Was yesterday a good day or a bad day? Why? If you know why then you’re ahead of the game. That knowledge can help you have more good days than bad.
Here’s my simple plan: every day ask yourself:
What would need to happen to make today a good day?
It might take some practice at first — I’m still working on it myself. But if you can identify the minimum that needs to happen to make it a good day, then direct your energy to making that short list happen. Try not to be distracted by other things on your to-do list or new things that come up. Inevitably, there will be some interruptions in your life but even if there are, you might be able to stay on track and have a good day. Again, it takes some practice.
For example, if making today a good day requires making a meaningful connection with your partner, getting an RFP completed, sending 3 contentious emails that you’ve been avoiding, and getting dinner on the table by 7, and you did ALL those things, then it’s a good day. Even if some things didn’t go your way or your long to-do list still looms, you might be able to reflect on the day and know that it was, after all, a good day.
How simple is that?
The key is picking the list. Ask yourself what is the smallest list of accomplishments (things you have control over) that would make a good day? The shorter the list, the higher the likelihood of achieving it — but is has to be a genuine list that narrows the demands — both conscious and unconscious — that we place on ourselves.
Many of us are overwhelmed with daily demands. According to The American Institute of Stress, the biggest stress contributor is work:
…occupational pressures and fears are far and away the leading source of stress for American adults and that these have steadily increased over the past few decades.
External sources of stress might not be just work related — it could be financial pressures, an elderly parent, health or emotional issues for you or someone you love, moving homes or jobs and more.
We might not be able to stop the source of stress — but by focusing our efforts on what would make a good day, we can get better at managing ourselves, and not pile on more stress from the inside.
Piling on internal stress can be an unconscious reaction to external stress. If your boss is demanding and critical, you might become self-critical which in turn weighs you down, and you might not sleep as well, and then your energy wanes and your performance might get worse. See how it piles on?
Or sometimes, financial pressures might be so overwhelming, that we ignore them — bury our head in the sand, so to speak. And of course, ignoring financial challenges isn’t going to make them better. Problems are best solved when we face them head on.
A final example is the unconscious internal expectations we set up when we see the glamorous or successful life of a friend or co-worker. Its not just the fancy car they drive or the great clothes, but the fabulous life on instagram.
I recently chatted with a friend who had just returned from an amazing trip with his wife to Europe. I’d seen the instagram posts – it looked fantastic. And I was envious that they were touring around Europe, spending time together — reading, sight seeing and lingering in cafes. All things that I love to do. But in person he admitted the trip had not been all they had hoped for. It was a stark reminder that I can’t and shouldn’t believe my instagram feed. And I shouldn’t create pressure on myself to “be more like him.”
How simple it can be? Set realistic expectations.
My list for today is written on a post-it note that is stuck to my desk. The four items are: work related to my coaching clients (prep for calls, calls and follow up notes); finishing this blog post (my Monday posts that I would like to be more regular); a few specific emails/connections I want to get done today; and some evening commitments around keeping my house running (groceries and errands). That’s it. Four things.
Don’t carry around a long to-do list with unspoken pressure to get it all done.
I do have a long to-do list. My long list is kept in my notebook, out of sight. And yes, it’s really long. The post-it note on my desk does has the four items, with stars beside them, and then a few extra things that I’d “like” to get done, but I’m okay if I don’t get to them…it will still be a good day.
I’m really hoping that today is a good day for you. And if today didn’t work out, try again tomorrow.