This week I wanted to share some thoughts about a topic that’s been on my mind lately: making the most of today.
Learning to make the most of each day can help us focus on what (and who) matters the most to us
I learned last week that a best friend from high school, one I’d lost touch with over the years, died not long ago. In addition to the grief and the sorrow for having lost touch until it was too late, I also am reminded of my own mortality. None of us is promised tomorrow, so it behooves us to make the most of today. What does that mean, though, and how can I do it?
10 ideas for making each day matter
Often when we think about making the most of the day, we think of getting the most accomplished. That matters, of course, and much of what we talk about on this podcast can help with that. Some of the practical reminders for getting the most accomplishment out of a day:
- Start the night before by resetting your space, preparing for the day’s activities, and setting intentions for the day. Get to bed at a time that will allow you enough sleep to wake ready for what the new day brings.
- Plan our work, then work the plan, using techniques like time blocking, for example, and eliminating distractions.
But when I’ve been pondering lately the need to make the most of each day, I’ve been thinking about something a little different from being productive in the sense of getting stuff done. It’s more about minimizing regrets, about going to bed at night satisfied with how I showed up in the world. Getting stuff done is part of that, to be sure, but no matter how many tasks I check off my to-do list, if I haven’t lived in a way that’s consistent with what I value most, then I feel like the day was, if not wasted, at least a missed opportunity.
The death of someone close to us, even if we haven’t been in touch for a while, can be a stark reminder of our own mortality and the fleeting nature of life. Here are a few ideas on how to make the most of today, and every day:
1. Reconnect: Reach out to other people from your past that you’ve lost touch with. It’s never too late to rekindle old friendships.
Even if you, like me, have moved far away from old friends, technology like Zoom or the telephone makes it possible to reconnect with those people. Instead of just liking a Facebook post from that old friend, consider reaching out for an actual conversation. If you have the resources, attend or plan an in-person get-together. Mike and I are looking forward to traveling back to our home state in a couple of weeks for a reunion that’s been planned for the music group we met in during high school, where we’ll get to spend time with people who were such an important part of our life back then but whom we haven’t seen or spoken to in years.
2. Nurture relationships: Spend quality time with the people who matter to you. Tell them how much you love and appreciate them. Create precious memories together.
This summer we’ve been privileged to have our grandsons spend a couple of weeks with us. They live in Hawaii, so we have seldom been able to spend time with them in person.
Thinking about the regret I feel for having lost touch with my high school best friend and the fact that it’s now too late, I’m reminded that it’s just as important to nurture the relationships with the people you live with–your spouse, parents, siblings, even roommates. Mike and I have been married a long, long time, and both when our lives were filled with caring for our five children and even now, when we both have demanding jobs, it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day and not really look each other in the eyes and connect. But one day it will be too late, and I don’t want to regret not having taken the time to talk, to connect, to make sure he knows how I feel about him.
3. Practice mindfulness: Be present and focused on the moment you’re in, rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past. Try to engage in activities that promote mindfulness, such as yoga or meditation. (Yes, a guided meditation app like Calm can help with that, but you can also simply practice sitting quietly for a few minutes at a time, focusing on your breath.)
Mindfulness can also be practiced in our daily activities. Sometimes, instead of listening to music or a podcast while you work or work out, do the activity in silence, paying attention to the sensory experience of whatever you’re doing.
We can be mindful in our conversations with other people, really listening to and being present with the person or people we’re with.
4. Pursue passions: Follow your heart and do the things that make you happy. It could be a hobby, learning something new, or doing something adventurous.
In her wonderful book Tranquility by Tuesday, Laura Vanderkam invites us to plan one big adventure and one little adventure each week. As she puts it in the book, “A big adventure means something that requires a few hours–think half a weekend day. A little adventure could take just an hour or so, and fit on a lunch break or a weekday evening, as long as it is something out of the ordinary.” The purpose here is to make memories, because, as she says, “We don’t ask ‘where did the time go?’ when we remember where the time went.”
She also recommends that we take one night a week for ourselves: “So, each week, take one evening (or an equivalent number of hours) off from family and work responsibilities and do something that makes life meaningful and fun.”
