Everyone wants to have a great day. A day filled with productivity, accomplishment, and feeling good about yourself. And yet, day after day, I watch my friends and people I work with go through the motions and come out feeling dissatisfied. They work and work, yet they go to bed feeling like nothing is getting done. They do twenty things before breakfast and still the big project of the day is only half complete.
Here’s a simple prescription for having a better day. One where you feel like you nailed it! Write down these five rules and tuck them away in your notebook or whatever you use to make that list of things you want to get done today before you collapse. And after you make your “To Do” list read the checklist here and see if you are following the Rules for Having a Great Day.
Question 1. Do you have enough time to accomplish everything on your To Do list?
It seems obvious, but people are always making a list of things to accomplish and not checking to see if they can all be done! You CANNOT do everything in a day that you have ever wanted to accomplish. And, setting up a day which fails to take into account the realities of driving, interruptions and just getting tired is a prescription for failure.
Pace yourself and accept you will get tired as the day progresses. A reasonable list is a keystone to having a Great Day.
Question 2. What project is most challenging?
Putting off the most difficult project of the day until the last minute usually means it doesn’t get done. Or, if it is done, it is not done as well as you know you could do it. Lowering your self-esteem by half doing the most important project of the day can ruin your view of everything you did accomplish. Don’t make that mistake! Tackle your toughest project when your energy is high and you have the resources to do it. That usually means it should be one of the first things you get to.
Question 3. Where can I use my talents today?
Very happy and very successful people have one thing in common. They focus their energies on THEIR goals – not the goals of others or on goals imposed on them. A key to being happy with your day is to be able to say, “I used my talents to accomplish this task.” If every task you do in a day could have been done equally well (or better) by someone else, you end the day feeling drained and frustrated. If you go thru a day where your talents are at play for task after task, you will find you do much more, and you are happier with the results!
Never put yourself through a day in which you don’t use some of your best talents. Given a choice between moving forward a project of yours or a project that is someone else’s — choose yourself! After accomplishing something for yourself you might find you have more energy to do that annoying thing that somebody else has handed you.
Question 4. What are you doing to enjoy the day?
Every day should have something you look forward to. …And going to sleep doesn’t count! It could be as simple as seeing that task finally out of the way, or relaxing with a good book or your favorite TV show.
Pace yourself through the day. Check to make sure you are hitting your goals. Congratulate yourself for every single thing you accomplish. We are usually quick to berate ourselves for every misstep, but terrible at accepting praise for what we do get done. You don’t have to jump up and down shouting “Look at me!” when you accomplish a goal, but it is important that you congratulate yourself for every task you do accomplish. This builds self worth and a feeling that you are someone who gets things done.
If your tasks are taking longer than expected, or your being slammed with interruptions, stop and renegotiate your list. Accept the change in schedule. Drop items that are low priority or find others to do them.
Never think of your To Do list as the list of things you MUST get done. It is a list of things you could possibly get done – if everything goes right. If things don’t go right then be happy with every item you did get done.
And don’t forget to congratulate yourself for handling the interruptions! Often you save yourself hours of future work by dealing with a small crisis in the present. When that happens pat yourself on the back for all the extra work you just avoided!
Question 5. What needs to be done first?
This is kind of a trick question because the real answer is you need to have reviewed this checklist! But my real reason for adding this item is to make sure that before you start you assure yourself that you have gathered ALL the resources and tasks before you start. Nothing will take the wind out of your sails faster than getting started on a project only to have it pulled out from under you when something you need isn’t there!
For example, your To Do list has, “Take some clothing to goodwill.” But did you just think about driving the clothes to goodwill, or did you include the time to gather and package the clothes? Do any of them need to be washed first?
How about, “Mow the lawn.” Can you just run out and do it, or does the mower need gas? Do you have any gas or do you have to go get it? Is the weather cooperating today? Perhaps there was a fog in the morning and you need to wait until the grass is drier?
Finally consider, “Prepare the presentation.” Did you get answers back for all your questions from every team member who was supposed to contribute? Are the presentation materials available or will you have to go get them? Did any of your bosses request additional material to be added?
Question 6. Is this how you want to spend your last day?
Are you doing the most significant thing?
Priority and significance are not the same things. It is possible to spend an entire day doing the highest priority items and still come away feeling like you have accomplished nothing. This is because items can rise artificially in priority based on procrastination or outward pressure. You can put off a routine task until the last minute and it will rise steadily in priority until it gets done. However, tasks that are significant, tasks that are actually moving you towards your aspirations and goals can actually be put off for items with priority.
Consider the person whose aspiration to be multi-lingual. They decide to buy a course in Spanish. They promise themselves to work every day practicing Spanish until they can speak the language fluently. But, they have other obligations. They may have started out practicing every day, but getting groceries, going to work, mowing the lawn, all consume time. And it will be months, perhaps years before they can speak Spanish they way they want to. So, they get the groceries and let Spanish practice go for a day. They get the car fixed and another day slips away. The issue here is simple, you are sacrificing future success for immediate gratification. It might not seem that way. Very few people look forward to sitting in a garage while their car is being worked on. However, getting rid of the immediate pressure of knowing the car needs to be fixed is gratifying.
“Ah-hhhh,” we say. “That’s off my plate.” And you have a temporary feeling of satisfaction. But, it is short lived as your real goals and your real aspirations never seem to get any closer.
You can no more complete all the significant tasks in your life in a day than you can complete all the priority items or all the routine tasks that are clamoring for your attention. However, sacrificing significant tasks for priority or routine tasks only increases your sense of failure.
The fix is simple. Make sure to accomplish at least one significant task every day. If you can, try to accomplish at least one significant task toward all your goals or purposes every day.
And here’s a tip. Focus on the significant tasks that will give you more time in the long run.
One of my jobs was testing computer software for bugs. While everyone else was creating long lists of manual tests to run, I focused on creating batch files – a sequence of instructions the computer could run automatically – to retest the bugs I found. As a result, I could literally test thousands and thousands of bugs in an hour using multiple computers while my colleagues would struggle to get through one page of their carefully documented list.
Today, money is often viewed as something to be accumulated – usually to be spent on recreation. While savings is a good thing, I’d like to suggest that you think of money as a tool to acquire time. Instead of using that thousand dollars on a trip to the Bahamas, what if you spent it on a landscaping service so you didn’t have to mow your lawn anymore? Not only would you get far more entertainment from the investment (who wants to mow their lawn in July?) but you would also have more time to pursue your aspirations and goals.
In the end, having a great day is up to you. If you prepare yourself, properly gauge what you can realistically accomplish, don’t let distractions wreck your momentum, and really congratulate yourself for what you get done, you should go to bed feeling that the day was one you would like to repeat… and you can.
Have a Great Day!