“We are what we repeatedly do”, this thought, mistakenly assigned to Aristotle, was in fact formulated by Will Durant in a commentary of the Greek philosopher’s thoughts.
When I first saw this quote I started wondering what I do every day and how it influences my happiness and my results. It is pretty obvious if we use extreme examples such as: I get fatter each day if I eat two bars of chocolate before going to bed. But it can be less obvious when we think about how much time we spend on emails every day and what actual results this brings. I came up with a strategy that I use to design a day. A day that repeated multiple times, delivers good results. I don’t claim my way is the only way that works. My intention is to inspire thoughts and help you figure out your own path.
There is no one-method-fits-all solution for a perfect day. Thanks to a stable daily plan you will be able to maintain a constant level of energy, motivation and after each passing hour you will gain more strength. By following five simple steps can inspire you to build and constantly refine the model of your perfect day:
1. Note down what you are doing
Each day I use the same template to plan and track my day. At the very top I write down my long term goal and below it the plan for this day. Then underneath I make a table that consists of three columns. I write hours in the left column, a plan for those 60 minutes in the second column and in the right one I scribble what I really did in that hour. Thanks to this I enjoy accomplishments and spot where my time leaks. Feedback provided by this method underlines activities I should avoid and those I should allocate more time to. I adjust my daily template accordingly every now and then.
2. Get rid of tasks that can be automated, delegated or ignored
Those typically include social media, poorly planned meetings and replying to emails. These time-wasters can suck you in and spit you back out to reality after 30-45 minutes. I was inspired to be more ruthless when qualifying tasks by Cal Newport. In his book Deep Work he describes activities that build up our career capital (creative, unique, requiring focus) and those that waste our energy, but provide us with imaginary quick wins (eg. replying to all emails). If your job requires being in touch maintain focus by turning of smartphone notifications and plan replying to emails and phone calls in certain time slots dedicated to this activity throughout the day and planned in advance.
3. Take care of your body and soul
It is actually funny how many people write about it, know about it and then end up not succeeding in applying it in their lives. I often meet entrepreneurs who are very surprised to get health problems after sitting and working 14-16 hours a day. I have just read a blog post by a famous Polish entrepreneur – Michał Sadowski – “I think I need to start working while standing up or working out my back muscles. Something just broke in my back and I can hardly walk. 🙂 Jesus, when did I age that much? :)”. What can one do to keep energy levels and life quality on a good level for a longer period of time? Here are a few methods that I use:
a) Use your body every day — even 20 minutes and a few basic exercises will do. They will switch your body on. It is worth noting that a few hundred years ago most of our ancestors spent all of their life on the move. Take a walk instead of sitting. This way of holding meetings was default to Socrates and Steve Jobs.
b) Eat vegetables, don’t eat sugar — it is a formula as simplified as it can be. Being on a diet is not about feeling hungry but selecting the right products. I can tell you by my own experience that you can eat a lot, feel full while losing weight and getting in shape. To speed up your metabolism and clean up your body it’s worth drinking 2-3 litres (70-100 oz) of mineral water a day. If you live in a part of the world that has periods during the year when nights last longer than 12 hours — you may consider using a vitamin D3 supplement.
c) Sleep eight hours — we all know these guys who tell us they sleep 6 hours and feel great. Most likely they are wrong. According to research conducted by Hans Van Donghen and published in 2003 sleep deprivation caused declines in mental and physical agility. This study compared before and after the ability of random participants to solve mental and physical tasks. Some of them slept 8 hours while others slept 6 and 4 hours respectively during two weeks. It turns out that those who slept 6 hours claimed to be feeling absolutely normal, but they performed worse than those sleeping for 8 hours on both intellectual and manual tasks.
d) Meditate — sit in silence, run or follow any other repetitive and constant activity that will enable you to focus on your breath. In the beginning 10 minutes is enough. This practice helped me find a rational distance to my problems and reduce everyday anxiety levels. It also decreased the intensity with which I react to unexpected situations in everyday life. These are just a few benefits of meditation that has been a tool for the majority of great thinkers, business people and athletes.
e) Read books — it is the cheapest way to acquire knowledge and understand the way outstanding people think. It is available anytime you want. I usually listen to books when I commute and read them before going to sleep. Books are not only a source of new inspiration, but also they give you the opportunity to compare your thinking and working models with those of great entrepreneurs. Sometimes it can be an encouragement in times of doubt.
4. Start and finish well
Start and finish well a stable morning ritual helps you “start up” your day with small successes. It gives your body a mobilising impulse to act. It may be 5 push-ups or 10 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning. As an end-of-day routine I recommend – leaving your phone and all electronic devices outside of your bedroom and spend some time reading to get in a calm mood before going to sleep. Other ways to deal with insomnia include: a warm bath before going to bed, fasting for 2 or more hours before sleep and blacking out your bedroom totally.
5. People on your calendar
People you spend time with influence your mood and way of thinking, so be selective. It is wonderful when you meet people who believe in you, motivate you to grow and believe in you. But, as Jerzy Gregorek (multiple World Weightlifting Champion) told me recently “it’s not cool if you feel hungover after meeting someone”. Of course he didn’t mean due to alcohol. If somebody invites you to a meeting – ask about the goal and the plan. Assess if the time that you should invest will bring you closer to your goals or help you in fulfilling your mission. Meetings tend to fill in all the time we plan, so you can experiment but shorten your average meeting time from 60 to 45 minutes and see how it works.
Take a piece of paper and a pencil and design your day. Right now. Whether you prefer creative work in the morning or in the evening is up to you. Research shows that statistically we have more will power to focus on creative tasks in the morning. However, famous examples show that there are those who work more effectively at night. It is the same with your sport of choice — only you can tell if running, riding a bike or weightlifting is best for you. So don’t search the internet for the perfect plan. Just use the above hints, design your outline and be ready to perfect it. You can learn more techniques by reading biographies or listening to podcasts.
Below you can find a sample, simplified version of a daily plan I use:
- wake up, meditate, warm up (a few exercises), coffee, supplements, shower (ca. 1 hour)
- breakfast, short team updates, day planning, replying to messages (ca. 1 hour)
- creative and strategic work (ca. 3 hours)
- meeting (preferred maximum 1-2 per day) and lunch (ca. 3 hours)
- workout (in the morning or in the evening) (ca. 1.5 hours)
- day summary, replying to messages (ca. 1 hour)
- free time, dinner with family and friends, reading, sleep
I suggest that you implement your daily plan step by step and be open to adjustments if something doesn’t work. Attempting to implement a lot of new habits at once might end up a disaster. It might prove impossible to stick to many new activities for a sustained period, so just take your time.
Your perfect day repeated every day for a year, improved once a month, will bring you results you wouldn’t expect yourself to deliver.
If you have experiences or know alternative day planning techniques please share them below. Maybe your example will inspire another person to make a change and improve their quality of life.