What if shifting your focus from having a good day to making the most of your day could liberate you to enjoy even the dreariest of chore-filled days?
Every morning, as I see my children off to school and the childminder’s house, I give them the same three things: a hug, a kiss, and a cheery instruction to “have a great day” or “enjoy the day”. However, one morning last week, something changed. I had hurt my back so my husband was taking the kids in, and as I was – with some difficulty – leaning into the car to kiss them goodbye, I said: “Make the most of your day, guys!”
Make the most of your day. Now, there’s an interesting idea.
As I went back into my house in search of ibuprofen and a hot water bottle, I got to thinking about what I had –involuntarily – said to my children, and the bigger message I had conveyed.
Now, thanks to the American movie industry and the proliferation of Starbucks, we are all quite used to hearing and being told to have a nice day. Or a good day. Or a great day. We’re forever wishing each other enjoyable days. But here I was talking about something else, something greater than a great day. The French have a handy verb for this idea: profiter. Take advantage. Make the most of. Get the best out of. Extract all you can. Seize opportunity. The boys of the dead poets’ society got the idea – carpe diem and all that. But what does it really mean to do that – to make the most of the day? What does that look like? And how do our words make a difference?
The different shades of making the most
For me, making the most of my day means something very different depending on the day of the week. I do paid work four days a week, so on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, it can simply mean doing what I need to earn enough to pay the bills. But, given my profession, it can also mean feeling like I have truly served my coaching clients by being fully present for them and supporting their journey. Or it can mean attending a networking event and talking to as many people as possible, being courageous and working the room. Some days it might mean getting through the pile of administrative tasks that are par for the course when you run a business. Making the most of a work day means, in essence, extracting everything from it that can serve either my clients or my business.
I spend Wednesdays with my children, so those days are very different. Making the most of the day might mean ensuring I take the time to practice reading with my daughter. Or forgetting about the laundry and spending some quality time on Lego and puzzles. It might also mean finding the stamina to get through multiple two-year-old tantrums without losing my temper or my mind. And let’s face it, it might also mean using the children’s nap time to catch up on some sleep myself.
Be here now
Now, while I love my work, and I adore my children, quite a few of the activities listed above are not what I would consider fun, nice or enjoyable. Business admin gives me a knot in my stomach for fear I’ll screw up and bring down the full force of the French trésor publique on me. Equally, networking is something of a necessary evil, Lego has its limits, and I don’t think hating tantrums makes me unique amongst parents! And yet all of those things count, for me, as part of making the most of the day. There are even times when the best use of your time is actually doing something specifically unpleasant – like undergoing a painful but necessary medical procedure, or having a difficult but valuable conversation with a friend who has hurt you.
Making the most of the day has a notion of being about a longer-term goal than having a nice day. It’s about doing something today that will serve you tomorrow, or next week. It’s about being here now, facing what has to be done with at least a smidge of enthusiasm rather than tackling tasks begrudgingly, all the time wishing you could be somewhere else, doing something else. It’s also about making the most important use of your time: there are days when resting really is the most productive thing you can do.
Perspective on the message
So, what’s the bigger picture here? Am I reading too much into a few words we casually toss to our children, partners, colleagues and – in France – anyone we meet and speak to all day (the French “bonne journée” upon leaving the bakery is sacrosanct)? I don’t think so. I think it’s subtle but the words we use have meaning and they shape how we see the world. By telling my daughter to have a good/fun/nice day, I’m telling her that life is supposed to be good/fun/nice, and if her day isn’t those things, that she has somehow failed, or that life has failed to live up to her expectations.
The truth is: not all parts of life are fun. In fact, some of the most fulfilling, enriching and rewarding life experiences we’ll ever have are quite the opposite. (Childbirth, anyone? Therapy? Running a marathon?) Of course, a lot of the time, when we say “have a good day”, our actual intention is somewhere closer to “make the most of the day”, but linguistic precision is important. By consciously changing our mindset to seeking to make the most of the day, rather than enjoy it, we accept that not every day will be joyful but that doesn’t diminish its value. This in turn can help us see even a very challenging, enraging or saddening day as useful and instructive or as contributing to a long-term goal.
