As I was reading James Altucher’s book, The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth, and he was discussing what he refers to as his Daily Practice, I realized that his practice and mine were somewhat similar, but not quite the same. I recommend reading Altucher’s book, but I thought I’d lay out my practice should anyone find it useful.
One thing I am quite clear about is that it’s risky to wholeheartedly adopts someone else’s self-improvement or productivity practice without adjusting it to your own life’s needs. Mine is a cobbling together of information and strategies from various sources along with my own spin on it. I encourage you to adjust it as you see fit if you decide to embrace a similar approach.
Back in 2013 I wrote about a version of this practice I was using at the time in this post, but as we should do in life I’ve improved upon it a bit and what you’re reading now is my current approach.
As part of my daily practice I don’t set “goals” so much as “directions,” which is not unlike Altucher’s idea of approaching life using “themes” rather than goals. I find setting goals and complex to do lists to be counterproductive for a whole host of reasons, many of which Altucher mentions in his book.
So, here is what I try to do every day of my life. With rare exception I do this and it’s proven to be a good way for me to organize my life and remain productive while not burdening myself with unrealistic or unworkable strategies.
Every morning the first thing I do is scan all of the various inputs that might impact my day’s schedule. These include my personal and work calendars, my personal and work email, texts and voice mails, Facebook messages and tweets, and my ongoing daily notes file which I keep in Evernote where I list things I can’t forget that aren’t otherwise calendared. This gives me a baseline for what I “must” do today and what I should do in the days ahead so I have some view into the immediate next few day’s scheduling.
I know that seems like a lot, but I’m usually able to review all of this in 10-15 minutes. It’s saved my butt many times when I might have otherwise missed something important.
Once I have scanned all of those inputs, I move on to what I call my daily life area reflection.
Life Area Reflection
I use six high-level life category mental organizer keywords to help me with this part. Taken together they encapsulate the entirety of the life experience, at least as I use the words. Those words are:
Body is anything to do with my health, fitness, medical and dental needs, exercise and fitness, diet, sleep and rest, relaxation, clothing, grooming, and so on. Anything that relates to my body. This is the first to consider because when all of that is taken together it encompasses the biggest time commitment of the day, even more so than any work or professional obligations. Sleep alone accounts for about eight hours a day. I figure if my body isn’t ready to tackle life, anything else is moot.
Mind is anything that has to do with learning, self-improvement, character development, creation, work product deliverables, reading, meditation, investigative meetings and discussions, current events and news, and so on. Anything that has to do with using my mind, improving my mind, and myself.
Service is anything that provides service of some kind to others. This might be service through my professional and work endeavors, some nonprofit pursuits, or simply helping a friend or acquaintance with some needed support or task. Generally, I like to think that my life should in some way provide service to humanity and it’s important enough to me to have its own category.
People is anything having to do with my relationships or interactions with people. These might be intimate relationships, friends, sex, casual acquaintances, professional colleagues, or the general public. For me, life is ultimately best when it involves meaningful interactions with people.
Stuff is anything physically tangible in my life, or it can mean things like finances or my files and general life organizing. So in this sense “stuff” is a broadly encompassing word.
Fun is anything that I consider fun. I know that’s a nebulous description, and it’s meant to be. It might be going out dancing, or doing some sightseeing if I’m traveling, or sitting in a coffee shop reading a light novel. Also, I try to find the fun in everything I do in the other five areas of life as well. However, sometimes we need to focus on things that aren’t utilitarian, productive or targeting self-improvement at all and just have fun. This category reminds me of that.
At various times I’ve modified this list of six keywords, but ultimately those proved cumbersome and less effective for me. At one point I broke out the mind category into learning and creation for example, but ended up going back to just using mind generally. Seems to work better for me.
The areas of life can blend together too. You might go to the gym which improves your body, but you also find this fun and you end up running into friends you chat with that would be the people category. Life doesn’t always parse out into nice neat categories, but the categories serve a purpose anyway.
So, after I’ve reviewed my inputs I mull over the six keywords and for each I ask myself these questions.
- Based on the scan of my inputs and what’s in my head, what must I do today in this life area? If there’s more than one primary task, what are their priorities? I note them in my Evernote app on my phone, which then syncs to my laptop and any other device I use to access the notes.
- What have I learned about myself in this area of life that will serve to make me and my life better today? If we don’t learn from the past, we’re destined to repeat or continue bad habits or approaches. Life is a constant exercise of learning (hopefully) from the past and making the future better.
- What is the general direction in which I’m heading for this area of my life? Again, no specific goals, just directions. Lots of rigid goals stress me out and end up being a list of things I wish I had accomplished but didn’t have time to complete. Directions work because they keep me on a path aiming for a target, but not assuming I’m going to hit a bullseye every time.
- What am I going to do today in this life area to move me forward? I note them in Evernote.
I do this process for each of the five six areas. Then I do one more thing.
For me, having what I call “foundational” activities in each area of my life serves to keep me always improving in that area in a consistent and meaningful way. Even if that area doesn’t require any specific tasks completed that day. So I identify one foundational activity, an activity that I deem has direct impact, even if just modest, on improving that area of my life.
For example, for body I might commit to taking a brisk walk for 30 minutes. For mind I might commit to writing a certain number of words today. For service I might commit to volunteering some of my time to a local nonprofit. For people I might commit to visiting a sick friend in the hospital. For stuff I might review my incoming and outgoing finances and log them. For fun I might play a game with a friend.
My foundational activities often remain the same day to day. I might almost always try to write a certain number of words as my mind foundational activity. But I reserve the right to swap out one activity for another if it makes sense for the day.
Now I have a plan for the day. It’s a plan that’s not bound by a long list of to do items, but rather just those key items that are absolutely required and the foundational activities.
All of this process takes no more than a half hour, usually less. I’ve done it for so long that it’s second nature to me and I can speed through it rather quickly. It has definitely improved my life overall and kept me moving along a path that makes me happy and productive at the same time.
One big caveat. Don’t take this all too seriously. It’s just a tool. It’s not life itself. The whole point of my daily practice is to make my own life as good as it can be in a way that works for me. Your mileage may vary and you should absolutely adjust what I have outlined or chuck it altogether for something else if that’s best for you.
Ultimately we’re on this Earth to be happy. That’s really it. If anything you’re doing isn’t contributing to your happiness, either in the long or short run, then try to see what you can do that gets you back to your happy place.
If you have your own daily practice or life strategy system, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section of this post.
Have a great and happy day.