Lessons from my unattainably Perfect Day
A fear years back, a therapist got me to detail what would be my Perfect Day. If money were no object, and there were no limitations placed upon me other than the limits of time, how would I choose to spend my day?
The first thing out of the window was work. There are many people who would continue to work their day job if they won the lottery, my wife included1, but I am not one of them.
How would it look then? Something like this:
- 6am: up, bathroom, quick check on phone
- 6:10 - 6:45: yoga and meditation
- 6:45 - 7: breakfast and news
- 7-8: wake up my wife for work, walk the dog2
- 8-9:30: workout - a mix of cardio and weight training, depending on overall goals at the time
- 9:30-10: shower, stretch, and meditation
- 10-12: productive time - next actions, projects, admin, business, investments
- 12-1pm: lunch, talk with wife and/or others
- 1-3: study - philosophy, music, math, science, economics; any from a long range of subjects I have a mild interest in.
- 3-3:30: power nap, light stretch
- 3:30-5:30: creative time - writing, reading, listening/learning/writing music
- 5:30-6:30: walk the dog, catch up on podcasts
- 6:30-7:30: recharge with wife over dinner
- 7:30-9:00: 'free' time - socialise, study further, read, write - whichever activity is at the front of my brain, or if it's too crowded, then just downtime.
- 9-10:30: non-negotiable quality time with wife and dog
- 10:30-11: evening routine, reading, bed.
There are two main reasons why this is unattainable. The first, and most obvious one, is the existence of a day job, something I cannot avoid without the means to do so. This wouldn't be realistic on a weekend either, because of chores and other activities put off until the weekend because of work. The more important one, though, is it's unsustainable.
In a perfect world of no limitations, that's fine, but in reality I'll end up crashing by 1pm, and that power nap will easily turn into an hour and a half in bed3. After seven hours sleep, I'll have done at least two and a half hours exercise, helped my wife get ready for work, sort the dog out, meditated twice, and all before I start my full day at 10am, by which point I'm relying on meditation (and copious amounts of caffeine) to have a clear and focused mind and enough energy to do two hours busy work, followed by four hours of relatively intense mental work after lunch.
The problem with my perfect day then is it relies on me being perfect.
But is there a compromise to be had? What can I learn from this?
1. Timing is important.
With a 9-5, I can't structure my activities like this, and my current role doesn't allow for a great deal of task chunking in such a manner. But the timing of the activities was intentional, and there are some ways I can use it.
Hitting the gym in the morning means I don't have to negotiate time for it later, plus it means doing it at a time when my body and mind are fresh, as opposed to at the end of the day's activities. Taking care of the productive work next means dealing with it while my mind is at it freshest, and then the study and creative tasks are set up in order of mental energy required.
In reality, I can hit the gym first thing. It might not be an hour and a half, but I can still get in and a get work out done. I do get breaks through the day, so any productive work that I can fit in can be done in the morning, and any creative work, even if it's just 15 minutes on my guitar, can be done in the afternoon. 15 minutes isn't really a great deal of time to conduct any studies, but...
2. The length of time isn't as important as getting it in.
When I went through this in therapy, that exact issue was a stumbling block, until the obvious was pointed out to me.
'Are you saying you can't fit in one hour per week to study something?'
The answer of course is yeah, I can fit in an hour somewhere. It's just that I want to do more. Unless I can, I just resign myself to my fate.
But that's not a practical way forward. The reason studying and creativity are a big part of my perfect day is that they're both activities that I wish I did more off. Some of it is rooted in a perfect version of myself, but also it's because they're fun and engaging. I'm at my best when I'm using my mind in different and interesting ways. The daily grind can kill that side of me; taking any amount of time to combat that is going to pay dividends.
Meditation is another activity that I find keeps me on an even keel and yet, if I don't feel I can do a 'good enough' session, I don't do it.
3. Non-negotiable quality time is non-negotiable (which is easier when you take care for the front brain stuff first)
We have a bad habit of overusing our phones in the evenings, and I have a particularly bad habit of letting whatever is in the front of my mind steal my attention.
I might not have a lot of time to deal with the front brain stuff on the regular, but I can set aside 10-15 minutes to write out whatever's there, decide if it's urgent, then either do it or don't. Once it's out and organised, however quickly, it's out, and I'm free to put my phone on the other side of the room and go on with my evening.
Combine it with the meditation and it should allow me to be more mindful of my presence and attention.
4. Consider the power nap
If I have a spare 15 minutes in the afternoon, and my brain fog looks like something out of Silent Hill, I could probably just stick the eye mask and a lo-fi playlist on and drop off quickly. It's ok. No-one cares what you do on your break.
The overall lesson is the perfect day isn't reachable. I can use the above as a guideline, but it'll still never hit the notes exactly the same way, and that's ok.4 Their main objective here is to use my time in ways that lead to a better, healthier life. One where I can be of use to my wife, my family, friends, and the community. This is all achievable, it'll just take time.
And a lot of patience.
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Not my choice, by the way. She's always had the stance that she needs something to do to occupy her time. I don't disagree, I just prefer my choices.↩
Or dogs, in my wife's perfect world at least.↩
Not least because naps are a wonderful way to kill time if you have it. One of the things I missed most about being unemployed was lengthy regular naps.↩
Or at least, I can say that's ok. Still working on believing it 100%.↩