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How to raise the odds that it’s going to be a fantastic day

How to raise the odds that it’s going to be a fantastic day

Got that Monday (and every other work-day) morning feeling? Here’s how to begin each new day as if you can’t wait to get started.

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This is my 100th article for Lifehack.org. That set my mind thinking about beginnings and endings. Last week, I wrote about how to leave work gracefully, so it seems natural to follow that by considering how to start your working day on a truly positive note.

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The way that you start the day nearly always sets the tone for the rest of it. If you begin in a rush, feeling frazzled and harassed, it’s very likely that the rest of the day will go the same way—or worse. It’s well worth a little planning and care to start each day well. It may still go downhill, but at least you won’t have begun in a foul mood.

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Too many people catapult themselves into each new work-day, fractious and ill-prepared for whatever lies ahead. Since they begin the day feeling miserable and stressed, just about any problems, however minor, have the power to knock them so far off their best that they have almost no chance of reaching the end of the day in anything except the blackest of black moods.

Here are some ideas to help you slide smoothly into the day instead, feeling relaxed and ready to take on whatever comes along:

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  • Get up early. I know that sounds like punishment, and bed always feels especially comfortable first thing in the morning, but you should allow yourself plenty of time to get ready—and then some. Rushing to get ready causes stress and sends you out of the door tense and high on adrenaline. Believe me, beginning on an adrenaline high is going to lead to some pretty awful cold turkey as the day goes on. Work out how much time you need to get ready without hurrying, then add 30 minutes. You still need your sleep, so go to go to bed a little earlier than you do currently. That’s an additional benefit of avoiding a period of manic frenzy every morning.
  • Establish a morning ritual to help you do what you need to do easily and avoid forgetting things. The great benefit of rituals is that you can run through them on automatic pilot. So if you’re not much of a morning person, you don’t have to force your brain into a thinking state quite so early to ensure that, when you leave the house, you’re properly dressed and have everything you need to take with you.
  • Always eat some breakfast. It’s essential to start the day with your blood sugar in a good state. Sit down and eat something; don’t grab some sugary, high-cholesterol snack as you run down the street. All that will do is give you a quick blood-sugar high, followed by a crash shortly afterwards. You need a breakfast that will provide a steady delivery of sugars to your blood throughout the morning. That way, you’ll avoid the ten o’clock depression—and be much less likely to crave more sugary snacks. A constant see-sawing of blood sugar levels is exhausting in itself and is bound to make you tense and irritable.
  • Give yourself plenty of time for your morning commute. Many things can hold you up. If you’re running behind and meet a problem—like a traffic jam or an accident—it’s going to freak you out and send your adrenaline levels into the stratosphere. Hey, you know that the very worst delays always happen on the days when you’re running most behind. Go easy on yourself.
  • Vary your route to work as much as you can. Make it as interesting and varied as possible. Look around you. Enjoy the ride. Be present. What you don’t want to do is tune out and spend the time anticipating the problems you’re going to find when you get to work. A problem anticipated and worried over is a problem suffered at least twice.
  • When you arrive, have a simple ritual to ease you gently into the work environment. Get a cup of tea or coffee. Greet some friends. Organize your desk. Nothing stressful—just some simple activities to switch your mind easily back into work-day mode. Athletes warm up before an event to avoid needless strains and injuries to cold muscles. You should imitate them.
  • Take 10 minutes to set the day’s priorities. Nothing is more stressful than being busy all day and reaching the end of it tired—then realizing you’ve accomplished precisely nothing on the very items that you know are most important. How many times have you done this? Well, don’t do it again. Decide what you need to do, write it down, then stick to your game plan, If emergencies push you off track, get back on it as soon as you can. Always do what is most important, not what either seems most urgent or happens to be jumping up and down in front of you. Calm application to genuine priorities is most likely to allow you to end the day feeling satisfied with what you have done.
  • Never, never start your day with distractions, like checking e-mail. It eats up time and leaves you feeling pressured and stressed when you snap out of it and discover most of the morning has been spent on useless trivia.
  • If you aren’t sure what needs to be done first, follow this simple rule of thumb: look to see whatever needs to be done next and do it. Repeat until the end of the day. the result will be faster, more secure progress than you ever believed possible.
  • Above all, make a gentle start on the day allows you to preserve your energy for whatever’s still to come. Don’t treat each day like a sprint and hurl yourself into it headlong. Don’t dither and procrastinate and try to avoid starting at all. A steady, middle way is pretty much always the best. Most days are middle-distance races. Some are marathons. It’s amazing how far you can get through either kind without strain or hassle, if you keep plodding steadily along.

Give yourself two weeks to work out the best rituals and patterns for starting your day. Try out several to find what works best for you. Once you have picked the most useful, stick to them despite all the temptations to go back to morning chaos. You’ll be really glad that you did.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, and its new companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics to this include What’s your Flyway Resort? and Stop tormenting yourself with anticipated hurt. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is available at all good bookstores.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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