All of us have a list of things we know we should do every day… and usually don’t. They shouldn’t be that difficult to fit into our day, but we somehow end the day holding our intentions and the struggle rather than the completed task. I’m not talking about the things other people need from you, or the requirements of jobs or school. I’m talking about the things that bring you joy (whether immediate or delayed), things that are really important to you.
Why don’t we do the things that bring us joy? The first step to conquer this paradox is to make a master list of the things that bring you immediate joy (e.g.prayer/meditation, reading, journaling, playing music, calling or writing to a friend you haven’t seen in a while, walking in nature, checking in with older relatives if it’s been more than a couple of days, learning something new, cooking for your family and/or friends) …and things that might be hard at the moment but will bring you joy in the long run (e.g. working out, organizing and cleaning your living spaces, working on a big writing project)
Once you’ve made this master list, acknowledge there is no way you are going to be able to do all these things in a day. It’s important to name these things, to make this list and revise it as new things are recognized… but it’s equally important to acknowledge that you are going to have to make some choices. Pick what you currently think are the two or three most important things on this list and make a covenant with yourself that you will do them “every” day. The “every” is in quotes because let’s be real… life happens. Promise yourself that you will do these things every day, but give yourself grace for the occasional day when it’s just not possible.
Next, pick a way to remind yourself and keep track of your progress:
Schedule them on your calendar. This is probably the best way to do this for most people, but you have to build in a “what if” plan. If for some reason you don’t accomplish it at the time you scheduled it, it doesn’t break the promise you made to yourself. Move it on the calendar, commit to doing it later, but don’t blow it off.
Keep a “routine checklist”. This is separate from any other to-do list you create. This is for you. Not the things you have to do for other people, but the things you are doing for yourself, the things that add goodness to your days.
Morning is best (if you can). There is an adage in finance that you should pay yourself first. In other words, the first thing you do with your paycheck is to put money aside for investment in your future. Time is no different. Doing the important things first, the things that are just for you, is an investment in the day and your future.
The power of streaks. Put an X on a calendar every day, like Jerry Seinfeld or get the app that lets you put the Xs on a digital calendar. (There are other streak tracking apps, too.) Alternatively, create your own visual record of a streak with Excel or a Word document. The power of a streak is that you become more and more invested in not breaking the streak as time goes on.
Final thought. We are all busy, and we are all tired. This era, more than most, is one of being pushed and pulled in so many directions and in so many ways. Take the time to identify the things that bring you joy. If that’s all you do, it will be a good start, because just making that list will make it more likely you will add joy to your days. When you are ready, make a real covenant with yourself, a promise that you will do the one, two or maybe three (no more that three!) things at the top of that list every day. And then, do your best. Give yourself grace when you stumble… and start over.