As a consultant, this was my go to question for opening up the conversation with the client a bit - of bringing the element of possibility into the conversation. The great thing about this question is that it helped set the stage in an unobtrusive way to begin talking about the qualitative elements of the client’s operation that I hoped to help them address.
The most common type of answer was, “It’s a good day when we get it all done, and all the orders ship” I could often sense some resignation in such answers. Merely surviving seemed to be the goal. It would become more evident after a few follow up questions such as, “Would it be a better day if you got it all done with less chaos? More accuracy?”
To which, of course, the answer is “of course.” We could then begin to have a more realistic conversation about the changes that might help create more good days. But it all began with accepting the idea that a good day is a good time-bound, qualitative chunk to begin with.
Businesses are like people
What’s true of organizations is often true of individuals when it comes to making positive, lasting change - we’re often too caught up in keeping up. We feel fortunate just to get through the day and be through with it. But we risk not getting from our days if our focus is to simply get through them.
So, the first step is to simply consider what makes one day better than another. It’s a way of holding your finger on the page of the story of your life for a moment.
Days add up to weeks months and years, and eventually a lifetime. In Sir William Osler’s famous address to the medical students at Yale University in 1913, he spoke about the importance of living in day-tight compartments.
But there is also the qualitative aspect to consider, and here’s what will likely be the key leverage point for creating more good days: acknowledging that there are things we don’t like doing, but like having done. And also, the things we enjoy doing, but don’t really enjoy having done. The after-guilt versus the after-joy.
Here’s what such a list might look like for me:
The point of the exercise is pretty simple: less of column one and more of column two. But I find there are two critical points that determine how well I do this: the start of the day, and the end of the day.
A good day from the start
At the beginning of the day, I ask, “How can I make today a good day?” For example, on Mondays I plan the week. It’s a high leverage activity because it will also help me minimize some of the stuff in column one by crowding it out with activities from column two.
At the end of the day, I simply ask myself how good a day it was, and try to focus on the good stuff. I find that momentum is key. That’s why apps like this one can be immensely helpful in maintaining the momentum.
Another trick for keeping momentum is to work on one or two of the things you enjoy doing and having done. It’s a way of keeping the tone of the day more positive, and thus serves as a counterbalance to the hard stuff in column two.
For example, it took me far too long to realize that a good day for me always includes interaction with others - preferably in person. When I find myself immersed in a project that requires extended time working alone, such as writing content for a workshop, it helps a great deal for me to line up a meeting or two to break up the isolation.
So, what does a good day look like for you?
Apart from the goals you may have or the tasks that fall under the two categories in the table above, there’s very practical benefit to be had from considering this question from a personal standpoint. It’s the simple idea that better days can make for a better life. But the question can be very helpful in helping others too.
This question has spurred a number of helpful conversations for me over the years. At times the answer seemed to be that things are good enough. To which I might respond, “Well, sometimes good enough may be good enough, but isn’t better always better?”
Whether it’s one of my children, a good friend, or a sales prospect, this question has a way of clearing the defaults that we tend to operate under in our day to day. It’s a way of stepping back and considering what makes for a good day, and how we might be able to create more of them, thus laying the groundwork for positive, lasting change.
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