The Minimal Successful Day

by Mike Shea on 15 June 2014

30 Seconds on a Minimal Successful Day

What are the most vital things we can accomplish in a day and still consider it a "successful" day? If we were to look back over our entire lifes, day by day, what are the most vital items we'd look for to see if each day led us to a life well lived? If we wrote out five things we'd like to do every day, five things that, if accomplished, denote a successful day, what would they look like?

After deep pontification, here are my five most vital daily habits:

Simplifying Our Expectations

We all have lofty goals we want to accomplish in our lives. We all have bucket lists a mile long. Yet each day we find ourselves mired in the details of our lives with little room, if any, to move forward on these big goals of ours.

Simplification and reduction are great ways to keep us focused on what matters most. Instead of a list of seventy goals, what if we only had five? What are the fewest things we can accomplish every day and still consider our lives well lived?

One Man's Goals

In my own life, I have five main goals I like to live by: create, relax, love, befriend, and health. The first four are the most important things I want to spend my days on. The fifth helps me spend as many quality days as I can. All together, these goals lead to my overall happiness in life.

Within each of these goals, I have a lot of little things I do each day:

Create: Write, edit, publish, prep a D&D game, work on Sly Flourish, submit some code.

Relax: Watch a movie or TV show, read, listen to an audio book, play a game.

Love: Listen to Michelle, walk with Michelle, do the dishes, call my mom. Don't be sarcastic, impatient, or critical.

Befriend: Listen to a friend, call a friend, email a friend, play a game with a friend.

Health: Eat under 2,200 calories, walk 10,000 steps, climb 240 stairs.

Still, days get busy. I fall out of my element, and doing a bunch of those things isn't really practical. What are the bare minimum things I can accomplish and still have a successful day? Let's take a look:

That's a simple list, easily accomplished, and yet still focuses on the things I find most important in my life. If I was to quantify this on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give that a 7. We can almost think of these like daily quests in a massive online game. What are the things we can log in and take care of to meet our own expectations for our lives?

Reaction Versus Intention

Why bother with all of this horseshit? Who really has time in our day to pontificate our goals when our worlds come crashing down on us every hour? Does this really matter?

For some, maybe not. If you don't care, you don't care, and hopefully you've closed this article long before now. The last thing in the world we should do is assume anyone is like us and should accept our unsolicited advice. For others though, thinking things through like this helps us move out of one approach towards life to another: reacting to the world or moving through the world with intent.

If we don't have even a baseline understanding of our desires, how can we possibly do anything other than simply react as the world changes around us?

For some, swirling in reaction might be a perfect zen-like position. We owe the world nothing. We are fully in our rights to live our entire lives like a leaf floating on a river. Ten thousand years from now no one at all will likely give a shit.

A Personal Mission Statement

Some of us, however, like to think we're headed somewhere before we're back to the mud. Keeping these goals in mind helps us focus on what we want to personally accomplish. It still won't matter in 10,000 years, but it may matter now and maybe one or even two generations ahead if we're careful and lucky. Or maybe we're just trying to make life a little more enjoyable for those around us. Above all, that's the main thing I want to accomplish in my own life:

Bring joy to myself and others.

That's a six word mission statement I think I can fully embrace over the twenty to forty years remaining in my life.

Studies in Happiness

There's a lot of good material, some of which actually has some good scientific backing, on how we might use small activities to make us happy. Jane McGonigal's TED talk and her talk on productivity are both excellent discussions. She talks about both the regrets of the dying and the more positive PERMA model when it comes to happiness. Like Dan Gilbert's surprising science of happiness, these are ideas based on actual scientific evidence, although one might argue that the regrets of the dying isn't exactly scientific.

We can actually use these ideas to help us build our own daily minimum for a successful life.

What's Your List?

If you had to pick the five specific things you want to do each day to define a day well lived, what five are on your list? Send me an email to mike@mikeshea.net if you want to chat about it. I'd love to hear what you think.

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