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Today Matters

12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow's Success
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Reading Time: 302 pages plus index, 4 hours  

Today Matters is easily read straight through in 4 hours or less, but doing so deprives the reader of the opportunities for growth that the book offers. After two introductory chapters are read, skipping around is encouraged. Each chapter can be read in about 20 minutes and ends with a workbook-style exercise. The reader is invited to dig deeper by making a decision about the quality covered in the chapter, identifying a single daily practice to foster growth in that quality, and identifying the long-term results to be expected. Special exercises are included for those who struggle with Maxwell's path for personal growth and development. All but three chapters begin with a case study illustrating the problem caused by a lack of the target quality and end with a study of someone for whom the quality was the key to success. The author shares his own experience in the target area. Every person can benefit from reading this book.



In Today Matters, John C. Maxwell offers 12 daily practices that can promote a successful personal development in anyone's life. He offers his own personal insight into the daily practices that can be used as learning tools:

Success comes only as the result of daily, disciplined practice.

Successful leaders are first of all successful people in their personal lives.

Successful people make their key ethical decisions once and for all, and practice them daily by reinforcing habits and techniques.

Successful people value and appreciate other people every day.

Successful people follow through on their decisions regardless of fleeting feelings or emotions.

Successful people practice gratitude and generosity.

Successful people take care of their health and plan ahead for personal growth and development.



When problems arise, people want immediate solutions. In Today Matters, renowned leadership guru John C. Maxwell offers a radical alternative to this common quick-fix approach. As any leader knows, today's quick fix may spawn tomorrow's problem. Smart leadership means preventing problems as much as solving them. Maxwell suggests creating a daily agenda, not just a to-do list or daily planner, but a well-thought out plan for daily personal development. Those who follow the plan will become smarter, more successful leaders.

Maxwell illustrates his process for personal development by describing each step. First, identify the qualities, like focus or attitude, shared by successful leaders. Next, choose a practice to foster growth in each area, and follow through faithfully. Once the major practices have been selected, they are managed daily. Each day thus becomes a preparation for tomorrow, as leadership qualities grow exponentially. Today Matters' ultimate end result is an effective leader with a fulfilling life.




At some point in everyone's life, people wish there was a magic formula for success. People buy hundreds of books and sign up for dozens of conferences every year searching for one. Although Maxwell makes a living from such things, he finds them worthless without daily follow-up and consideration. After all, the past is gone, and tomorrow is not guaranteed; there is only today. Today is a unique opportunity, and today‘s choices have consequences for all tomorrows. Recognizing this, people can use today to prepare themselves for success, living confidently and proactively rather than passively and reactively. They need not accept their lives as is; they take control and lead their lives forward.

Maxwell is successful by any standard. He credits his success to his "Daily Dozen", the key personal decisions which have formed his personal and professional life, and the daily practices by which he has developed the qualities that have led to his success. It is worth spending time to develop these key areas, so that they are less likely to be influenced by passing moods.

Gandhi recognized that to change the world, one must start with oneself – not with the irritating coworker or difficult boss. Maxwell agrees with this perspective, and adds three more recommendations: start small, start early, and start now.



Some people lead successful lives with a bad attitude, but they do not enjoy it much, nor does anyone around them. Maxwell asserts that attitude is critical to beginning this personal journey, because the mindset involved with starting or performing a task directly affects the outcome. Attitude matters because what a person gives is what he or she gets back, and because attitudes are inevitably contagious. Attitude can expand or limit possibilities.

Fortunately, attitude, unlike temperament or personality type, is not inherited but chosen. The choice entails taking responsibility for one's own happiness instead of expecting others to produce it. People who want to change their attitude, or anything else about themselves, must think, talk, and act like the people they want to become. Generally, those with a positive attitude treat other people well. They look for the best in others. They seem determined to appreciate life, instead of finding fault at every turn. They are grateful.

Having chosen to have a good attitude, how is this decision managed? Attitude is neither inherited nor permanent. It will require daily readjustment. Maxwell offers the following ways to manage a positive attitude:

  1. Find something positive in every person and every situation.
  2. Include something positive in every conversation.
  3. Replace negative expressions like "I'm afraid" with positive ones like "I am confident."
  4. Keep a gratitude journal to encourage expressing gratitude to others every day.



Successful people focus on their priorities. In other words, they focus on time management. Time is the most precious commodity humans have. It passes at the same rate for everyone, and once it is gone it can never be retrieved. There is no way to control time, only what one does with it. No one can do everything. In fact, choosing to spend time doing only one thing in particular forces a person to let go of the rest. The way people spend their time turns out to be the way they spend their life, and priorities help them choose wisely.

