2021 is well underway and while we may have many goals and resolutions the only control we really have is what we do daily. As John Maxwell beautifully said, “You cannot change something in your life unless you change something you do daily.” The secret of success in your life lies in your daily agenda.
We have all heard the line “Live every day as if it is your last.” While I appreciate the exuberance of this statement somehow it doesn’t resonate with me because if it is my last day it would put a downer on my spirit. What I have come up with is a statement that works for me and it is “Every day is the best day of your life. Give it your best shot.”
This statement has worked well for me as it tells me that today is going to be my best day and if I want to have a best day I must give it my best shot. What this does is it shows me that I can make my day great. This also tells me that there are no bad days so even if something goes wrong I can take it in the right way.
I also like the Begin with end in mind philosophy proposed by Stephen Covey where you write your own eulogy and then match your actions to your written statement. That is surely a wonderful way to give meaning to life and get excited about life. The best way to achieve this is through a personal mission statement. Here is a thought provoking quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr who said, “If you haven’t found something worth dying for, then you are not fit to be living.”
From my experience I have found that there are eight keys that are needed to create a wonderful day. However, it may not be easy to do all of them every day and I consider it a success if I can do all of them at least 3–4 times a week. Here are the 9 keys to create a wonderful day or your best day.
Wake up early: Across all the success books I have read about successful people one common thread that goes with all of them is they get up early around 5 am or 6 am. This is because if you get up early you get a nice alone time which is needed to create long lasting happiness. It also gives you time to exercise, read or meditate. Then when you get into the noise of the world you are calmer than usual, and your day also turns out much better. As Henry Ward Beecher said, “The first hour is the rudder of the day.” The way you start the day determines the entire day. An example is Disney’s CEO Bob Iger who says “I get up at 4:30 in the morning, seven days a week, no matter where I am in the world. It’s a time of day when I can be very productive without too much interruption.” Of course this doesn’t apply for people who are more creative later in the day or in night shifts.
Determine if you are a Lark or Owl: Despite my earlier point not everyone is wired to wake up early and it is not an absolute must as well. Some are larks who wake up early and like to get to sleep at a reasonable time. Others are owls who cannot sleep till midnight or later. Of course you have to determine which type you are and then align your activities accordingly. It is also imperative that you determine if your schedule aligns with what is required of your work so plan accordingly. Read more about this in Daniel Pink’s book When.
Exercise: Exercise is a great stress buster. The toughest part in an exercise regimen is to get started. If we do this first thing in the morning it gives us a sense of accomplishment and even if the rest of the day doesn’t go great we already have a win under our belt. It also kick starts the metabolism making us more brisk and happy. Neurological studies show that when we exert ourselves physically, we produce a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that promotes growth of neurons, especially in the memory regions of the brain. Science has also shown that exercise increases the three neuro transmitters namely dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine which increase happiness levels, reduce cravings, improves learning capacity and eliminates stress. Spark by John J. Ratey is the best book on this subject and goes deep into this subject. The other book which helps in this area is Brain Rules by John Medina. These are all very good reasons to stick to an exercise regimen. Again, Bob Iger says “I ride a bike and use aerobic equipment twice a week, and work out with a trainer, lifting weights. It’s a good time to think. I believe that exercise relieves stress and contributes to an improvement in stamina, which in a job like this you absolutely need.”
Eat Breakfast and have a sumptuous lunch: Eating a healthy breakfast is a critical step towards creating a wonderful day. This is often overlooked but science has confirmed that your glucose levels are more regulated if you start the day with a nice healthy breakfast. If you want to remain calm and tackle your tasks with vigor, then don’t ever skip breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Also watching out what we eat daily is more rewarding rather than concentrating too much on the long term. Small daily actions eventually take care of the long term. Recently in When by Daniel Pink I read that eating a very great lunch is critical to have a better afternoon.
Give your best at work: Work does play a very large part in our lives and the only way we are going to have long lasting happiness is if we give our best on a daily basis. First decide that every day before you start that day you are going to give your best at work. Finally, that’s all we have control over anyway. The favorite tip from all time management experts is work on the most important task first. The first step is to have a list of items to be done and then work on the most important item on the list. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and control. At the end of the day ensure that you are clear on what are the tasks that are still incomplete but keep peace with the fact that you did your best for that day. If you are clear on that then you will feel happier.
Energy: This is where I think the work of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz help. They wrote a book called The Power of Full Engagement and it has excellent strategies to renew ourselves. The main thesis is energy, not time is the fundamental currency of peak performance. It is our most precious resource.
We must learn to live our own lives as a series of sprints- fully engaging for periods of time mostly 90 minutes, and then taking a break before getting back to work. Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day, according to Tony Schwartz, the CEO and founder of the Energy Project and bestselling author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance.
I have also recently read that sitting for too long is detrimental to long term health. The advice from experts is to sit for 45–50 min then take a short stand or walk for 5 minutes and then keep repeating the process. Another tactic to maintain high positive energy levels to is to think of the good things you have in life or even maintaining a gratitude log enhances energy levels boosting happiness.
Inject pleasure moments: Pleasure is not something we postpone for a vacation. I think we should have moments of pleasure every day. So, once you come back home from work ensure you have a nice unwinding session at home with your family. Personally, I get pleasure from reading and writing so I try to a bit of both every day. It just gives a deep sense of happiness to me. If it is watching TV for you that’s fine but the important thing is to do things you like. It has also been well documented that only when you are in a relaxed state of mind you can really come up with great ideas at work. So, don’t worry about injecting some pleasure to your life because you will be glad you did. Completely disconnecting from your work at the end of the day is a good tactic which can help us be more relaxed though it may not always be the easiest thing to do.
Get adequate sleep: Yes, we are all working in a 24*7 environment these days. There are absolutely times when we must burn the midnight oil and ensure that our responsibilities are taken care. However, this should be an exception rather than the rule. There is a reason why we keep telling kids that they must sleep early because we know that if they have to concentrate well in class the next day it is imperative. The same applies to adults as well. It has been well established that sleep deprivation has caused major mood swings, depression, irritability and it has also resulted in major accidents.
An example is The Challenger explosion which happened in January 1986. The space shuttle exploded just seconds after its January 1986 launch, killing all seven crew members. According to a report, certain managers involved in the launch had only slept two hours before arriving to work at 1 am that morning. The Presidential Commission on the accident admitted the danger of this deprivation in its June 1986 report, writing, “The willingness of NASA employees in general to work excessive hours, while admirable, raises serious questions when it jeopardizes job performance, particularly when critical management decisions are at stake.”
All this shows that we need to sleep 7–8 hours daily which is an absolute must to be at our best. As the wise saying goes “When we are young we will sacrifice our health to get wealth but once we get older we will sacrifice every bit of wealth to get one day of good health.” This quote surely hits the message hard but taking care of our health is a sign of leadership and we all need to do that to support our organizations and families.
Reflection: I am now on my 30th Journal in the last 11 years. It is really a great relaxing activity. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy and it can be just 5 min a day. Even when you wake up in the morning if you just write whatever you are thinking it immediately calms you down. At the end of the day 5 min to just write down how the day went again relaxes and increases our happiness levels. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but it is a great life enhancer. Peter Drucker’s quote is excellent on this “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From that quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
There you have it the best ways I know of to bring some order and plan to your day while at the same time enjoying it. The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.