What’s Your Whetstone?

Tom Corley boats - crop

“Give me six hours to cut down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

What sharpens your axe?

It’s an important question because it gets to the core of what is required in order to become rich and successful.

I have spent over a decade studying self-made millionaires. The one common denominator they all seemed to have were daily habits or daily routines that enabled them to sharpen their axe by consistent daily self-improvement.

Most of that improvement was related to their business, careers or vocation. But many of those self-improvement habits also included keeping fit and healthy and little secrets they deployed to build relationships with other rich , successful people.

Because I had a front row seat that allowed me to peer into the minutia of the daily lives of the rich and poor, I learned that those who were constantly sharpening their ax happened to also be the richest and most successful individuals.

So, in an effort to become rich, I took a page out of the book of these self-made millionaires and decided to create my own whetstone to sharpen my own axe.

For me, my whetstone is a proven process that has become my morning routine, or set of habits:

  • I wake at 5am each day (Habit) – 25% of the time I wake up at 4am. 25% of the time I wake up at 5:30 am.
  • I get my coffee (Habit) and go down to my “Hole” (basement office).
  • I review my Word List for 15 minutes (Habit) – My Word List is a list of words I am committing to memory.
  • I review my Facts Summary or Study Summary for 15 minutes (Habit). My Facts Summary are important facts I feel it is important to know. My Study Summary is a summary of the thousands of studies I’ve poured through over the years that make their way into media articles and my books.
  • I read for 45 minutes – Reading material = studies, specifically selected articles, latest non-fiction book, etc.
  • I write for 45 minutes.
  • I spend about 30 minutes reviewing my work – articles, TV interviews, Internet media interviews, speaking engagements, radio interviews, podcast interviews, etc.
  • I exercise between 30 minutes to 60 minutes every day. Thirty minutes if it is a run only day. Sixty minutes if it is a run and lift weights day.

I began this routine back in 2007, after completing most of my Rich Habits Study and after I had just begun writing my bestselling book Rich Habits.

I discovered in that study that 55% of self-made millionaires woke up three or more hours before actually beginning their formal work day. During that three hours is when they attacked their goals, exercised, read, pursued success, etc. It took me six months for that three hours to become what is now my lifelong morning routine. Thanks to my whetstone, over the past 11 years I have:

  • Expanded my vocabulary by a factor of ten. There are very few words I do not know the meaning of. This has dramatically improved my communication skills, writing skills, speaking skills and media interview skills.
  • Committed important facts to long-term memory; facts that now take up an entire large-sized binder. I can now talk on just about any subject. I am my own version of Thomas Jefferson.
  • Increased my know-how dramatically. I no longer consider myself stupid or intellectually inferior thanks to the knowledge I’ve acquired. My self-confidence is very high and continues to increase. Family and friends have taken notice and so too have clients. People like to do business with confident people.
  • Improved my writing skills. All three of my books have become national and international best sellers. My blog has grown from zero to over 10,000 daily subscribers. Some of my media articles have had more than 10 million hits.
  • Lost 37 lbs – When I began my morning routine in July 2007, I weighed 222 lbs. I have weighed between 174 lbs (February 2008)- 188 lbs over the past ten years. My most recent weight was 186 lbs. My goal is always the same – 180 lbs.
  • Written over 2,000 articles – about 10% of which have been published by the media.
  • Written five books plus two manuscripts I have not yet published.
  • Improved my media interviewing skills.
  • Improved my speaking skills. This has led to more paid speaking engagements, which has become another new revenue stream for me.
  • Created three additional streams of income. I now have four revenue streams: CPA Business, Book Royalties from four books, Financial Planning and Paid Speaking Engagements.

My morning routine is my whetstone – the thing I do to sharpen my ax. It hasn’t elevated me to the $3.2 million status of the self-made millionaires in my study, yet, but it has made me a millionaire and doubled my income. Before my morning routine I had one revenue stream, was heavily in debt ($1.2 million in business debt), had no money to put my three kids through college and felt stuck. Now I have four revenue streams, paid for my kids to attend college (with very little student loan debt – about $46,000 in total) and my business debt has dropped to just over $300,000 – and will continue to decline every year.

Without my morning routine (my whetstone) my future would be very grim indeed. I owe all the good in my life to my Rich Habits and in particular, to those Rich Habits that have become my whetstone.

What’s your whetstone?

Be Sociable, Share!
Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, holds a master’s degree in taxation and is President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
Email Tom
| Download Media Kit


  1. Thank you Tom. Part of my morning routine now includes reading your daily email. I have also created a list of goals. I am reviewing them often. My morning (which starts at 6:30) also includes reviewing my project task list and organizing my day. This is over coffee of course. =0) Three days a week, I start with a swim. It is the best way to clear my head and sometimes the most creative thoughts come my way.

  2. Lisa Schreiber says:

    Hi Tom…though my morning and other habits have improved greatly since I started following your work, this post has re-inspired me to step up my morning routine in particular! Thank you!
    Lisa Schreiber

  3. Denny Mathews says:

    Hi Tom ~
    Thanks for sharing your list. It is a very powerful list. Tell me more about your “Word List” and your Facts Summary or Study Summary. I’d like to incorporate that into my habit list.

  4. hi Tom have been reading your tips for some time now – thanks for being open and sharing and telling it how it really is and how far you have personally come – well done !! it is encouraging

  5. I love this Tom. This is something that I learnt from you and have implemented over the last 4 years with pretty stunning results.

    Just like you, I try to evangelise having a morning routine to as many people who will listen!

    My core activities are reading the Bible, exercising and studying (journals/textbooks/online-courses).

    For my interest, Tom do you write after you exercise or before?

  6. Wanda Rosseland says:

    When I read “whetstone” it immediately took me back to my grandfather’s ranch and the big round whetstone that sat on the bank above the creek. How I loved to climb on the little bicycle-like seat and push the pedal to turn the heavy stone wheel. I never got to sharpen a blade against it because I was too young, but I could make it spin, faster and faster. Thank you for using the whetstone as a comparison to sharpening our actions, and for telling us how you do it. I will never forget it.

Speak Your Mind