The first step in selecting priorities in any area of life is to thoughtfully address the following questions:

  1. What is required? What must a person do to be a good parent, for example, or to keep a specific job?
  2. What gives the greatest return, that is, the greatest result for the effort?
  3. What gives the greatest reward? A person who works efficiently to meet requirements will be productive but not necessarily happy.


Many people make the mistake of starting with the question of reward. It takes discipline to handle the first two questions first. Additionally, people who identify their strengths and arrange to work from those areas generally do better. Personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Personality test are helpful in identifying areas of strength.

Managing priorities requires daily assessment, since each day's demands are different. Write out a plan and stick to it. Maxwell adds that a person should delegate whenever possible, and invest in surrounding themselves with the right people daily.



Health directly affects people not just physically, but also emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually. Health determines not only how long people live, but how well they live.

Sadly, good health is easier to maintain than to regain, and maintaining good health is not effortless. Deciding to exercise and eat right is less of a struggle for people who feel they have some purpose worth living for, and who do work they enjoy. In other words, people who enjoy meaningful work that utilizes an area of their personal strengths enjoy a sense of fulfillment in their lives. Additionally, people need to find and maintain their own pace. Working at the wrong pace leads to burnout or boredom. Most importantly, people need to feel they are worth taking care of. Working with a mental health specialist to improve self-image can also yield a positive impact on physical health.

The daily disciplines for good health are familiar, and Maxwell expands on each in further detail:

  1. Eat right. Use moderation, forget crash diets, and focus just on eating well today.
  2. Exercise. Consult a doctor for an appropriate frequency and duration of exercise, and be consistent. Remember that visible results show up slowly and be patient.
  3. Manage stress. Everyone feels pressure. To keep it from becoming actual stress, address problems with people quickly and do not allow issues to accumulate.



Family plays a predominant role in forming a person's character and self-image. Family relationships are life's most important ones. A good family represents a safe haven from the trials of the world, and furnishes the most significant, lasting memories in old age.

However, statistics show that for whatever reason, most people in the US today prioritize career over family. Parents spend 40 percent less time with their children than parents of earlier generations. "Quality time" is a concept that most parents should embrace, but quantity time matters too. Just as there is a minimum amount of oxygen needed for survival, a minimum amount of time is required for a family to survive. Building a stable family takes work, but the effort is ultimately well worth the discipline. Success that comes at the cost of the love and respect of family is hollow.

The choice to spend time communicating with and caring for one's family begins with the couple, who must wholeheartedly agree on their core values as a couple first, and then as a family. Just as importantly, they must work out an approach to problem-solving that fosters understanding and positive change.

Useful practices include blocking out family time first on the calendar, finding ways to spend time together, expressing appreciation for family members, and resolving conflict as quickly as possible.



Breathing, heartbeat, and digestion are automatic body responses; everything else begins with a thought. Maxwell believes that good thinking produces good results. Good thinkers make more valuable employees, while poor thinkers stay trapped inside a box. In essence, thinking is really a skill. Like any other skill, it develops over time with daily practice. Great thinkers are not simply born that way; earlier they were good thinkers, and before that, average thinkers.

There are many types of thought. Some people easily think in terms of the big picture, others pay careful attention to detail. Some think far outside the box while others stay closely in touch with practicalities. Some think over the past insightfully, others think in terms of possibilities, still others focus on ways to achieve a specific goal. Each one of these ways of thinking is valuable, yet few people ever master them all. Rather than trying to constantly improve weak areas of thinking, Maxwell recommends doing more in the strong areas, and hiring staff to do the other kinds of thinking. This gives the greatest return for the effort.

Still, deep thinking involves a great deal of time. The first discipline to master is to first make the time. Having a special thinking place and finding the best process are also necessary, and one person's process may not work at all for others. One vital discipline has been consistently shared by many great thinkers over time: they capture their thoughts on paper. A small notebook and pen (or personal digital device) can keep brilliant ideas from evaporating, as they tend to do quickly if they are not recorded. If a good idea comes along, put it into action immediately. Stories of inventors who procrastinated until someone else got the patent are plentiful.

Improvement in thinking comes from practice, but other helpful habits include the following techniques:

  1. Focus on the positive. Negative thinking actually slows things down.
  2. Collect good input. Make a habit of writing down striking thoughts and develop a system for keeping track of them.
  3. Spend time being around other good thinkers. Not only with peers, but by mentoring and being mentored.



A lack of commitment has derailed many promising careers. Only commitment produces the tenacity required to overcome the various obstacles life throws in everyone's way. Make no mistake, any commitment, once made, will be challenged at some point. Moreover, few people make it through life without experiencing failure, isolation, and deep disappointment. Those who have practiced making and keeping commitments every day are much likelier to keep carrying on in times of turmoil.

