We’ve all been there. You begin the day with the best of intentions. You know what you need to get done, people that you want to contact, tasks you need to accomplish. Then, twelve hours later, the day is gone and you feel like you got nothing done.What happened?
The day happened. It happened to you. Instead of exerting your will upon the day, it conquered you.
Maybe some of it was unavoidable. Maybe today was just a bad day. If it happens more than once in a while, chances are that the problem is how you approach your day.
Do you approach it with intention? With goals? With your priorities at the top of the list? Do you avoid distractions? Do you allow others to place their needs in front of your own? Is your to-do list growing longer each day?
If you answered yes to any of these, welcome to the club. We’re all members in the never-ending struggle for control of our lives and dreams. It’s just that some of us are better than others at keeping the right activities at the head of the line.
Define your day for success
You need to define your day to achieve the daily successes necessary to accomplish your goals. Some people want to spend time with loved ones. Others want to reach a new level of business success or development. Some want to do it all. No matter how you measure success, properly defining your day is imperative to achieving it.
The shape of the day will be different for each person and circumstance. Yet, the common characteristics of a well-defined day are the same. To be successful in your day, here are 6 critical areas you need to define.
1. Daily Vital Behaviors
Daily vital behaviors are those things that you need to accomplish each day as the foundation for success. There are no exceptions. If not, you will feel “off”, unhealthy, unfocused, and not at optimal operating capacity. No matter what you call it, these things need to be done.
My vital daily behaviors are:
- Exercise – I do at least 30 minutes per day to ensure I feel energized and mentally strong.
- Clean Meals – Aside from the overall health benefits, eating well provides balanced energy and focus throughout the day. I know when I eat poorly, I feel sluggish, tired, and generally out of balance.
- Professional Development – This may include reading, watching a coaching video, or listening to a podcast. Consistent learning has proven vital to my ability to grow as a business person and improved my understanding of myself.
- Positive Interaction – Striving to handle each interaction in a positive manner can be a struggle. It is also very important. Set the goal to handle each interaction in a positive and productive manner. If one doesn’t naturally occur, create one.
- Rest – Eight hours is hard to come by, especially when I get up at 5:30 to ensure I can exercise. However, the human body cannot operate well with less. I’ve tried. I get temperamental, it’s hard to focus, and my problem solving suffers. I’d rather work more efficiently and feel rested.
2. Identify Your Priorities
You cannot have an effective day with no target. My daily priorities support my 6-month goal. They have to get done in order for me to reach it. I know that skipping one will make me fall off schedule.
Your priorities may be different. It may be work related, seeing friends, or time with your kids. Sometimes a priority is time spent with a spouse. After all, healthy relationships are also critical to success. Whatever you identify as a priority needs to be a priority… a “thing” that does not get overridden by distractions.
I list my top 2 or 3 priorities each morning. I budget the time each of my priorities should take. I also list the tasks that I need to accomplish as part of that priority. Then, I schedule them on my calendar before anything else unless there is something already scheduled. However, when possible, I try to block out time as “priority time” in advance to make my priorities a priority.
For me, morning is when I’m free of stress and distraction. There’s also less opportunity for outside influences to become a priority themselves. If they do, my initial priorities have already been finished earlier in the day.
3. To-Do List
We all have a list of things to do either in our minds or on a real sheet of paper. Either way, these things probably need to get done eventually. This is an important list of things to get done that have not, or will never, reach the priority list.
The key point about to-dos is that they don’t need to be done now. It’s important to remember that our priorities are the things that we need to get done today. If you find yourself putting to-do’s in front of priorities, there should either be a reason why… such as it was easy, convenient, or timely to get it done now… or the to-do took on a new level of priority.
Be careful to not allow to-dos to habitually take precedence over priorities. We may feel like we are accomplishing something by checking off our to-dos but if the items we identify as priorities are not being done, something is wrong. Most likely, we’re not identifying priorities correctly or we’re avoiding them and making ourselves feel busy by accomplishing low-level tasks.
We also need to be free to allow to-dos to be left until later. We can put them off until they either get taken care of, go away for some reason, or become priorities. Knowing that they are allowed to slide to a later date is important. Otherwise, we feel unaccomplished or anxious about the unfinished items.
Remember, the priorities are the priorities. Everything else can wait.
4. I Appreciate
Tony Robbins once said that it has been scientifically proven that it is impossible to be in a state of gratitude and unhappy at the same time. I have no idea if that is true. I am willing to keep trying to prove it correct.
Taking a moment each day to think about the good things in our lives puts it all in perspective. It gives us the motivation to keep going and a reason to improve. It shows us how far we have come, the support we have, and helps us remember why we struggle each day.
Make the time for appreciation each day.
5. Today I Will Enjoy…
Finding enjoyment every day is part of living a happy life. I try to list different things every day as a challenge to find new moments to enjoy.
In the stress of each day, it’s easy to forget what we have to look forward to. Sometimes we need to put it on paper to remind us. If I’m planning on spending time with my kids, I know I’m putting that on my list. Special time with my wife goes there too.
Sometimes it’s the simple things. Quiet time, the sun, time alone. Whatever it is for you, identify it and make it a point to focus on it when the time comes.
6. Today I Will Avoid…
We talked about identifying distractions in my article last week. I find this exercise very important. We need to identify the moments, activities, and people that are going to stop us from accomplishing our goals.
I try to keep this list in mind all day. If something I write down begins to sidetrack me, an alarm needs to go off in my head that says “STOP IT!”.
Becoming aware of your habitual distractions and short-circuiting them is crucial to taking control of your days.
BONUS: Today’s Theme
I don’t view this as a critical area but as a daily motto. After filling in my daily worksheet, I sum it all up into one statement. It may be as simple as “persevere” or “stay positive”. It may be “I am going to provide more value to clients today than yesterday”. It may be something more profound.
Whatever your theme is, it should be your daily mantra. When you accomplish a priority, think of how you supported your theme. When you fall off track and distracted, remember your theme.
After a long day, sometimes the last thing I want to do is review my
worksheets. But, doing a quick review keeps things in perspective. It keeps us accountable to what we did, or did not, accomplish.
Many times, I’ll do my review the next morning alongside my new daily worksheet. It not only helps me transfer my open to-dos but it also clearly points out how the priorities I didn’t accomplish the previous day encroach upon today.
I can also review how I performed in the other areas. Did I show my appreciation? Did I avoid my distractions? Did I really take the time to enjoy what I said I would?
Keeping up the habit of doing a review develops a habit of self-reflection and awareness. It helps us grow a little each day.
Making Defining Your Day a Habit
The ten minutes you spend filling in this worksheet could be the most influential time you spend. It starts your day with intention and focus. It sets the tone.
Developing strong mental habits happens the same way we develop strong physical habits. We need to believe that the results will be positive, do the activity every day, and reflect on our successes and failures.
I challenge you to print out twenty-one of these worksheets. Fill one in every morning. Review it every night. I promise you that if you work the plan, you will feel more accomplished and successful at the end of those three weeks.