“Oh, it’s such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it…” “at work” is not what Lou Reed sings in the song ”Perfect day”. Why? Probably because workdays are rarely the ones we would describe as shimmering, delightful and perfect.
Perhaps we do not perceive our days as ”perfect” due to what we have chosen to do during them. Speaking for myself, some days are great and I get the feeling that nothing can go wrong, while others are nothing special and ”just another day at work”.
The reason for things being the way they are
When I look back at a day that was not very good, it was often due to some problem arising. Something in my planning went wrong, something unexpected occurred, and had I only taken precautions in advance, the day would have turned out more to my liking.
So, to be quite honest, we are not all that helpless and at the mercy of circumstance, but can with our good structure at least increase our chances of dealing with matters that arise, dodge the bullets, and have more days that feel good and are in line with how we want our workdays to be.
Adjust your knobs and levers
But how? What tools do we have at our disposal?
Here are six components we can experiment with to construct and compose the perfect day.
- How you start your day. Think about what you would describe as a ”good start to the day”. Find a morning routine and clarify it to yourself by for example writing it down. If ”routine” feels too big a step, just decide on one thing that you resolve to do every morning when you get to work, and write it somewhere where you will see it daily — on a note, on your computer desktop, or in an easily accessible digital document. Determine how many days you will test it out and see if it makes any difference to you, for example two weeks. Begin your new habit tomorrow morning.
- Take advantage of your natural rhythm. Some of us have most energy during the morning, and others during the afternoon. Some get most done in silence while others find that they are more productive whilst in the middle of a crowded room accompanied by a pleasant murmur of colleagues talking. Categorize your to-do-tasks by what situation you feel most comfortable doing each one of them in. The categories could for example be ”AM”, ”PM”, Energized”, ”Tired”, ”Silent”, ”In the middle of things”, and so on. Choose what to-do-task to do next primarily based on in what context, mode or situation you are in. If it is morning, choose to do one of the tasks you prefer doing in the morning and which you therefore have labeled ”AM”.
- How you take breaks. When is a good time for you to take a break? How long do they need to be and how often do you need them? Make an educated guess of what would be your ideal break, and try it out for a few days. At the moment I am testing a rhythm of working 50 min and then resting completely for 10 minutes, when I have work to do for longer stretches of time by the computer. Since I tend to get engulfed by the task I am working on and forget my breaks, I set a timer for 50 min and then 10 min. So far it is feeling good.
- How many meetings do you have energy for in a day? Create your own rule-of-thumb regarding how many meetings you can bear in a day. Two? Four? More? Fewer? When you see that a day in your calendar has been filled with the maximum number of meetings, block all the remaining time so that you are not tempted to schedule more, and so that you are not available for more requests in case others have access to your calendar as well.
- How much time alone you have every week. Take a moment to consider how many hours you need to work alone each week, when you do not have any meetings or other distractions, in order to finish all your tasks. Nine hours? More or less? Schedule recurring meetings with yourself at the times which others are least likely to require your attention. If you want to, read about how you can play 15-puzzle with your alone-time in a previous blogpost, and thereby stick to the number of hours you need to yourself every week.
- How you want to spend your lunchtime? What will you have for lunch on your perfect workday? What will make you feel good even after lunch and throughout the afternoon? With who do you want to eat? Someone in particular who inspires you, or with several people at once? Someone you can speak freely with, share whatever you are going through at the moment, and give you the support you need? If you do not have one of those ideal lunches scheduled at the moment, contact the person you prefer having lunch with and suggest a time and place.
These were some of the knobs and levers you could pull and tweak, buttons you could push and aspects of your day you could adjust in order to make improvements, but I am sure your can think of a few more to alter and make your day into something closer to what you would describe as perfect.
If you want to, choose one of the aspects described above to adjust (or some other, completely different, but to you more relevant aspect) and decide on how you want your next few days ahead to be in terms of the aspect you have chosen to adjust.
If you need to do something as a first step in order to make this change happen, either do it right away or formulate a to-do-task and add it to your list. Schedule that lunch, set your work/rest-timer, schedule time alone, write down the maximum number of meetings you will allow yourself in a day, author the embryo to the morning routine you wish to implement eventually, or whatever you might need to do.
Refine and adjust — again and again
If you want the days to come to be more in accordance to you preferences and choosing, do something simple along the lines of my suggestions, and you will find that your days will improve, even if ever so slightly. You might not have covered all bases and prevented all unexpected events that might come to pass, but you will at least have made it possible to dodge one or two unpleasant surprises. If you continue to refine and adjust the outline of your average day frequently and in small steps, they will become more to your liking.
And, just as Lou Reed ended his song, “You’re going to reap just what you sow”.
What knobs or levers do you turn?
Can you think of another aspect one might tweak or improve upon in order to design your own perfect day? Share your thoughts with me.
Want more like this?
If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.