Finding the fire: Nine things to do to make each day great

Doing a handful of little things each day make a dramatic difference in how your day goes, from physical energy level to your ability to focus, think, and cope with unexpected problems.

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    Power strolling moms meet for an outdoor stroller aerobics class in Boston in this Nov. 2000 file photo. Starting off each morning with an exercise regime could help you stay focused and handle stress throughout the day.
    Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
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I have three kids under the age of five at home. I have a fairly demanding writing career, a marriage to maintain, a home to maintain, several community responsibilities, and a handful of personal hobbies that are very important to me.

Where do I find the time and energy?

Over the last few years, I’ve found that doing a handful of little things each day – usually early in the day – make a dramatic difference in how my day goes, from my physical energy level to my ability to focus, think, and cope with unexpected problems. When I made a list of them, I wound up with nine ideas that just simply work for me in terms of making each day simply work.

I found these ideas from a variety of sources – suggestions from friends, books, magazine articles, blogs. I don’t know where each one came from originally; I just know they work for me.

I don’t lounge in bed. When my eyes open up, I don’t stay in bed, no matter how much I might want to. Lounging in bed makes me very lethargic in the morning. Instead, I usually sit up, stretch, and immediately go do something.

I do a very short but very intense exercise routine. I do three sets of pushups and three sets of squats. For each exercise, I do as many as I can as quickly as I can until they become difficult – I’m breathing hard or my muscles are sore. I stop for thirty seconds, then I do a second set. Thirty seconds, then a third set. It takes eight to ten minutes, but I feel fantastic after a cooldown.

I read something challenging early in the morning. For me, some strong mental activity as early as possible in the day really gets my wheels spinning for the many things I’ll be tackling throughout the day. I usually read something really challenging; sometimes, I’ll do logic puzzles or crosswords as well.

When I take a mental break, I go on a walk of decent length. This literally gets my juices flowing. Getting up and moving around almost always causes my mind to start working faster as well and when I return to my desk, I’m ready to tackle something new.

I often jump to something completely different several times during the day. If I do the same exact task for hours and hours, my performance starts to drop at about the three hour mark. Because of that, I just switch tasks to something completely different a few times a day. I’ll stop writing and do some piano practice. I’ll spend an hour making an elegant meal in advance of supper. I’ll go to the library. These shifts in activity bring my mind back to focus.

I play with my children, not just watch them as I do other things. I spend at least an hour a day playing directly with my kids, down on the floor with them. Not only is this great for them and great for parent-child bonding, it’s also great for me because few things refresh my mental capacities than an hour spent building castles or playing hide and seek without any self-consciousness at all.

I consciously tell myself to be happy when I feel less than happy. If I start to feel down about myself or about something in my environment, I focus intensely on feeling happier about my life. I look at the positives, listen to happy music, and make myself put on the appearance of being happy for others. It almost always lifts my mood after a while.

I take a long shower and vigorously scrub. Few things genuinely make me feel better and more prepared for the world than a long shower in which I vigorously scrub myself down. I think this effect is strongly related to the known psychological responses to hand washing – it makes you more decisive and creates more of a “clean slate” for your decisions.

I unitask. Unless I’m doing something that really doesn’t require much focus at all (like playing a computer game while listening to NPR), multitasking is a net negative for me. The total time spent multitasking usually winds up being greater than the time spent doing each task individually and sequentially. Even more important, though, the results are much better if I single-task instead of multi-tasking. Shut off the distractions and win.

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