13 Successful Leaders Reveal the “Little Things” They Wish They Learned Sooner

Mar 7, 2017 | Business, Family, Personal Growth

No matter who you are or where you’re from, I’m willing to bet with 100% certainty that someone has offered you the following advice at some point in your life:

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

You’ve been told to stay focused on the big picture. That doing so would lead you to success and happiness.

Entire books, speeches, and even careers have been propped up on this dash of conventional wisdom.

But what if it’s wrong?

What if history proves it’s actually the little things…that change everything?

After tons of research, countless conversations with leaders at the top of their field, and years of helping companies double and triple their results—all by simply focusing on the little things—I can tell you with confidence…they do.

Little things have won (and lost) wars, saved lives, and made careers—and still—society overlooks them.

But there are a few who understand their importance: High-achievers.

Why High-Achievers Sweat the Small Stuff

When you talk to successful people, you will quickly discover they pay special attention to the little things most people dismiss or overlook.

And from that focus, they are able to create extraordinary results.

All because they decided the “small stuff” might be worth sweating after all.

But that’s not the only thing they have in common.

If you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover there’s almost always at least one little thing that has made such a profound difference in their life or career that they kick themselves for not realizing its importance earlier in life.The Little Things

After writing my new book, The Little Things: Why You Really Should Sweat the Small Stuff, I asked 13 successful people—authors, speakers, entrepreneurs, and influencers—the following question about the little things they wish they’d realized earlier in their careers:

If you could go back in time 10 years, what “little thing” would you tell yourself to start paying more attention to? Why?

Their answers yielded a goldmine of life-changing, career-altering information.

You’ll find each of them, unedited, below.

1. Avoid Burnout by Making a List

Barbara Corcoran - The Little Thingsby Barbara Corcoran, Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank and Founder of The Corcoran Group

I’ve made a habit of going to the library whenever I felt burnt out, exhausted or overwhelmed.

I bring a yellow pad and pen and leave my phone in the office. I draw a line down the middle and make a list of everything I love about my Life on one side and what I don’t like on the other side and go right back to the office and give away every single thing I don’t like to do.

There’s always someone willing and excited to do each thing that I did not want to do. I’ve been doing this just about every 6 months for the last 40 years and have a very happy life!

2. Talk to Yourself Instead of Listening to Yourself

Jon Gordon - The Little Thingsby Jon Gordon, Bestselling Author of The Energy Bus 

Dr. James Gills accomplished the remarkable feat of completing two triathlons back to back. Most of the world, including me, couldn’t complete one triathlon, never mind two. Yet, Dr. James Gills, a man in his fifties, was able to complete a double triathlon six times.

When asked how he did it, he gave the best advice I’ve ever heard.

He said, “I’ve learned to talk to myself instead of listen to myself.”

He continued, “If I listen to myself I hear all the reasons why I should give up. I hear that I’m too tired, too old, too weak to make it. But if I talk to myself I can give myself the encouragement and words I need to hear to keep running and finish the race.”

It’s the same way with life.

Too often we listen to ourselves and hear all the complaints, self-doubt, fear, and negativity that lead to unhappiness, failure and unfulfilled goals.

But instead of listening to the negative we can choose to feed ourselves with the positive. We can fuel up with words, thoughts, phrases, scripture and beliefs that give us the strength and power to overcome our challenges and create an extraordinary life, career and team.

It might seem small but when applied, over time it actually makes a big difference.

Just keep running, stay positive, talk to yourself instead of listen to yourself and make sure you celebrate and raise your hands in the air when you’ve reached your destination!

3. Redeem Your Time

Jerry Jenkins - The Little Thingsby Jerry Jenkins, 21-Time New York Times Bestselling Author of the Left Behind Series

I’ve always been struck by the seemingly accelerated passage of time, but ten years ago I wish I had known what accounted for that illusion. My mother was near her death in 2010 when she suggested that the years seem to go by quicker all the time because each one becomes a smaller percentage of our whole.

When you’re four, reaching five will cost you another 25% of the time you’ve already lived. But do the math for how long it takes to get from 60 to 61 (under 2% of your total).

That revelation has made me even more proactive about the time I have left.

I want to invest more time in my grandkids. They won’t be kids for long.

I want to be urgent in my teaching of writers, certain I pass along everything I’ve learned in my career.

In short, I want to redeem the time. Thanks, Mom.

4. Rise Early, but Sleep More

by Crystal Paine, Founder of MoneySavingMom.comCrystal Paine - The Little Things

For years and years, I thought that the way to get the most done was to sleep less. After all, didn’t all high achievers wake up really early and “eat their frogs” before the sun was up?

I prided myself on being an early riser and strongly encouraged other people to join me in this because I truly felt that it made a big difference.

