I rested my head on my pillow. What a good day, I thought. What a good good day! It felt full, whole, satisfying.
What had made today so great? I pondered.
I thought for a minute, reached for my notebook and pen, and sketched the following:
All four of these elements had been present in my day in some capacity. I hadn’t worked long hours, but I had spent some time that morning in a flow state, working intensely on my book. I had gone for a long walk with Grendel that afternoon. I’d gone to a friend’s birthday party that night and had stopped to enjoy my favorite Mexican food on the way.
I was in a hurry, so I’d gotten take-out and eaten in the car, with the new Spoon album playing and the rain falling hard on my car. It was sort of magical and some of the most fun I’ve had alone. I only stayed at the party for a short while – long enough to catch up with friends and meet a few new people, but not so long that I felt drained. I left with electricity in my veins. What a good day.
Work, movement, alone time, social time. Hm.
Over the next several weeks, I began to experiment. In the morning I would ask myself what I could do that day in each quadrant. At the end of the day I would see which quadrants I’d hit and how I felt. Sure enough I would go to bed feeling the most satisfied on the days where I hit all four quadrants. On the days when I only hit one or two, I would feel scattered and irritable.
I noticed that my weakest, most infrequently hit quadrant was “movement,” so I began placing extra emphasis on talking walks, working out, and going to yoga class.
I also noticed that it was difficult to hit all four quadrants on days when I had a lot of obligations and errands to run. However, I found that on these days it was especially smart to prioritize the quadrants, because they really helped to counteract the irritation I felt from doing things like laundry and calling banks. It’s similar to meditation. It’s always the days when you feel as though you don’t have time to meditate that you most need to meditate. Even a few minutes is enough to make a difference.
The formula for a perfect day
We’re all different and I don’t think that this formula will work perfectly for everybody. But it’s a good place to start. At the beginning of your day, see if you can think of something small to do in each quadrant.
1. Focused, important work
First off, when I say “work” in this context, I’m talking about your heart’s work: activities that feel meaningful and that light you up, whether or not they currently generate income.
People often try to pack too much work into their days and then end up feeling disappointed and unproductive at the end of the day because they didn’t meet their expectations. This is especially a problem for multipotentialites, who have so many exciting projects on their plates.
As Chris Guillebeau puts it,
We overestimate what we can accomplish in a day, but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.
Pick one important item to do. Yes, one. And YES, important. Something with real meaning, something that lights up your heart, something with long term impact. If you have to focus on urgent work that day, that’s fine. But try to do one pomodoro of important work first (and learn how to differentiate between the two).
You don’t have to spend a long time in this quadrant. Even 20-40 minutes will do it. The key is to get into a flow state. Flow and meaning are what will leave you feeling satisfied at the end of the day.
Once you’ve worked on your important item, pat yourself on the back and then you can work on other things if you like, but think of these as bonuses. This way you’ll look back on your day and see all of the extra stuff you got done rather than looking back and feeling like a failure because you only knocked four tasks off of your list of ten.
2. Quality alone time
Quality alone time means something different for each of us. For some, this might mean reading a book. For others, it might mean doing something creative, engaging with a new interest, or going for a bike ride.
Your alone time should be “pointless” in the best sense of the word. You’re not trying to get anywhere or accomplish anything. You’re just enjoying spending time with yourself.
Again, movement can take many forms. Walks, workouts, yoga class. It can be anything that will get you out of your head and into your body.
4. Social interaction
Try to do one small social activity every day. As an introvert, I prefer connecting with people one-on-one or in small groups. I occasionally go to larger parties or events. Some days I count my woodworking class as an item in my social quadrant since I usually end up chatting with people as I work on my projects.
A quick note for those of you in relationships: it’s really important for you to push yourself to spend time with people other than your partner. This is something I’ve struggled with in the past. It’s really easy to isolate yourselves, simply because it’s so much fun to be together! But it’s really important to get out and spend time with other people for your sense of independence and identity as well as the health of your relationship.
Activities that hit multiple quadrants
Certain activities hit multiple quadrants. You can do focused important work in teams and hit both the work and social quadrants. A bike ride might count both as quality alone time and as movement.
That’s fine, especially on days when you’re really busy. But I do try to find four distinct activities to fit into the quadrants because I like the variety.
Capturing the “essence” of the quadrant matters more than how much time you devote to it
The activity you choose for each quadrant can be really small. It doesn’t need to take up much time, it just needs to capture the “essence” of the quadrant in question. Here are the “essences” of the quadrants:
- Work: important + focused
- Alone time: purposeless + fun
- Movement: out of your head and into your body
- Social: connecting with another human being
At the end of the day, pay attention to how you feel. And especially pay attention on days when you fall short in a quadrant. Do you feel any differently?
You may need to tweak this approach or replace the quadrants with your own “elements of a good day.” Not everyone needs the same things to feel good at the end of the day.
The importance of the occasional unbalanced day
There are occasionally days when the best thing to do is to ditch the attempt to have a perfect day and just succumb to doing what you feel like doing. Sometimes this means taking a whole day to yourself (quality alone time), spending a day hanging out with an old friend and going on an adventure (social interaction) or even going hard on a work project and just getting into a massive flow state that lasts all day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. The occasional unbalanced day can really do a lot to break you out of a funk and help you feel refreshed.
Which elements do you need to have in your day to feel satisfied and whole as you hit the pillow that night? Let’s get a list of ideas and resources going in the comments below!