Building a Better Day

On Tuesday, I woke up, got the kids ready for school, spread organic fertilizer over our back yard, got in contact with a local Congressional campaign about volunteering for them, spent two hours at the library doing research, wrote three articles, read a few chapters of a challenging book, played with my children for a good hour, made a frittata for supper, walked two miles, spent thirty minutes creating an elaborate bedtime story with my kids, and finally passed out from exhaustion. I was genuinely tired – physically and mentally – at the end of the day.

My Wednesday wasn’t that much different, except with a few different activities involved. I attended a school play. I helped my daughter with her piano practice. I worked on a great plan for a future project.

Lately, I’ve come to realize that I spend far too much time thinking about doing things and not nearly enough time actually doing things. So I made it my goal to change that on a daily basis.

Whenever I catch myself thinking about something I want to do or that I should be doing, I stop. Instead, I try to redirect myself into actually doing something.

I still have leisure time. I just spend that leisure time doing something rather than thinking about it.

I still have planning time. I just spend that time actively planning things for the future.

Why take this approach?

For starters, I hate the feeling at the end of the day that I didn’t accomplish anything. Whenever I spend a day with a significant amount of idle time – channel surfing or clicking to random websites or simply burning time without a purpose – I go to sleep feeling like the day’s opportunities were wasted. I don’t feel good about myself.

On the other hand, when I go to bed when I’ve made myself genuinely physically and mentally tired, I sleep like a baby. I feel good about my life, which helps me rest easier, and I’m genuinely tired, so I go to sleep easier.

Plus, if I fill my day with action, I get a lot of stuff done. In the last several days, I’ve taken a lot of steps forward on personal goals, some of which might lead to income in the future. I’ve found a lot of enjoyment in some of my hobby activities. I’ve managed to take care of some big frugality projects, too, so this has saved me money as well. I’m also not nearly as distracted by things to potentially buy as keeping up with tasks significantly reduces media exposure time.

It’s a win in almost every way. I sleep better. I find more ways to earn money. I find fewer ways to spend money. I’m less tempted to buy. I get tons of stuff done. Perhaps most of all, I feel at peace.

Here are some tips that have really helped me with this change.

First, make a giant list of things you want to take care of. Everything you can think of that you’d like to do, whether it’s productive or just personally valuable, write it down. Make a giant list of all of that stuff.

If it’s something huge, make a “first step” for it that won’t take too long to achieve. If you write down something like “get in shape,” change it into “walk a mile” or “make a healthy meal from scratch.”

Whenever you catch yourself idling, look at that list. Look for the first thing that really stands out to you and just go do that instead of just idling.

This isn’t really a formal to-do list. I might never do some of the stuff on this list. The genuinely important things that are on my “real” daily to-do list always take priority, but sometimes I have gaps or sometimes I’m just not prepared to take care of things on the important list. That’s when this big secondary list really comes in handy.

If you’re physically tired, do something mentally challenging. If you’re mentally tired, do something physically challenging. Sometimes, you’ll have tasks that aren’t really challenging at all, like filing papers or cleaning a desk or going through a “catch-all” drawer, that work well as “filler.”

The whole point of all of this is to take care of stuff that needs taking care of so that you feel like your day has beem productive and you feel genuinely tired and happy at the end of the day. That’s the goal. You get stuff done, feel good about your day, and feel tired in a good way – not exhausted, but pleasantly used up so that you’ll feel refreshed after a day of work.

Try it. Make yourself a big list today, then strive to stay as busy as possible tomorrow. See how you feel at the end of the day.

I bet you’ll not only feel great, you’ll feel productive and you’ll sleep well.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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