Reverse Engineering a Good Day

I thought I have cracked the code to having a good day.

I’ve been tracking my time and activities on spreadsheets since Dec 2018. I know the hours I sleep, the things I eat, my mental clarity, my physical fitness, what I consumed that day, what I produced aka achieved that day (non work related), what my work day was like, what supplements I took, what my digestion was like (sorry TMI), and I rated each day on a scale of 1 to 5.

I came to the conclusion that the days with the highest ratings fall into two categories:

  1. when I managed to pack a little bit of everything into the day. A little of good food, a little of nice work, a little of family time, a little interaction with my friends, read or learned something, written something — having it all. Where I get new experiences I haven’t had for a while, or ever.
  2. where I have the most variety of feelings. So yes, having bad experience with my internet provider in the morning and then having a chill night would rate higher than a fully uneventful day. But a truly mundane day after an eventful day would be rated highly as it provides that variety. That’s the maximiser in me.

Another thing I concluded 3 weeks ago is that I almost never rated a day low when at least one of these happened:

Screen Shot 2020-11-08 at 07.13.15

If these things happened, generally life feels alright.

Voila. I thought that was it. I have found (Theresia’s) secret to life. The anatomy of a perfect day.

I “just” need to optimise for variance and make sure I cover these things, from primary to tertiary. Seems doable. These things would indicate to me that I didn’t waste today. I made the most out of today. That I felt the day.

But then I had 2-3 days last week where I have multiple of those criteria met, yet I felt terrible. I didn’t feel like doing anything. I wanted to call in sick. My mood was on the floor. I can’t focus, I don’t know where to start tackling my todo list.

But everything was perfect on the paper. Logically, everything was OK.

Well shit, the formula doesn’t work?

I had average of 8.75 hours of sleep (yes it was a week of catching up on sleep apparently), worked out quite intensely, ate well (and was particularly hungry the past 8 days), delivered something substantial at work, got good amount of writing done and actually published stuff, got 3 upcoming speaking engagements, got some social interactions, even received praises for the newsletter (yay social approval / validation), the family is fine (wasn’t fully present when I was with them but nothing bad, usual stuff), had some intentional social media leisure time, took a shower (not really, that was yday wasn’t it?), purchased some supplements online (done personal errands).

Every single thing that I thought will make a good day happened today, and I was restless.

To be clear, I don’t think I am depressed. I don’t feel tired, I don’t feel sad… I was just feeling UGH. I want to pause and take some time to… well I am not sure what I need the time for and for how long, but definitely need more time to get ready for the day. As if I’m trapped in a moving car without brakes.

Then I realised I do have things on my mind:

  • am worried about my average calories count the past 6 days (150-200% the past month)
  • different things at work I am worried about: team performance issue I need to address, a new initiative that might not fly (haven’t figured out / there are still vagueness on the why and how. hence unprepared and worried about doing a rollout session — which eventually got cancelled and poof there goes my worries), haven’t progressed a stretch goal I personally pitched (and really want to take on as a challenge because having it solved would make my life much easier down the line).
  • feeling IDGAF about the work in general. the buzz of burnout is turning up its volume again
  • haven’t prepared what to say for tomorrow’s AMA

This time the worrying was made worse by not having the bandwidth to confront and resolve the worries. I usually have enough buffer to give a f*** and just get started.

Burned out and anxious yes, depressed no.

Worrying can cancel a perfectly good day where everything seems to be going right. This is not new news! I have come to this conclusion many times before.

Alongside sleep, peace of mind is my primary needs, apparently.

So: self reminder(!!!!) When things look great on paper but you feel like crap, you’re probably worrying about something.

  1. Mind dump, trap your thoughts in words. What are you worried or unhappy about? What’s in your mind?
  2. Look at them and go do other things. Put them in the backlog, let your brain strategise. 24 hours is a lot of time. I usually can sort things out and come up with a plan in 10 minutes if I just get started. I often spend 8 hours worrying about the work instead of spending 20 minutes actually doing the work.
  3. Everything usually works out better than I expected anyway. 98 out of 100 I go “huh I definitely overprepared and overthought that” afterwards.

My revised list of formula:

Screen Shot 2020-11-08 at 07.16.08

Also published on Medium.

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