What is working well that I need to do more of?
  • What things on my to-do list do I need to delegate?
  • What things on my to-do list do I need to not do?

If you are unable to block out two hours, take at least 30 minutes to assess your goals, priorities and strategy. Contemplate all the ways you and your organization can improve. You have to open a window for your creative intelligence to air itself out.

More on moving from efficiency to effectiveness in Step 3. Additionally, in my book Designing Your Best Year Ever I provide a weekly Achievement Planning System that will also guide you in this process.


“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree,
I’d spend the first six sharpening the ax”. —Abraham Lincoln

In our forthcoming June issue of SUCCESS, Jamie Moyer, at 46 the oldest active baseball player in the National League, reveals his greatest secret to success—preparation.

For the last 20 years he has made notes and studied the habits, strengths and weaknesses of every batter in the league. Jamie remarks that only 50 percent of the game is what happens on the field, the other 50 percent is all that you do before the game ever begins.

His study of the game and every opponent, as well as his constant off-season conditioning, made the success of his unusual 23-year career as a pitcher in the major leagues possible. Jamie says, “I learned that being better prepared often gives you an advantage. I wanted that advantage.”

“Spectacular achievement is always preceded
by unspectacular preparation.” —Robert H. Schuller

Here are four ways to out-prepare your competition:

1. Study: This is the advantage that Jamie Moyer and so many other superachievers exercise better than their competition and the rest of us. While others are filling their time with entertainment and escapism, superachievers are studying and improving their craft. Having more knowledge, data, background and intelligence will always give you the upper hand in any situation.

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” —Benjamin Franklin

2. Develop: Develop the skills necessary to achieve excellence in your game. Brian Tracy explains that every skill you need to succeed is learnable. There is nothing you cannot learn and master to achieve anything you want in business and in life.

—>Question: What two or three skills do you need to excel at to succeed in your business? Presentation, leadership, team building, sales, influential communication? Figure out what two or three skills you need to master and then buy every book, attend every seminar, sit down with everyone you can, to help you hone those skills.

3. Practice: Tiger Woods was interviewed on the Golf Channel and was asked what he thought was the key to his success. His answer: practice. He gave away his secret when he said it wasn’t just the time he put into practice, rather what he put into the time of practice. He went on to explain a concept similar to what is outlined in the book Talent Is Overrated, and it’s the concept of deliberate practice.

To practice, many golfers will go out and hit a thousand golf balls on the range, much of the time only reinforcing many bad patterns and problems in their swing. Tiger explained how he and his coach study, analyze and refine every swing, seeking to get as close to “perfect practice” as possible.

—>Question: What important skill should you deliberately practice perfect? Record what you are doing, analyze it for improvement and get feedback from a coach, mentor or superior.

4. Play the Game in Your Head First: I learned this lesson 20 years ago and it has served me well since. Before making a presentation, an important phone call or having an important meeting, play the event out in your head exactly as you want it to happen first. It is amazing how your posture, energy and expectation will change, and your performance will rise to meet it. When I was in real estate I would pull up to a house for a listing appointment and first have the meeting in my head—how they would greet me, their receptivity to my ideas, their enjoyment of the process and their signing of the deal. Somehow, that expectation and projection helped steer the actual event.

“One important key to success is self-confidence.
An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”—Arthur Ashe

Try it. Before any important interaction, event, call or presentation, play it out successfully in your head first.

These are the keys to superachievement. I hope you are using these keys to unlock your greater potential and productivity. It takes discipline and commitment to exercise these advantages. Put them into practice–deliberate practice.

Follow Darren behind the scenes of SUCCESS:

Share this post

Comments Closed

  1. Anirudh says:

    Another great post Darren, all these steps are like classics, which I can refer again and again. Truly transformation steps.


  2. Brian Houp says:

    Great Stuff. I heard a quote a few years ago that really got my attention to think differently on the value of stopping to reflect and planning to generate desired results. The quote is “A passionate 90 percent is better than a panicked 110 percent.” This quote is by author, Robert Kriegel.

  3. Renee Clutter says:

    I loved your article. It is so true that our success truely relies on us to do the homwork: like study the skills, planning, and even practicing. I am a firm believer that if you play the event in your mind there is magic there. I did that alot when I played softball for nine years because I heard that trick from Michael Jordan in a interview. I also remember hearing about as a study late 1990s. Where the scientists had two young men shooting the basketball. One boy was asked to keep shooting the basketball over and over and the other boy was asked to visualize in his mind shooting the basketball. After some time the boy who was asked to visualize shooting the basketball in his mind made a shot and it was dead on. So it is amazing what the mind is capable. And we are only getting to know only about 15 to 20% of what the mind does. God knew what he was doing. Thank you for taking the time for writing this article it was awesome.

  4. Susan says:

    Thank you for this article. In today’s economy, many of us feel like we constantly need to prove how “busy” we are to justify our jobs. We feel the pressure to look busy all the time — scurrying from meeting to meeting, having conference calls, answering countless e-mails. Yet we often fail to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves in our yearly objectives, simply because we’ve been too busy!

  5. Errol Moo Young says:

    Your article was very educational and gave me pause for reflection. Planning beforehand is so critical, or else you could be chopping your way in the wrong jungle. Many would scoff at the Japanese practice of taking 2 hours for reflection as a waste of time. But how much time is wasted on “urgent matters” like trivial phone calls, the fourth cup of coffee, half an hour at the water cooler with the latest sports update. How much better is planning five years from now, next month’s goals or how to kickstart a quicksand, sluggish economy. Thanks for your planning eyeopeners. Errol.

  1. [...] Index: INTRO, Step 1, 1b, 2, 3, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 9b, 10, 10b, 11, 12 [...]

  2. [...] Index: INTRO, Step 1, 1b, 2, 3, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 9b, 10, 10b, 11, 12 [...]