Plan a better day. Today.

The BBC’s blinding ‘Sherlock’ features a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who describes himself as the world’s first consulting detective. Super-clever, super-confident, Sherlock makes what he does seem child’s play:

1. I observe everything.

2. From what I observe, I deduce everything.

3. When I’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how mad it might seem, must be the truth.

Simple, huh? Well no, not really, unless of course you possess unhuman levels of observation and deduction. I certainly don’t.

Fortunately it didn’t exactly take Holmesian powers when I wanted to work out what was behind one of the big differences between my better and worse days. I tell you not to claim I’m anything out of the ordinary but because I wonder whether you’ve gone through a similar kind of experience?

For me, a good day is generally marked by feeling I’ve been productive, and I tend to achieve this by being very driven by a timed To-Do list. As I write this, for instance, I’m feeling better than I have in a long while, and also know I have precisely 35 minutes to put this post to bed. I’ll then have lunch for exactly one hour, followed by more writing until 3pm. The entire day has been – and will be – just as structured as this probably sounds.

On a bad day, though, oh dear. Once I’ve got up, I’ll mooch aimlessly until it’s time for bed again, when I’ll be utterly dissatisfied with what’s been achieved.

OK, I’m fully aware that my situation allows me to set my own schedule to a large extent, a luxury not available to everyone. But just like you, I’m sure, I do have responsibilities and expectations of me which are beyond my control: it’s just that on my better days I plan and prioritise to a pretty fine level of detail, whilst at shabbier times there’s generally not even a whisper of a To-Do list on my desk (nor of me at it).

Which comes first, though? The better day or the tightly structured schedule? Well, in one of those handy quirks of human psychology, cause and effect can be usefully ‘flipped’.

You can make a good day even better by managing your time well, but you can turn a grey day into a brighter one by (you guessed it) managing your time well.

Feeling good today? Get on with that To-Do list. Feeling rough? Get on with that To-Do list (admittedly setting far lower expectations of yourself and being kinder to you).

Elementary, my dear Watson.

11 thoughts on “Plan a better day. Today.

  1. That makes a lot of sense to me. I left a ‘full on’ full-time job a year ago and whilst I love the freedom of being self employed, and being only responsible for myself, I’ve also found it hard to be disciplined about structure and goal setting. And during this time I’ve also had some patches of darkness and bleakness. They feel existential and complex but I’ve been wondering if the solution to them is more simple than it seems…. I too know that I am happier when I feel that I am achieving and progressing. In the midst of depression it seems hard to believe that something as simple as a to do list could make a big difference, probably because we like to give our depressions delusions of grandeur and complexity. Your post reminded me that simple things can cut my depression down to size and that I have control if I want to take it. Thank you!

    1. That’s a great way NOT to view depression Richard (as complex and grand). I admit I view mine as very complex and all encompassing sometimes but actually this is not right or real is it? Even when we feel it is overpowering us we still have the ultimate power to choose how to view it. From now on I shall try to see my depression as a simple thing which yes, is there but actually it’s not such a conundrum and mystery as I choose to make it.

      1. Thanks for writing, Julia! I’m so glad that you see your power to choose how to view depression, and that you choose to see it as something you can manage. It’s important to not make other people wrong though – we want to encourage and foster community by supporting everyone’s expression and point of view. I hear that you are actually agreeing with Richard’s view that sometimes depression can seem overpowering but actually there are simple things we can do to address it. Really appreciate you being here and contributing your beautiful wisdom. Love!

        1. Sorry if my meaning/ comment was ambiguous. You understood thankfully in the end and hopefully everyone else who read it will too. I would never think, let alone comment that anyone was wrong. But you were right to query it!

    2. Thanks so much for sharing, Richard! How wonderful that you’ve realized you have control over simple things that can help you when depression seems to be too big and complex to tackle. I’m reminded of the pair of complementary quotes “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and “It’s all small stuff.” Wishing you happiness and productivity and bright days.

  2. Personally, this is spot on. My difficulty is that I go through periods of extreme fatigue, aches and pains, which make it easy to ‘not bother’. So the middle road is right for me – a sort of deconstructed to do list. If I achieve at least one thing, I feel better. Practising Mindfulness regularly is a great help.

    1. Wonderful, Jackie! I love the idea of a “deconstructed to do list” that helps you feel better for having achieved even one thing. And mindfulness can definitely be a big help when physical challenges come up. A good friend once told me, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Which to me means that we are going to feel pain in our bodies and hearts, but we can choose to go into suffering about it or just accept that it’s there and get on with our day as best we can. Wishing you ease and joy today!

  3. Such a helpful post. I’ve always feel compelled to achieve something useful in order to feel that my day has been validated and worthwhile. There is a certain satisfaction about crossing jobs off a list and when the work is done, it lifts the mood enormously.

    But I also feel it’s important not to become a slave to your list and feel guilty when you don’t manage to get through every item. Recognise when you’re having a bad day and realise the significance and validity of those small achievements that may never make it on to the official ‘list’. On the occasions when even the most basic tasks seem onerous, raising a smile, or a kind word to someone can work the same magic!

    1. Great point, Stephie! Crossing things off feels amazing, and yet we don’t want to feel bound to a list that’s unmanageable. On rough days, I tend to add very small things to my to-do list, like “make coffee” or “shower” or “snuggle with Samantha and Megan” (my daughters). And I don’t expect myself to complete the whole list, but often starting with super easy tasks encourages me enough to do more on the bigger list than I thought I could manage. Thank you for sharing!

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