A sprinkling of sugary joy along the way
The cherry on the cake, of course, is making the most of the day with the right attitude and intention. I might spend the day cleaning the house – useful, necessary – but if I can do it while listening to music and dancing as I hoover, maybe I can turn it into a fun one too. Mary Poppins knew it years ago: you might have to clean the kids’ bedroom, or go on a long drive, or do admin and pay bills but in every job that must be done, there can be an element of fun. For me, letting go of the belief that every day should be fun enables me to accept the day for what it is, and by aiming to make the most of it I often find a sprinkling of enjoyment emerges even amidst the nastiest of tasks.
Except for managing the two-year-old’s tantrums. There’s not enough sugar in the world to make that medicine go down.
If you’re finding it hard working out how to make the most of your day, your week or your life at the moment, you’re not alone. I can help you figure out where you want to be and how you can get there – hopefully with some joy and fun along the way. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to see how you can get more out of a life lived with purpose and on purpose.
To resolve or not to resolve, that is the question. It’s the one we ask ourselves each January as the annual invitation to start over rolls around. In the media, there’s the usual flurry of “How to make resolutions that last”-type articles (the kind of stuff I love to read), along with the expected slew of “Why making resolutions is a waste of time” pieces (not my cup of tea). Personally, I feel resolution-making as an expression of the will to self-improvement is never to be discouraged: the simple act of voicing a desire to change and then attempting to do so is a massive step forward. For me, failure to keep a resolution does not indicate that making resolutions is futile; rather it suggests that the resolution was perhaps the wrong one for you, or it was made for the wrong reasons, or – crucially – it was badly worded.
Specific and committed
The way in which we word and specify our intentions is crucial to their longevity. The difference between “I’m going to be healthier in 2015” and “I’m going to jog for 10 minutes twice a week in 2015” is huge. The first is vague and contains no real action, the second is specific and involves a solid commitment. Which is more likely to be kept?
Now, you’d think that, self-improvement info junkie that I am, I’d be able to sidestep these kinds of mental potholes. Think again. This New Year, I caught myself making a whopper of a rookie error as I sat down to set some intentions for 2015. There I was with a nice list of all the things I wanted to find more time for over the year – yoga, new coaching clients, promoting my work as a writer – when I noticed that every item on that list was – mentally – preceded by the words “I will find more time to…” See the fatal flaw? Answers on a postcard to the woman who’s still looking through her chest of drawers to find where she left that bit of spare time she just knows she put somewhere for safekeeping.
Stop searching, start creating
What was I thinking? You don’t find time for anything. Time is not a crumpled fiver you come across down the side of the sofa, nor is it something you discover left over at the end of a long day. Time is finite; no-one gets any more than 24 hours in a day.
The minute I changed the word “find” to “make”, my perspective on my resolutions changed. I am going to have to make time to prospect for clients, clear space in my diary for that extra yoga class, and – whisper it – make the choice between crashing on the sofa like an extra from The Walking Dead and getting out the laptop to write. Finding time is about trying to cram even more into the day, snatching five minutes here and there. Making time is about saying no to activities that aren’t priority, crafting your schedule to work towards your objectives, and making conscious decisions about where you put your energy at any given moment – which sometimes means giving up things that aren’t useful and don’t serve you.
A sense of agency
It all comes down to a feeling of agency, really. Making time puts me firmly in the driver’s seat of my life, relying on myself to make the decisions that get me where I want to be. Finding time – just like finding a forgotten banknote – relies to a large extent on luck and good fortune. And my goals are a little too important to me to leave them in the lap of the gods. Aren’t yours?
Originally published on Running in Heels.