Wise commitments are easier to make if they are preceded by counting the cost of failure, as Maxwell reminds us Winston Churchill did in his "finest hour" speech: "if we fail, then the whole world…will sink into the abyss of a new dark age…." Once the stakes have been identified, it becomes easier to pay the price of following through. Maxwell urges readers to consciously decide to follow through with excellence. Sloppy people try to hide their work or shift the blame for it; successful people insist on achieving excellence and reach new heights.

Maxwell offers six tips for staying on track and on the path to keeping commitments:

  1. Renew the commitment daily, and focus on the benefits of keeping it.
  2. Expect to have to struggle, and carry on regardless.
  3. Do not expect talent alone to do the job.
  4. Ignore external factors and concentrate on the commitment which was made.
  5. Be single-minded: keep taking small steps toward success.
  6. Ignore moods and do the right thing anyway.


Those who find making and keeping commitments especially difficult might ask themselves what really matters to them. If nothing really matters, maybe the problem is truly a lack of clarity about values. Such people should recognize that lack of commitment has a high price, too.



Some people never quite learn that the possession of money does not, in itself, confer happiness. These types of people value money over family, and ethics. Sadly, examples abound of this kind of behavior. Owing money, on the other hand, produces stress and downright misery. Wise people recognize money for what it is: a tool for achieving one's goals. Not having enough money limits people's options, like a good education for the children or a reliable car to get to work.

In order to increase options and change financial habits with good decisions about finances, a person must first put the value of things into perspective. Valuing money and things over other people (also known as materialism) is a form of obsessive thinking. Materialism is about how much possessions matter, not about the possessions themselves. It is a problem for the rich and not-so-rich alike.

People considering their finances also need to recognize which of three life stages they inhabit: learning, earning, or returning. Learning about oneself and a trade occupies most people throughout their teens and early twenties (some trades, and some people, need longer). At some point, usually in their thirties, forties, and fifties, people focus on earning. Afterwards, they enter into the most rewarding stage of life, returning, in which they have the option of giving back to others.

The option of generosity, like other options, is curtailed by debt. Incurring debt for something that will appreciate in value, like a house or an education, is one thing. But going into debt for indulgences large or small is another matter. The easiest way to get out of debt is not to incur too much of it in the first place, even if that entails, at least for a time, a simpler way of life. It makes sense to make short-term sacrifices to have long-term options.

Having examined their attitudes toward money and material goods, and identified their current life stage, people are ready to move to the next step: designing and implementing a financial formula. The Maxwells, like many others, chose the 10-10-80 approach: give ten percent, save ten percent, and live as well as possible on the rest. Note that implementation of this financial formula usually requires a budget in order to stay on track.

Oddly, the first thing people should do to live by their financial decision may be to become better earners. Books on finances are a good resource, but nothing takes the place of a good work ethic. This is more about desire than about knowledge, and is all too often extinguished by a belief that the effort is much greater than the return.

Maxwell provides two other daily disciplines that should be taken into consideration when considering one's financial state: to be thankful for what one already has, and to give as much as possible. The first maintains perspective while dodging envy. The second indulges and nurtures the best option of all, generosity.



What people have the right to do, like keeping all their money for themselves, is not always what is best for them to do. Giving is an infallible way of shifting focus outward. By releasing people from the prison of self, generosity makes them more likeable, therefore happier, and assures that they live in a better world. In short, giving is good for the giver, as well as the receiver.

Greatness lies not in what one owns, but in what one gives. Maxwell urges others to adopt his determination to live to give, by donating not just money, but also time and attention. It is foolish to decide to give later, when feeling moved to generosity, or when more affluent. People give, not from the top of the purse, but from the bottom of the heart.

Some preparation for generosity is required, though. Valuing people and knowing what others value will make the daily discipline of giving seem natural. Maxwell urges giving every day, whether in time, money, or attention, and finding a new recipient every day as well. For those that find this doctrine too foreign, he suggests starting with those closest, such as family or friends. To grow in generosity, aim for ten percent of time and money as a minimum standard of generosity, not the maximum.



Not surprisingly, Maxwell, who is also an ordained minister, counts faith as one of his Daily Dozen. It has been the subject of most of his public speaking. He began by training religious leaders, but his audiences soon included business leaders. Maxwell is honest about his own faith. Without proselytizing, he encourages open-minded exploration of faith for everyone.

According to Maxwell, faith is beneficial for those who have it. It gives them a better perspective, more inner strength, and greater resilience after disaster strikes. When people broaden their mental horizons to allow for the possibility of divine activity, many things in life make a lot more sense. Medical studies have indicated that persons of faith, on average, enjoy better physical and mental health than those who do not practice faith at all. People draw on their faith to help them through crises, and what skeptics may not realize is that faith can also arise out of crisis. The life of Mother Teresa, Maxwell suggests, illustrates the energy that faith can generate.

