“Make every day count.” This is the kind of vague advice that sounds uplifting and positive, but isn’t really that practical on a day to day basis. It’s too amorphous to be applicable as a real life improvement strategy.
Because after all: How? How do you make every day count?
What is the difference between a day that counts and one that doesn’t? What can you actually do to control it?
Without asking and answering these questions, you’ll end up with mixed results at best.
Imagine you were trying to learn to shoot a bow and arrow (because I love Game of Thrones so that’s the analogy you’re getting), and your teacher’s advice was, “Just hit the bullseye.”
This is the equivalent of just telling people to “make every day count” without any specifics.
Because I’m a nerd, I decided to come up with a formula for how to actively make sure you have more days that “count” and fewer days that feel wasted. The formula is made up of six criteria for an awesome day.
On an ideal ‘day that counts,’ you:
1. Don’t have to spend a lot of time doing things you hate.
2. Spend a lot of time doing things you love (particularly ‘flow state’ activities).
3. Have full control over where you are (in terms of geography, and where you actually are within your town/city/village – eg being at the office versus being in a jungle treehouse).
4. Have full control over the people and animals you spend your time with (including being able to be solitary when you want to).
5. Do something important.
6. Have control over your mental and emotional state (how you react to and interpret external events).
In other words, if you have a day where you don’t have to do a lot of stuff you hate and you spend a lot of time doing something you love (a flow activity), you have full control over where you are and who you’re with, you do something that’s important, and you have control over your own thoughts and emotions – how you react to and interpret everything that’s going on – you’ll end the day feeling like you really made it count.
Now, obviously, it’s going to be tough to make sure you hit all six points every single day. But this at least gives us something specific to work with: a practical framework to move towards ensuring we have more days that count, by aiming to hit these criteria as often as possible. “Make every day count” is no longer a vague Facebook-image-status throwaway – it’s now an applicable system.
The more of these things that are missing from your day, the more it will feel wasted. Stack up too many wasted days in a row, and you will feel like life is passing you by.
There is a time distortion effect that comes from making your days count. I first noticed this while traveling. Contrary to the popular idea that “time flies when you’re having fun,” I found that when I was cramming more into my days, being where I wanted to be, hanging out with great people and doing things that mattered to me, the days felt much longer. Two weeks felt more like two months. (I think this is also to do with the sensory overload that accompanies life on the road.)
On the other hand, when you’re operating in routine mode and letting the days slip by, at a macro level it feels like time is flying by. Even if the last five minutes of your work day feel like they’re crawling, when you zoom out, the weeks feel super fast and the distance between New Year’s celebrations begins to shorten up.
As Joseph Heller put it in Something Happened: “The years are too long, the days are too short.”
I’m convinced this is why people feel like the years are getting shorter as they get older. The natural tendency is to slip into routine – a path-of-least-resistance life which you simply slide through – and as a result, the passage of time feels like it’s accelerating.
One last note: you may notice I haven’t included anything like “Do something new” or “Do something you’re scared of” on the list. To me, these are already covered under the umbrella of “Do something important” – but also, I think the idea of doing something novel every day to “spice things up” is overrated in our culture. I think it results from the fact that we’ve been steadily destroying our collective attention span for the last few decades.
You don’t have to throw yourself out of a plane to make a day count – although if it’s important to you to face fear in that way, by all means go for it. The important thing is that you fill in box number 5 – do something important – with things that are actually important TO YOU, not things the culture tells you are important.