Make Each Day Count

I am at that age where about every two to three months I think, “Wow, it’s already spring!” or “I can’t believe the year is half over.” Time seems to fly past at breakneck speed.

My wife and I were having one of these conversations last night on the way home from the theatre. This caused me to think about time and how precious it is.

As I drifted off to sleep, which didn’t take much time, I recalled a phone call from my editor earlier this week. He shared that the wife of a good friend was killed in a car accident. Tom’s comment at the end of the conversation still rings in my head, “Can you imagine saying goodbye to your wife after breakfast and then, a few hours later, learning that she is gone?”

Time is an element that we cannot change. It is an inevitable force that wealthy and powerful people have tried to control through the years. Centuries ago, explorers traveled thousands of miles on Spanish ships looking for the fountain of youth. Mickey Mantle, probably suffering the effects of too many cocktails, considered freezing his body to prolong his life.

The fact is that the length of our lives can be extended to some degree by exercise and good eating habits, but it remains largely out of our control. However, while we can only minimally impact the length of our lives through diet and exercise, we can significantly control the richness and impact of our lives by our actions.

The quality and impact of our lives is driven by the choices we make and the habits we cultivate. The level of satisfaction we have with our lives will be a function of how effective we are at managing the various elements of our lives. Specifically, the richness of life is largely a function of how well we manage our time.

This means that we have to make choices and develop habits that maximize how we use our time. This leads to the focus of this article, “How do we make each day count?”

Here is a list of things you can do to better make each day count:

  1. Plan your day. Either the evening before, which is preferable, or the next morning, take ten minutes to plan your day. Review your schedule for the next day. Make a list of the things you need to get done.
    1. As you plan your day, make your daily plan fit the model that you have developed for yourself that makes you the most productive. For example, if you are most creative in the morning, don’t schedule meetings in the morning. If you are a bit draggy in the early afternoon, use this time for mundane tasks. In essence, have a strategy that guides your daily schedule planning so that you can maximize your productivity and satisfaction during the day.
  2. Prepare for your day. During the evening before or first thing in the morning, gather up the things you need to take with you for the day. Accumulate in advance everything you need so you can move through the day without having to figure stuff out as you go.
  3. Meetings are probably the biggest time waster there is. If you are in charge of running meetings, make sure that you have a clear plan for the meeting. Be clear about the objective of the meeting. Only invite people who need to be there. If you are invited to a meeting by someone else, check to make sure you really need to be there. If not, diplomatically uninvited yourself.
  4. You can only give 100% each day. No matter what you do tomorrow, you cannot make up for wasting the previous day. The concept of giving a 110% or 200% tomorrow to make up for unproductive periods of time today is a mathematical impossibility. It is also and a misleading and stress-inducing concept. Success is a marathon, not a series of sprints. The tortoise’s approach beat the hare, and daily sustained and repetitive effort will always win in the long run. Using each and every day effectively is the key to success.
  5. Make sure at least one day each week is a relaxing day. The biblical concept of resting on the Sabbath is a sound principle. Without periodic rest, we will burn out. Working excessive hours on a daily basis, or for long periods of time without a day off, does not make you more productive. It makes you sick and burned out.
  6. Activity and achievement are not the same. Effort and results are not synonymous. Focus on what you can achieve in the least amount of time. Spend your time on your areas of talent and passion. Find people to help you do things that are in your weaker areas. No one is good at everything. Success is largely due to the ability to focus our time on the areas where we have an advantage. Don’t equate success with being busy.
  7. Expand your time by being prepared, organized and executing your plan. I never go into a meeting without thinking in advance what I want to accomplish. While I may not have a written agenda for every meeting, I always have an end in mind. Similarly in trading, I have a trading plan for the day. This includes what I am going to trade and whether I anticipate the market going up or down. The more I am prepared for each event in my day, the more efficient and productive I can be.
  8. Finally, make sure each day that you identify one significant thing that you want to accomplish. This could be as mundane as cleaning off your desk, or it might be a more significant accomplishment such as completing a long term project, buying a car, or having a long conversation with one of your children. It gives you the answer to the question, “What did I accomplish today?” I started doing this a number of years ago and it is a remarkably encouraging thing. It allows you to look back on each day and recall that you got something important done. It gives you a good feeling at the end of the day and something wonderful to reflect on.

In closing, I want to give you one caution. Resist the urge to over-plan your day and fill it up to the point that you become a slave to your to do list and your schedule. Being busy all the time, obsessed with completing tasks and not wasting a minute, is not required to make each day count. In fact, one of the most essential things we can do to make our lives both productive and rich is to learn to do something fun, rewarding and relaxing each day. People who cannot spend some time each day doing things that are enjoyable, become prisoners to their obsessive lives. They ultimately burn out and destroy their relationships with the people they love.

One way to avoid this trap is to “Do something for yourself each day.” This can be as simple as reading a novel for thirty minutes or shopping for new clothes. It can also mean watching a show at the end of the day with someone you love. Or it could mean exercising for thirty minutes in the morning. The point is to make sure that each day you spend at least thirty to sixty minutes doing something that you really enjoy. Remember, making each day count should help you enjoy life!