Maxwell claims that whatever a person's position on faith, from hostility to curiosity to active participation, everyone has faith in something; that is, everyone acts on some belief that has little or no supporting evidence. Those who decide to practice religious faith on a daily basis profit from recognizing the value of faith, allowing God into the picture, associating with people of faith, and exploring and deepening their faith.

Maxwell suggests that those who like the idea of faith but have a hard time choosing to practice one belief system in particular may find it beneficial to look over their past, both to discover the roots of their current attitude to faith, and to recall events in which God might have been protecting them or trying to get their attention.



Americans cherish an image of the rugged individualist, but that stalwart figure is almost mythical. In fact, for almost everyone, the landmark events in life involve relationships with others, whether in personal life, like marriage, or in professional life, where milestones are rarely reached without long-term, intense teamwork. People capable of sustaining relationships seem to enjoy life more than misanthropes do. People who like others are liked in return. In most situations, the likeable person wins, because people naturally want to help those who are more sensitive to personalities and more willing to help them in turn. And, as anyone with any business training knows, people ultimately form an organization's most valuable asset.

Maxwell proposes that it is wise to decide to value people: to learn to understand others, to give them respect without demanding unearned respect in return, and to help others reach their full potential.

In daily life, this decision plays out as the relentless practice of putting other people first. Valuing people means letting go of the past rather than nursing grudges. It means being willing to give the time to cultivate a relationship, being happy to serve rather than insisting on being served, and habitually expressing appreciation and (where appropriate) affection for others. The habit of writing thank-you notes or emails is a potent tool for deepening relationships.



One scandal after another has rocked the new millennium, as people of wealth, power, and fame jettison values in favor of money, ruining thousands of lives in the process. The values they so casually scrapped could have held them steady in any storm, earned them the self-respect that is as good as a faithful friend, and guided them as surely as the North Star. Maxwell's values are his Daily Dozen, the twelve decisions that shape his life with respect to his family, his work, and himself.

Maxwell urges everyone to spend several days generating a list of admirable qualities, then to revisit the list and pare it down by grouping entries under larger headings to create a shorter and more manageable list. For example, "truthfulness" and "integrity" are closely akin, as are "commitment" and "hard work." After the list has reached its final form, Maxwell strongly suggests that a person embrace those values and resolve to live them out daily.

This daily practice is made easier by writing the list down and keeping it close enough for frequent reference. Daily assessment of one's consistency in practice as opposed to theory, and a habit of evaluating each day in the light of one's values help engrain these qualities. Most importantly, when faced with a choice between affirming values or denying them, a person should focus on the resolve to live out values and ignore emotions. It helps to have weighed and recorded the long-term consequences of affirmation and violation, and to keep that information always accessible in a moment's notice.



People who fail to grow also fail to succeed. Inner growth, unlike physical growth, is not automatic. It comes not from acquiring information, nor from experience alone, but rather from reflecting deeply on one's own experiences. People committed to personal growth exponentially increase their inner resources, and can thus meet the growing demands success places on those who achieve it. Growth is the surest preventative of personal and professional stagnation, and as people grow, so inevitably do the organizations with which they are affiliated. Only through growth can true potential be realized.

To realize potential, take a personal inventory to assess latent capacities, commit to growth, and set goals, focusing on strengths instead of weak areas, and seek out environments in which others are growing.

Plan to foster daily growth, at a specific time and in a specific place. Maxwell's own plan is an hour a day, five days a week. It takes the form of reading two books each month and listening to seven audio lessons a week. He arranges to meet monthly with someone who can fuel his growth in a specific area. Moreover, Maxwell is not afraid to exercise discrimination. If he finds a book or recording unhelpful, he does not bother to finish it. In fact, when Maxwell finds something good, he makes it his own by writing it down and filing so that he can retrieve it easily, and apply it to his everyday life.



Maxwell reminds readers that Today Matters is the fruit of forty years' effort. No one should expect to achieve these personal practices overnight. Success is more attainable through the following six steps:

  1. Rank personal status on each of the values, one being the highest.
  2. Verify the list with someone else. Do behavior and values seem related?
  3. Pick two qualities from the top half of the list (strengths), and put their daily disciplines into practice.
  4. Do the same with one quality from the bottom of the list (weakness).
  5. Reevaluate status after 60 days. Is there improvement? If not, repeat steps 3 and 4.
  6. If there is improvement, pick three other qualities to work on (never more than three, and never more than one weakness).


In time the habits are fully formed and become second nature. Those who continually live up to their values find that success and fulfillment take care of themselves.


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