5. Give back: Volunteering, helping others, or contributing to a cause you care about can bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
One blog post I read reminds us that simple kindness can make a day better for others and ourselves: “Smiling at a stranger, opening the door for someone, or complimenting a coworker are all easy ways to be kind. These small gestures can make a big impact on the people around you and make your day more enjoyable.”
The writer goes on to say, “In addition to being kind to others, it’s essential to be kind to yourself. Beating yourself up will only make you feel worse and won’t help you accomplish your goals. Give yourself a break if things aren’t going perfectly, and be patient with yourself as you learn and grow.”
6. Take care of your health: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and proper sleep not only increase longevity but also improve the quality of life. Don’t forget mental health, too. Seek help if you need it.
7. Embrace personal growth: Keep learning and growing, personally and professionally. Read books, take up courses, attend seminars, or find a mentor. Life is a constant learning journey.
Try branching out from your usual kinds of content–a new genre of fiction, or a non-fiction book about a topic that’s new to you. Read materials written by people whose perspectives, opinions, or experiences are different from yours–and read with curiosity; read to understand, not to refute. You don’t have to agree to understand where someone’s coming from.
8. Practice gratitude: Acknowledging the good things in your life can boost happiness and reduce stress. Start a gratitude journal, where you can write down things you are grateful for each day.
9. Spend time in nature: The great outdoors can provide a sense of peace and wonder. It can be a gentle reminder of our place in the world, and that we’re a part of something larger than ourselves.
10. Plan for the future, live in the present: Having goals gives life direction, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey and not just focus on the destination.
Remember each day is a new opportunity. Try not to carry the hurts and regrets from one day into the next. Those things can weigh us down and keep us from being present in and actually enjoying the experiences of today.
In his Becoming Minimalist blog, Joshua Becker encourages us to remember: “Tomorrow is another day with great potential and opportunity. You’ll want to begin it with a clean slate and a fresh start. Take 10 minutes each evening to clear the clutter and refresh your home for the next day. Tomorrow’s self will thank you for it.”
In an article in Forbes, Amy Rees Anderson offers similar advice: “Before I go to sleep at night I remind myself that I accomplished many things that day. Even if I made mistakes or had failures during my day, I try to identify what I learned from them, and I commit to be more dedicated tomorrow to making sure I don’t make the same mistakes again. Thus, I will constantly be improving.”
A few last words
The loss of someone we care about can bring up lots of feelings, including regret and reminders of the passage of time. But we don’t need to wait for a major event or loss to remind ourselves to make the most of each day. I appreciated, though, something I read as I was preparing for this episode, that in addition to all the things I’ve mentioned in this episode, “it’s perfectly okay to grieve and feel the loss. It’s part of being human. Allow yourself time to process your emotions and seek support if needed. Try not to put pressure on yourself to ‘make the most’ of every day, as some days will naturally be more productive or enjoyable than others.”
In fact, making the most of a day in some cases might mean nothing more than being present with the people, the experiences, and the emotions that are part of your life that day. I guess that’s what I’ve been reminded of lately: carpe diem–seize the day, and make the most of what the day brings, whatever that might be.
What do you think?
Resources and Links
TPW Episodes on gratitude
- Gratitude & Productivity – TPW167
- Gratitude – TPW270
- Practicing Gratitude, with Autumn McKay – TPW311
- My 11 Tips on How to Make the Most of Each Day
- Making Every Day Count: How to Make the Most of Every Day
- 10 Ways To Make The Most Of Every Day
- 10 Tips To Make The Most Out of Your Day | by Benjamin Strusnik | Benjamin Strusnik Business | Medium
- Make the Most Of TODAY | Good Things Going Around
- 10 Simple Ways To Live In The Present And Make Today Great
- Tranquility by Tuesday by Laura Vanderkam (and check out our discussion of this wonderful book in episode 420)
Help Spread the Word!
Tell a friend about The Productive Woman podcast. Share an episode using the social sharing buttons at the top of this post, and consider leaving a review on Apple Podcast
Thank you to our sponsor, Calm
If you’d like help in practicing mindfulness, remember that Calm is offering a special limited-time promotion of 40% off a Calm Premium subscription at CALM.COM/TPW. That’s 40% off unlimited access to Calm’s entire library of guided meditations, sleep stories, and more, and new content is added every week.
Click here to discover my favorite apps!
I would love to have your help!
Royse City, Texas