We all get just 24 hours in our day, so how come some people seem to manage to find time for everything and others are permanently rushing? When it comes to time management, some are definitely more equal than others.
The most common complaint I hear from friends, colleagues and coaching clients is some variant of “I would like to, but I don’t have time”. I don’t have time to exercise, take up a hobby, read more, write my novel, go to the theatre… We live in an age of endless time-saving devices; we have more holiday allowance than ever before; and the Internet makes accessing information from around the globe the work of seconds. Yet some of us still struggle to fit everything into the same 24 hours that everyone else is getting. Here are a few simple strategies to reclaim the clock and slow down the race.
1. Saying yes means saying no
And saying no means saying yes. When you say yes to dinner with friends, you are saying no to an evening on the sofa watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother. And when you say no to drinks with a colleague after work, perhaps you’re saying yes to a bath, a book and early to bed. When you are conscious of what you’re accepting and what you’re rejecting, you can start to make more conscious choices based on what your body, mind and soul need right now. And that’s a first step to using time on purpose.
2. You can achieve a lot in 5 minutes
You can make the bed, do a short breathing exercise, send a text to reach out to a friend, or write a list of prospects to contact for your business. Every minute is useful for something. Don’t get sucked into to thinking that if you don’t have a whole hour to spend on a project there’s no way you can make any progress today.
3. Christmas is on 25th December, every single year
And this year will be no exception. So why do so many people find themselves queuing up to buy a soap selection basket in The Body Shop at 4pm on Christmas Eve? Why not buy gifts throughout the year (when you happen upon the perfect present or the sales are in full swing) and put them away until Christmas? Why not set aside a weekend at the end of October for some internet purchases and another mid November to head to the shops? It’s all about planning. The same is true of birthdays, anniversaries and tax returns. Don’t let events that you can so easily anticipate sneak up on you!
4. Remember who’s the slave and who’s the master
Is Facebook a fun way of keeping up with distant friends or a time suck that distracts you from writing your thesis? Does Twitter help you keep up with the latest news while you’re in between meetings, or do you find yourself emerging from a session of tweet-surfing to find that an hour has passed and your friend’s surprise birthday party hasn’t planned itself? Social media and the Internet can be forces for organisation and time-efficiency when used well. Make sure you’re staying in control.
We all get the same 24 hours every day. And what you choose to do with them is your business. Just make sure you’re doing just that: choosing.
Originally published on Running in Heels.
When you’re feeling weighed down by duties and chores, look past the to-do list to the blessing behind the burdens and you’ll soon find they’re light as a feather.
As everyone I’ve spoken to since last May knows (I’m just a little excited), the Beloved and I are currently planning our wedding. He got down on one knee (yep, literally) just under a year ago and we’ve been plotting and booking and researching ever since. Now, I’ve always loved organising and arranging, so you can just imagine the spree I’ve been on since we got engaged. There’s a joint wedding gmail account with an email address for all things nuptial and several (you really thought I’d limit myself to one?) spreadsheets for budget, venues, guest list… It’s planner’s paradise.
The best laid plans
I have to say that my occasionally annoying urge to structure, label and list is really coming in handy right now, and the Beloved has been, to a lesser extent, bitten by the bug too. He’s a maths and computer whizz so my simple spreadsheets now have formulae to calculate the numbers of guests sure to come, the number of children likely to be there, marquee price comparisons…
The thing with a wedding is that there really is a lot to think about, a lot to do and – crucially – most tasks depend on other tasks. For example, we need to book a date at the town hall for the civil wedding, which is obligatory in France. Before we can do that, I need to obtain a certified translation of my birth certificate, but before I can get it translated, I need to get a special version dated within the last six months… So, you see, you can’t just attack your to-do list (which is often my approach – a blind blitz attack); you have to do things in the right order. You can’t book a DJ until you have a date, but can’t set a date until you find the venue, and know it’s available. My college friend Rachel (for whose wedding I received an invitation the very day the Beloved and I first met) encapsulated the beauty and ephemeral nature of wedding planning when she wrote to me: “You have to acquire very specific knowledge very quickly, learning a huge of amount of stuff that you’ll never use again”.
