Four years ago, I wrote in my journal how I would like my normal day to look like. I describe it here in greater detail:
I would wake up at 5 AM, and not to the sound of an alarm. I would do it to seize the quiet. No one would be awake yet. Even my dog would be deep in slumber. The only audible sound would be the one that I make, as I rise and make my way to the coffee machine to turn it on.
In this moment of peaceful bliss, I meditate for 20 minutes. Transcendental meditation (or TM), as my teacher has taught me, removes mind clutter and makes space for new learnings. By house-cleaning the mind, I get the bandwidth to deal with the challenges of the day.
At 5:25, I indulge in some self-care. I massage my eyebags and then my face with this anti-aging life-saving contraption called the Lumispa. This proven 4-minute routine has eradicated years from my face so the device is here to stay. The rotating silicone and cool water jolt me into high gear.
At 5:30, it is time for freshly brewed coffee and my book. Why oh why am I only reading Stephen King now? Oh, but I was busy dousing fires in my old job. No wonder I missed out.
At 7:00 AM, I have enough brain fuel to start writing. I write about food waste, a cause that has been troubling me for its sheer stupidity. How can we live with throwing out so much food while millions are hungry? It is not a piece that will get me a ton of reads, but I write it anyway because it feels right.
Time flies. It is now 10:00 AM, and I am adding the finishing touches to my article. I still have time for yoga and a shower before I have lunch at 11:30 AM.
I heat the food that I prepared myself and have lunch at my desk. I browse through work mail. The clients I consult for seem unusually quiet. I write down the tasks that a mere email cannot solve. I respond to everyone who reached out. I am done by 1 PM.
At 1 PM, I take a break by picking up some groceries, and good dessert. There are no lines at the cashier at this hour, a luxury that is antipodal to my former 9–5 life when the only time I had to re-stock my fridge was on a Sunday like everyone else.
At 1:45 PM, I resume work at my home office. I have been going over a research paper on food security and climate change. I need to come up with a project brief that will minimize food waste and direct them to church communities. I want to write a book on the subject. I devote the next three hours to deep work, where neither an office mate nor a boss will stop by to check on me.
It is now 4:45 PM, 15 minutes before a scheduled call so I meditate again. I do the call then finish by 5:30 PM.
I have an hour and a half to go before 7 PM, which is when I call it a day. I eat my last meal then tick off three more quick tasks on my to-do list before my evening ritual.
At 7, I make some tea which is nice to have when writing in my journal and preparing for the next day. I like capping my day on a high note, so I play some music and sing some songs. I do my facial regimen again though this time I finish it with a light moisturizer.
I am in bed by 9 PM to get eight hours of sleep.
This is my typical day now, but when I first thought about it four years ago, it was a quixotic unreachable dream.
But this quote by Anne Dillard changed everything:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order — willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”
It triggered a desire in me to make some drastic changes.
The first thing I did was to write down goals so that I know where to calibrate. One of these goals is to become a creative non-fiction writer. To become a writer, I needed to write. To write, I needed time. But in a gridlocked metropolis like Manila where I reside, time is incredibly scarce.
So I got fired from my job that required a two-hour-long one-way commute every day. I replaced it with projects that required some commute but only once or twice a week. The projects did not come right away, so think through your options carefully and do not resort to rebellion like I did.
The second thing I did was to practice silence and deliberately carve out time and create an environment for genuine introspection.
Aside from meditation, waking up early guarantees silence that enhances productivity. It is tough to make mistakes when you are fully able to concentrate.
The third step is to have a think day. This is inspired by Bill Gates’ think week, where he takes some time off to read and think in isolation. My think day is Tuesday, which I look forward to as a way to recharge and refine my ideas.
If you have a full-time job, this break is worth negotiating for, especially if you have been with your company for a few years. If you use it well by doing a deep dive on ideas that have been percolating in your head, the think day will reward not just you and your personal growth, but also your company which already benefits from your thinking.
The fourth tip is to turn on the DND function of your phone in the morning and on weekends. Do not let a credit card company or a telemarketer unnecessarily interfere with your state of flow and just answer your phone when the calls are urgent. Unless you are an executive assistant of a CEO, it is unlikely that your boss will bother you early in the morning.
The last tip that I hope will help you achieve your perfect day every day is to carve out time for self-care. It can be a simple skincare regimen, a hearty lunch, a yoga session or reading time. I think this is especially important for busy working moms who tend to neglect themselves. We need to look after ourselves so we can take care of others, but self-care has to be scheduled in the calendar for it to happen.
Each day is a chance for us to make our lives meaningful, to learn from yesterday and to do better tomorrow. That commitment to making a difference while we are breathing requires some discipline. Whatever it is that gives us joy — food, music, art — should be ever-present in our lives to compensate for the problems that we inevitably confront. The move to own my days entailed difficult choices, and I am still enduring many sacrifices. But I can confidently say that I am better off today after making these hard decisions. Life is happening now, and I don’t want to miss out.