The world of leadership coaching is brimming with promises. Even more guarantees and plans for self-improvement come from instructive business books.

Marshall Goldsmith is native to both worlds--he's a seasoned CEO coach, and the author of 34 management books. And he has a promise that sounds too good to be true. Yes, it's up there in the headline: Get better at anything by devoting just two minutes of your time every day.

If your nonsense-detector is firing on all cylinders right now, know that Goldsmith, who took the mainstage at the Inc. 5000 conference in Phoenix on Friday, is the first to admit that most people won't succeed at using his enchantingly simple plan.

"I'm going to warn you all in advance, this is not easy," Goldsmith said. "This is hard. It's two minutes, but it's really hard."

Well--that's not quite right. If you follow his instructions to a T, and "use as directed," like on the back of a medicine bottle, you'll succeed easily.

What's the big idea?

First, you'll want to take account of everything in your life that's dispensable: anything that takes up time that's genuinely unimportant to you. Gossip, unnecessary meetings--whatever these things are to you, toss them out.

"There are things you can control--ditch the things you can't," he suggested. "We waste a lot of time talking about other people. The football coach. Lindsay Lohan. The weather."

Then focus on what's genuinely important to you. Make a list of everything you want to--and feel you actually can--get better at. These should be actionable, daily items you can account for in a spreadsheet format. For Goldsmith, there are items for physical fitness, including "How many minutes did I walk?" and "How many push-ups did I do?" He also includes more subtle items focused on his relationship-building and attitude--including a behavior he wants to stop. "How many times did I try to prove I was right?"

Goldsmith suggests making seven columns on the spreadsheet, one for each day of the week. Taking account of your list every day for two minutes. And keeping that up. That's the hard part, because the experience of examining your own failings to accomplish your highest-priority goals every day is not only humbling, but also painful.

Keeping up with that, day in and day out, is the challenge. Goldsmith, whose list is 32 questions long, advises every individual to find a way to hold themselves accountable for it. He himself pays a woman to call him on the phone every day, and listen to him read his list out loud.

"Why do I pay someone to listen to me do this every day?" Goldsmith said. "Because it's hard!"

Published on: Oct 17, 2014