How To Keep The Day From Controlling You

control your day productive habits


Mar. 28 2016, Published 3:30 a.m. ET

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More often than not, we let our days control us. What can give us peace of mind, however, is regaining ownership over our lives and being intentional in how we spend our days. Here are a few lessons I learned that helped me reclaim my days and get back into the driver’s seat of my life.

“Make a list of what makes you happy and compare it to what you’re actually doing every day. Adjust accordingly.”

When I did this exercise, I immediately realized why I had been feeling so drained and anxious: I was living on autopilot, going from work to class to the library day after day, feeling quite productive, but not fulfilled. Quite simply, I wasn’t finding my days to be enjoyable or energizing.

After writing out my lists, here is what I realized makes me happy that was missing from my everyday reality: having breakfast on my back patio and taking a walk outside, making a cup of tea and sitting on my couch to relax for 15 minutes without my computer, moving my body and going to yoga, cooking dinner and dancing in the car with my friend Annelise. Guess how many of these things I was actually doing? Zilch. Zero. Nada.

It’s easy to get caught up in routine, going from point A to point B mindlessly, but once in a while it helps to not only stop and reflect on what makes us happy, but also to prioritize those things within our days, even if it means waking up 15 minutes earlier just to make a cup of tea.

So, what makes you happy? How often are you doing that, if at all?

Wake up on the right side of the bed

Here’s what my mornings used to look like (don’t judge):

  • Set alarm for 8:00 a.m.
  • Wake up and look at phone to turn off alarm
  • Cringe at the number of emails and messages I already need to respond to
  • Avoid real life and press snooze
  • Get out of bed 15 minutes later and freak out because I only have 30 minutes to get to work
  • Frantically get ready
  • Almost forget to grab a protein bar from the pantry
  • Rush to work
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Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed. If that was how I was getting my day started, how could I expect to be in any kind of good mood for the rest of it? After reflecting on my “happy list,” I realized that an enjoyable morning would mean waking up calmly so I could enjoy a relaxed breakfast on the back porch in the sun, a leisurely walk to the downtown village to wake my body up, or a cup of warm jasmine green tea on the couch before the day got started.

I also started turning off my data and wi-fi before I went to bed so I didn’t wake up to a bunch of emails and messages. Seeing those messages first thing in the morning immediately put me in work mode and wasn’t contributing to a healthy work-life balance whatsoever. Also, by giving myself more time in the mornings to wake up and get ready, I was no longer feeling rushed or stressed about getting to class or work on time from the second my alarm went off because my morning belonged to me– it was my gift to myself.

Overall, I learned that waking up on the right side of the bed meant having a relaxed morning to myself and reclaiming my day with a newfound peace of mind before the rest of the day took over.

What’s the first thing you did when you woke up today?

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Have something at the end of your day to look forward to:

Monday morning blues are a real thing for me…until it’s BACHELOR SEASON of course, which means Monday nights are the best night of the week. I know we may not all be Bachelor fans, but having something to look forward to and get excited about keeps us energized throughout the day. So, whether it’s a TV show, a dinner date with your roommate, or a Skype session you have planned with a friend on the opposite coast, always try to have a light (or Ben Higgins) at the end of your day’s tunnel!

What are you looking forward to today?

Reframe your responsibilities:

“Ugh. I have to send that email, then I have to do laundry and go to the grocery store. I also have to call my mom and then I have to study, but first I have to eat something!” Sound familiar? By using this kind of language, we are reinforcing that our days are controlling us by being filled with things we have to do. Instead, we can try to see these responsibilities and tasks as things we are actively choosing to do. This language signals to our brains that we are in control of our actions and that we are freely choosing to do things by our own volition. In that way, our days are not controlling us—instead, we are controlling our days and appreciating the opportunities they present for us to be productive and infuse our lives with meaning.

What are you choosing to do today?

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Reflect on your daily habits:

Take a few minutes to jot down notes on a piece of paper as you reflect on the following questions:*

– Describe your typical weekday morning in detail. What’s the first thing you do? How do you feel when you wake up? Are you rushed or relaxed?

– Describe your current health habits. What do you typically eat and drink? Do you eat on the run or are you sitting with others? What do you do to move your body?

– Describe your typical weekday evening. What habits have you built around the time you eat dinner, your bedtime routine, or your use of technology? How do you normally feel falling asleep and waking up?

* adapted from Habit Self-Reflection Exercise by Jocelyn Courtney

Reclaiming your day starts today. It’s time to hop in the driver’s seat and work on closing the gap between our ideal day and our current reality.

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