If I could ask everyone I meet to try just one thing, it would be this:
Sit in a quiet place. Take a pen (or a pencil, but no erasing allowed!) and a clean sheet of paper. Now imagine your ideal day — in fine strokes, in clear and loving detail, hour by hour.
Take it step by step: What time do you wake up? What do you see outside your window? Where do you live? What do you eat for breakfast? What do you do before work? What is your work? When 10 am rolls by, what are you doing?
You can structure your day as a schedule, or you can organize it into bullets or paragraphs, but make sure you’re writing it down! This is your life, your ideal life, and if you’re going to realize it, you need to know what it is. You need to have a record.
There’s a world of difference between just thinking this through and actually writing it down. Writing helps you break away from the usual grooves of your brain, the tired tracks you travel every day without realizing it.
I would know. My ideal day shocked me. It didn’t look anything like my current life, or even like any ideal life I had imagined before. But I knew it was right. I knew I had discovered something important, something I had to revisit.
Enough about me. Turn back to your paper, back to your ideal day. Where do you work — at home, or in an office? What is the atmosphere like? What do you do for lunch? When do you go home?
Do you stop anywhere on the way home? Do you see friends, or hit the gym, or pick up flowers and groceries for a party you’re throwing? Do you wander around a yarn store, or mentor a junior colleague or a high school student?
If it ever seems as if there aren’t enough hours to do everything, remember that this is your ideal day. Free yourself from any sense of what you should do and think about what you’d really want to do. Now cut out the rest.
Imagine walking through your ideal home. How big is it? How does it make you feel? Who lives there with you, and who visits you there?
What occupies your after-work hours: cooking romantic dinners, eating out with friends, creative pursuits? Reading in a quiet study, or reading in bed with your children? And (never underestimate the importance of this!) what time do you go to bed?
Just try it. Imagine your ideal day, a day that you would be happy to experience five days a week for a few years. Of course lives change, vacations happen, and no two days are really the same. The goal is to design a routine that wouldn’t feel routine. A day that would excite and sustain you, rather than stress you out or fray your edges or just fly by.
A word about money: don’t worry about it too much just yet. Does anyone want to shop at Saks every single day for years, or lounge forever on the beach, sipping pina coladas? I doubt it. Chances are that your ideal day includes activities that could provide you with income (teaching, consulting, entrepreneurship), even if it doesn’t include a typical office job.
Now you have it: your ideal day. As I mentioned, mine floored me. It seemed right, but I had no idea how to start working toward it. So I closed the notebook and put it on a shelf for a few months. Sometimes I told myself that I didn’t really want the day I’d imagined, that I wasn’t really sure what I wanted, that it was too late now regardless. But I think that’s just fear.
I’ve read that people overestimate what can be achieved in a single day and underestimate what can be achieved over time. So I’ve decided to break my ideal day down into a few themes and set daily resolutions that will bring my current life more in line with the life I want to lead.
I don’t want to cultivate dissatisfaction with my current life, and I don’t want to make radical or unsustainable changes, but I do want to live in line with my passions and my values, and this project is my way of working toward that goal. Even if things don’t quite work out how I expected, even if I end up wanting something different instead, I’m looking forward to moving forward.