And yes, it did make a difference—but it wasn’t in the way that I realized. I was missing one important piece of the get-up-early-successfully pie: I wasn’t going to bed early most nights.

This meant that I was sleep-deprived and running on fumes most days. It affected my energy levels, it impacted my ability to focus, and it hurt my health. After years of sleep deprivation, this seemingly “smart habit” was taking a huge toll on me physically.

In 2016, after hitting a brick wall of exhaustion, I declared a Year of Rest and for 12 months, I said no to almost everything, gave myself permission to stop and breathe, and even stopped setting an alarm clock for a season.

I soon learned that getting more sleep actually helped me to be much happier and more energetic, but it also allowed me to be a lot more productive. Why? Because instead of walking around in a fog for at least a few hours every day because I was so tired, I had clarity, energy, and focus. So even though I was working fewer hours, sleeping more, and giving myself space to breathe, I was getting a lot more done each day and my life felt much calmer and more organized!

I now abide by this simple rule of thumb: If you want to get more done in a day, sleep MORE, not less!

5. Ask for Help (and Be Willing to Receive It)

by John Jantsch, Founder of Duct Tape Marketing John Jantsch - The Little Things

I would ask for more help and let more people help me—business owners like to push through and figure everything and to some extent, this constricts a lot of growth.

What’s funny about this is that people want to help and to some extent when you don’t allow them or ask them what they think or what they would do in your shoes, you turn the tap off.

I think a great deal of this comes from the desire to be seen as having it all figured out and few things are more harmful to growth than that.

Ask for help, be helpless, and activate the helpfulness in others.

6. Look Beyond Your Intentions

by Jordan Harbinger, Founder of The Jordan Harbinger ShowJordan Harbinger - The Little Things

I’d tell myself to pay more attention to how I’m perceived, despite my intentions.

A lot of times we/I made the excuse, “Well, I’m super busy, or in a hurry, etc, they understand that.”

They may very well have understood, but it doesn’t change the results that are generated from the way you make people feel, or the way they feel you judge them. It takes so much time to recover from this, that it’s literally NEVER more efficient to try and correct a lackluster first or second impression than it is to simply create the right one in the first place.

For the longest time people thought, Jordan’s nice enough, but he’s always in a hurry. Or, Jordan is friendly, but he’s not WARM.

I used to think that was just how I am, but once I started to correct this, I noticed my friendships getting deeper, my social circle getting wider, and my business blossoming.

Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to connecting with people. Play the long game, even if you think you’ll never meet this person again in your entire life.

The Little Things

7. Create Time for Deep Work

Jeff Bullas - The Little Thingsby Jeff Bullas, Entrepreneur, Speaker, and Forbes Top 10 Social Media Influencer 

Plan your day for making sure you have focused creative space. Block out time for “deep work.” Don’t make success an accident. Design your life, share your expertise, experience, and passion.

We all have the opportunity to be craftsmen. To be creators and producers of content and media that belongs to you and not the corporation.

The habit of doing the “deep work” is not just about productivity. It goes much deeper than that.

It is a place where your learning goes to a new level one day at a time. Blocking out some hours for you. For your work. But…don’t keep your creation hidden from the world. Share it. That is where the magic happens.

It will fill the hole that gnaws at you every day if that opportunity to create in concentration is ignored.

8. Embrace Everyday Encounters

by Michele CushattKeynote Speaker 

At the beginning of January—just a few short weeks ago—I had a trip to Nashville that involved three different speaking events/trainings over the course of eight days.

If you’re unfamiliar with my story, I’m a public speaker and communicator who lost 2/3 of her tongue due to cancer a couple years ago. Needless-to-say, speaking for eight days isn’t easy for me. And yet the days were rich, rewarding and filled me with a sense of purpose.

By the time the eight days were finished, however, I was ready to return home. My body and mind were completely exhausted, and I couldn’t wait to get home to my husband and children—and my own bed. But the weather wasn’t cooperating. In fact, that day I ended up having somewhere around three flight delays, landing me in Denver about 2-3 hours after I’d originally planned. As a result, my husband and children couldn’t come pick me up from the airport. It was too late at night. Instead, I needed to catch an Uber for the 45-50 minute drive home.

I wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Not only did taking an Uber at 11 pm not sound like a good idea for a woman alone, I didn’t have the energy to talk to any more people. I just wanted silence. And sleep.

When the Uber car pulled up to the airport, a young man of about 27 or 28 years old, of hispanic origin, hopped out of his car, loaded up my luggage and welcomed me to his car. He was upbeat, friendly and I suspected he’d want to talk on the way home.

I was correct. Within moments, he asked me about my travel, asked me what I did for a living, etc. I obliged, and then politely asked him the same questions in return. After listening to his answers, I asked him one more question. To this day I’m not entirely sure why I asked it, especially considering my weariness. But I’m so glad I did:

“Guillermo, what’s your dream?”