A very specific skill set
Rachel was right. I now have a working knowledge of venue contracts, and I know all the French words for the various shades of a colour I once just referred to as “white”. But, in the midst of tasting desserts and trying on dresses and addressing envelopes, the biggest lesson I am currently learning is one of perspective. When the Beloved proposed, I was over the moon, simply thrilled to know we were to be joined forever in matrimony and that we’d be making our commitment public and sharing the day with all our friends and family. But as
The Day draws near and decisions have to be made and friends and family start offering helpful tips and opinions about how things really should be done, the pressure builds.
Online forums are full of women whipping each other into a frenzy about the traditional meaning of different flowers, the take-his-name/keep-your-own debate, and the “right” number of bridesmaids. Films like “Bridesmaids” with their incredibly opulent weddings make your own somewhat humbler proceedings feel shabby by comparison, and having seen the once hilarious, but now that I’m engaged, frankly petrifying film “The Hangover”, I break out in a cold sweat whenever the words “stag night” are uttered in my presence.
Enjoy the process
With all that going on (plus, you know, little things like holding down a full-time job, writing columns, washing, shopping, hauling myself to the gym…) it’s easy to lose sight of the endgame. Which is – we’re getting married. Never a weekend free from some kind of wedding errand? Deal with it – you’ve met the love of your life! Hand aching from addressing envelopes? For heaven’s sake – you’re lucky to have so many loved ones with whom to share the day. And as for arguing with the Beloved over buttonholes and seating arrangements – well, I’d rather avoid the irony of having cross words over how/when/where/with whom we are to declare our undying love.
I only intend to get married once in my life, so I am determined to enjoy the process as much as the day itself. I refuse to squabble for a year while we plan what is supposed to be the happiest day of our lives. And a wedding is just one example of how keeping sight of the endgame and maintaining a sense of perspective prevent you from undermining the ultimate joy of what you’re doing. Quarrelling over holiday plans falls into the same category for me, as does getting uptight about taking the wrong route out of the city for a weekend away. The drive is part of the trip – enjoy the process, put it in perspective, and remember to buy a more up-to-date map when you get back.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff I have to juggle in life, I remember the words of my wise friend Pam. Once, as I complained about how I was behind in my novel for book club, didn’t have an evening without a commitment for the next two weeks, had only half-written my latest column, and couldn’t even find time to get to the bank to pay in a cheque, she looked me in the eye and said: “Wow, it must be fun to be in a book club! And you’ve loads of social nights out planned? Nice! You’re already half-way done on your column? And someone gave you some money that you need to put in the bank? What a lot of lucky burdens to carry.” Pam’s point, simply stated, has proved very hard to forget. Luckily.
Originally published on Running in Heels.
Acquiring just a few good organisational habits will help your day go with a swing rather than a bang – because life doesn’t have to be so hard.
It’s a commonly held misconception that life is hard. That it’s a struggle, a war, and that, even in the comfort of relatively peaceful first-world countries, we still have to do daily battle – with a never-ending to-do list, demands from family, friend and bosses, the pressure to keep up with fashion, the news, the Joneses…
But I don’t buy all that. Sure, life has its challenges. They range from the everyday, like finding and keeping a job and maintain good relationships, to the exceptionally hard times when we encounter death, heartbreak, serious illness, depression… Luckily, these kinds of major problems are infrequent for most of us. What’s more, when the serious problems do come along, we have a tendency to rise to the challenge – we activate our support network, we shore ourselves up, and become acutely aware of the need to be kind to ourselves and stay strong.
