“What did you accomplish last month?”

“What did you accomplish last month?”

This is the question I asked 60 publishing executives who work for my biggest client. We had gotten together for our yearly meeting last month at a resort on the Maryland shore. One of my presentations was about personal productivity. I showed them my system (the one that’s included in The Pledge, my new book).

Only four out of the 60 asked for a copy of my system after the speech. That bothered me. I was hoping to get them all excited and on board. I know the value of establishing and adhering to priorities. I wanted them to know it too.

I don’t know why I didn’t get more of a response. Maybe some of them have no interest in being more productive. Maybe they’re happy with what they are currently achieving. That undoubtedly feels good. Less anxiety. But that’s not what I’m going for in my life. I want to do more than anyone has ever done before.

Most ambitious people set goals and use task lists. I’ve seen those task lists. They are usually handwritten on lined paper. Pages and pages of “things to do” with no way to sort out what’s important.

I used to do that. But I was never, ever able to accomplish my important long-term goals that way. I doubt those people do either.

The system I use now is more detailed. And it requires you to fool with it twice a day. When you see it, you might think it’s obsessive-compulsive and nerdy — definitely not something that truly bright and cool people would do.

But it works.

In fact, I’m amazed by how well it works.

So because I have no shame, I’m going to show you a list of everything I accomplished last month.

Here’s what I did:

  • Reviewed (and revised) my yearly goals
  • Set goals and objectives for this month
  • Reviewed my calendar for the rest of the year
  • Planned a “key concept” employee orientation program with a major client
  • Worked on a daily basis with a group of investment writers
  • Reviewed several dozen bank account balances
  • Discussed a new publishing product with a major publisher
  • Built a new bookshelf for my studio
  • Gave a friend career advice
  • Prodded a colleague to take action on a potential multimillion-dollar business deal
  • Researched start-up costs for a client’s foreign operations
  • Appointed staff for a new ETR magazine
  • Pitched the idea of an acquisitions division to a major client
  • Secured financing for a health publication
  • Clinched an international distributor for my “Uh-Oh! Show” movie
  • Suggested a cool website idea to my partner in a fine art gallery
  • Linked two clients to cooperate on webinars and product launches
  • Helped fill two key positions for a new client
  • Sent a summary of my speech points to delegates of a publishing seminar
  • Persuaded a client to launch two videotext promos
  • Brokered a U.S.-England shared-content deal with two clients
  • Contacted several colleagues to help a client with lead-gen swaps
  • Bought five paintings at auction for my art business
  • Reviewed comments on my upcoming speech for AWAI
  • Worked on plans to build a spec house in Rancho Santana
  • Discussed a management issue re the Nicaraguan real estate development
  • Reviewed the final version of “Godfather of Gore,” my documentary film
  • Registered new property acquisition in Panama
  • Bought 20 books and sent them to friends
  • Worked daily with a researcher on a new book of literary terms
  • Got a family member hooked up with a cancer doctor
  • Cleaned out my clothes closet in my Florida home
  • Scheduled monthly meetings with clients
  • Discussed my taxes with my accountant
  • Finalized the land plan for a community development center in Nicaragua

Not to mention:

  • Attended 47 business meetings
  • Read and took notes on 12 books
  • Wrote 12 poems
  • Revised 24 poems for a poetry collection
  • Recorded 30 useful thoughts
  • Finished one oil painting
  • Learned 25 new words
  • Critiqued 24 sales letters
  • Reviewed 90 daily e-letters
  • Critiqued 4 monthly newsletters
  • Wrote 7 marketing memos for clients
  • Suggested 14 business-building ideas to the ETR team
  • Wrote 12,750 words of business advice for books and essays
  • Researched 6 topics
  • Wrote 4,000 words of fiction
  • Took 25 Jiu Jitsu lessons
  • Walked, exercised, and sprinted 15 mornings
  • Did stretching and yoga daily
  • Worked with the sound track for a new record with my son
  • Reviewed an update on the Nicaragua school food and supplies program Reviewed and approved micro-loans for Limon residents
  • Funded a Nicaraguan cattle-processing business
  • Edited a book on writing sales leads with John Forde
  • Suggested a new book project for a client
  • Learned how to manage applications for my iPad
  • Arranged for round-the-world client tour in December
  • Fixed the outside speakers and redid the landscape lighting at my Florida home

Are you impressed? I am.

If I had to report what I had done in a typical month 10 years ago, my list would be a fraction of the size of this one.

More important, many of the tasks on this list are meant to advance my long-term goals. Because tasks like these aren’t “urgent,” I rarely got any of them done… until I developed this system.

And before I developed this system, I never had time to write poetry or produce movies. I never had time to get involved with charitable endeavors. I was very busy. And I made loads of money. But my life was speeding by without any hope of being able to look back at it and think, “I did what I wanted to do.”

Have you done what you wanted to do? Really?

Think back to when you were younger. Did you have aspirations that you eventually closeted away as being unrealistic?

Did you ever want to act in a play? Or write a book? Or learn Italian cooking?

Did you ever want to travel to India or Sri Lanka?

Do you imagine yourself retired on a beachfront property in some exotic island?

There are so many wonderful things to do before you die. But you have to start making those things happen now… or, chances are, you never will.

We live in difficult times. The economy is bad — much worse than the government and the media owns up to. And you have many pressing responsibilities. You have to earn a living. You have to pay your bills. You have to be a good spouse/parent/child, etc.

But those are not reasons for preventing you from accomplishing your buried dreams.

There is a way. And I have explained that way very clearly in The Pledge, a book that John Wiley (the largest non-fiction book publisher in the world) is putting out in less than two weeks. To get an advance copy, go here.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]