A single day is one of the core cycles in life. In your lifetime you are probably going to experience about 29,000 of them, so you might as well make them count. A habit, run once, may seem unimportant. But a single change can add up when you consider you will be doing it thousands of times.
Engineering your day also requires you to take a different outlook on big decisions. Instead of asking how that big promotion, changed relationship or move to a new city will make you feel, you ask how it will affect your daily life.
I’ve done this process with myself. From adopting healthier eating and exercise habits to changing how I browse the web and answer e-mails, these changes may sound minor but they really add up over time.
Quantifying Your Routines
You can’t tackle ghosts. You need to make your habits tangible before you can alter them. In order to do that you need to get a broader look at your routines. When you are fighting your way through the jungle of everyday life, you lack the view from the treetops.
Not all of your routines can be broken down cleanly into numbers, but you still need a representative look at how your habits influence you over time. To do that, you need to start taking measurements. I want to look at three different types of measurements I find useful:
- Timelogs – Where are you actually spending your time? Carry a notepad with you for a few days and record every time you start or stop an activity. After that you can break up this raw data into different activity groups and look for trends in where you spend your time.
- Finance Logs – Where are you spending your money? This one needs a longer focus of at least a month or two to handle non-daily expenses. But keep track of where your money is going. You may be surprised how that daily coffee or pack of cigarettes adds up over time.
- Productivity Logs – Unlike the last two, these are field specific. That means you might want to do one for any broad area of your life you deem important. You could have a productive log for health, work, business or school. The idea here is to chart down what you accomplish and after what investment of time and money. Contrasting a productive log with time/finance logs should give you idea of what were wise and unwise usages of resources.
Upgrading Your Habits
With a broad viewpoint of how daily actions create effects over time, you are now in a position to upgrade your habits. Changing habits normally sounds like a painful, prolonged process of willpower. In reality, I’ve found the process can actually be interesting as it gives you a chance to modify the core of what makes up your day.
Changing habits isn’t really that difficult. My suggestion is to start with the Thirty Day Trial method proposed by Steve Pavlina. I’ve been using this for a couple years and it works incredibly well. I’ve researched many other methods for changing habits, but none of them match the simplicity and efficacy of this technique.
Here are some other things to consider:
- Go Slow – I never do more than one, possibly two, trials at a time. Trying to do too much too fast is probably the biggest reason people fail. Engineering your day has to be a trial of patience, not motivation.
- Be Consistent – Your trial needs to be something you execute daily and consistently. Going to the Gym on Tuesday, skipping Wednesday, running on Thursday and doing Yoga on Friday may be a fun exercise routine. However, this scattered approach rarely results in well-formed habits. Consistency first, variety afterwards.
- Replace Lost Needs – Some people fail to change habits because they don’t consider the full impact an upgrade will have. I like the metaphor of engineering habits, because optimizations must align with all the forces that caused you to function previously. If you are feeling deprived, you need a new strategy, not more willpower.
Taking a New Look at Big Decisions
The final impact of daily engineering is taking a new look at those big decisions. Here are some examples of big decisions you may be facing:
- What do I want to do with my life?
- Should I switch jobs? Careers?
- Should I emphasize family, work or learning?
- Should I get married and start a family or build my business?
No approach will give easy answers to these questions. In many cases, I believe the answer can’t be satisfactorily reached without making mistakes and looking for opportunities. But a daily outlook can give you an approach you might not have considered.
The idea behind a daily outlook is that every big decision is only going to create an impact on your days. Looking at this core unit of human experience, ask yourself, what will the difference be on your daily life. Ignore the abstractions of prestige, money and accomplishments if they don’t have a big impact on what you do between getting up and going to sleep.
The answer that might surprise you is that generally, no one decision is going to have an overwhelming impact. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert discovered that most people overestimate the difference two situations will have on happiness. I would also add that most people underestimate the impact your day has on your life.