Nice and easy does it every time
In my experience, it’s not the “big stuff” that floors people, but the accumulation of lots of “small stuff”. When people talk about what regularly exhausts them and causes them stress, more often that not it’s the regular hassles, the daily grind, a lack of time, the constant feeling of frazzled and overstretched. Yet, most of these sources of stress are self-induced. Household clutter is an issue for many people – yet what’s to stop them clearing it away? The pre-work rush gets lots of us off to a bad start but the quality of our morning routine is entirely in our own hands.
Acquiring a few simple and healthy organisational habits can make such a difference and help you live a more easeful life. After all, when you rush from place to place, lurching from crisis to crisis, are you running your life or is your life running you – into the ground? I get frazzled at times, just like everyone, but I do try to stick to a few great strategies for making life just a little easier and therefore more pleasant for myself and everyone around me.
If it will only take two minutes, do it straight away
You get home from work and change your clothes, remove your jewelry, etc. It takes almost as long to throw everything on your dressing table as it does to put them in the wash basket, hang them up and put your earrings into your jewelry box. The difference: a clear bedroom, your favourite gold hoops don’t eventually get lost, and, when you have friends for dinner that week, the pre-visit clearing up is reduced, which in turn means you don’t have to rush home from work, frantically stuffing piles of cloths under the bed and swearing as you step barefoot on the aforementioned lost earrings!
Leave more than enough time between meetings and appointments
You need to make a doctor’s appointment. The receptionist suggests 6pm on Tuesday. You’ve got a meeting until 5.30pm and you want to get to your tango class at 8pm. The doctor’s office and the dance school are about 45 minutes apart. Sounds doable, but before accepting the appointment, think about the possibilities for that day. Your meeting ends at 5.45pm instead of 5.30pm. You don’t even have time to tidy your desk before rushing out the door to the doctor. She’s running late and you don’t get to see her before 6.45pm. The doctor has a test she wants you to undergo, she calls the clinic to make the appointment while you’re there…the clock is ticking. You leave her at 7.15pm, run to the station, catch a train in the nick of time and arrive at your class just as the warm-up is beginning. You’re already hot and frazzled, you haven’t had time to change your shoes, and you go straight into the class without even having time to say hi to a few of the other regulars (which was the reason you joined in the first place – to make new friends). What part of all of that did you actually enjoy, let along savour? And, seriously – why on earth would you do that to yourself?
Pack your bag the night before
It takes three minutes to make sure your handbag is ready for the next day before turning in for the night (even better – do it as soon as you get home, before you sit down to relax). Run through your day in your mind and imagine what you’ll need as you leave the house, see a client, walk to the tube, call a taxi, stop by the shops. Keys, purse, phone (does it need charging? plug it in now!), train pass, lip balm, period is due – shove a couple of tampons in the side pocket, meeting first thing – do I have a few business cards in my wallet?, take that letter to post, grab a reusable shopping bag… It’s one thing you won’t have to do the next day before the coffee has truly kicked in and you’re firing on all cylinders.
Delete or file emails as you read and reply
My email inbox is basically my online to-do list. Everyday, I go through the new emails, read and file things that are just for information, delete the junk and am left with, say ten, that actually require action. I fire off responses to the ones I can (glorious quick wins) and then file them. The inbox is now halved. As long as an email remains in my inbox I know I haven’t finished dealing with it, and the fact that it’s not lost among 50 emails that I have dealt with means that I won’t forget to do so.
Let the phone go to voicemail
Ok. Minor rant now. Why, oh why, do people answer the phone only to say, “Sorry, I’m in a meeting / having lunch with a friend / in a museum. Can I call you back?” Firstly, it’s rude to the person they’re actually with. Secondly, it ruins their concentration and ability to be in the here and now. Thirdly, they almost always forget to call that person back because how often do you immediately write “Call Sandra back” on your to-do list? What is so wrong with letting calls go to voicemail when it’s an inconvenient time to talk? The voicemail reminders ensure you won’t forget to return the call, and you’re etiquette karma is intact.
Originally published on Running in Heels.