He got quiet, hesitated, and then proceeded to tell me that he volunteers at a Spanish-speaking Christian church in downtown Denver. His dream is to work with the youth, the teenagers who are searching for answers. He told me that his faith in Jesus Christ is the most important thing in his life, and he wants to do whatever he can to give hope to the next generation.

For the next 45 minutes, as Guillermo drove me to my home, we shared our mutual faith and love of Jesus in his Uber car. We exchanged our favorite Bible verses and shared both the hard and beautiful parts of our stories. And when Guillermo pulled up in front of my house, we prayed together.

My point is this: Out of all the “big” things I did over those eight days and the dozens of people I met, the exchange that had the greatest impact on my life is the one that the world would think is the smallest and most inconsequential. It wasn’t the dozens of formal presentations and meeting “important” people, but the unexpected and unplanned for conversation in the back of an Uber car.

Thus, in answer to your question, my “small thing” is to learn to be less consumed and worried with plans, schedules, and important connections, and more attuned to everyday encounters.

9. Watch for What Excites You

Chris Guillebeau - The Little Thingsby Chris Guillebeau, New York Times Bestselling Author of The $100 Startup

I’d tell myself…

Pay more attention to the way things make you feel. Feelings aren’t everything, of course, but noticing when something fills you with the right combination of excitement and nervousness can be a good sign in knowing when to take a big risk.

10. Listen to Your Instincts

by Laura Roeder, Founder of MeetEdgar.com Laura Roeder - The Little Things

About 10 years ago, I had just quit my first job ever so I could work for myself, and I basically started figuring things out as I went along! The one little thing I’d have paid more attention to from the start, though, is my sense of instinct.

When I was starting out, I went to all these in-person networking events—because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? It was kind of a pain getting up super early, dragging myself all over Chicago in the cold, all to go to these things, but I made myself do it anyway, because how else are you supposed to find clients if you don’t network!

So I kept doing it and doing it for months even though it didn’t feel particularly amazing…but after a few months, I did the math and realized that not a single one of my clients had ever been the result of me attending a networking event!

I quit going to those meetings, and I realized right then that if something doesn’t feel right, there’s probably a good reason. If something feels like a constant struggle, if your instincts are telling you that it’s more trouble than it’s worth, if you just can’t seem to overcome a particular challenge no matter how many times you try, listen to that little voice inside your head telling you to stop!

Don’t ignore your instincts because of what you think you’re supposed to be doing. Don’t keep pounding a square peg into a round hole. When something doesn’t feel right, ask yourself why, and trust the answer you get.

11. Chase Your Dreams Together

by Steve Chou, Co-Founder of MyWifeQuitHerJob.com Steve Chou - The Little Things

If I were to go back in time, I would have started networking and meeting up with other entrepreneurs much sooner.

When my wife and I first started our eCommerce store, it was a very lonely process. Not only did we not know what we were doing but we had no one to talk to about our business problems. All of our friends worked full time jobs and could not relate to our situation.

It wasn’t until we started going to conferences and tradeshows did our business really start taking off. By sharing our strategies and forming our own mini mastermind groups with other like minded people, we instantly boosted our sales. You can’t run your business in a vacuum. And the key to growth is by collaborating with others.

12. Learn the Right Way to Listen

by Ray Edwards, Entrepreneur and Direct Response Copywriter Ray Edwards - The Little Things

Instead of walking in a room with an attitude that says, “Here I am!” I’d walk in with an attitude that says, “There you are!”

I would smile at strangers—who doesn’t love getting a big smile from a total stranger?

I would listen because I want to hear what people are saying, not because I was preparing to speak.

I would stop trying to get God to bless what I was doing, and instead try to do what God was blessing.

13. Don’t Let the Wrong “Little Things” Hold You Back

by John Rampton, Entrepreneur and Speaker John Rampton - The Little Things

If I could go back 10 years I’d tell myself to take more of a chance on myself. I always let the “little things” hold me back from my true passion. Little things like money, security, my girlfriend at the time, etc hold me back from becoming the person I knew I could be.

Pay more attention to that little voice inside you that you know you should follow but don’t always listen too. It’s usually right, but it’s the little things in life that hold us back.

Now, It’s Your Turn…

Knowing that close relationships in families are one of the “little things” that have a major impact on success in any endeavor, may I suggest you gather the family—it can be at dinnertime, in the backyard, in the morning before school, or whenever—read one of these, and discuss it.  

Make this a regular event in your family’s life!

Now, before you go, tell me…

What “little thing” would you tell yourself to pay attention to if you could go back 10 years? I’d love to hear what it is.

Leave a comment below so you can add to the wisdom shared above!

The Little Things


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