If you didn’t need to work for a living, what would you do?
This is a great question. My response goes something like this…
I would be location independent so that I could travel as much as I want to. I’d take 3-6 month trips every year (either in my campervan or internationally). As I was slow traveling the world, I’d invite friends, loved ones, and readers to come to join me on “retreats” in different areas of the world. I’d write a book. I’d have a business I loved where I could work when and where I wanted to.
All these are amazing things to work toward.
Notably, this list doesn’t include anything about what I want for my daily life.
I was recently thinking about the Slow FI interview with Carl from 1500 days, Avoid the Death March to FI. I absolutely loved this interview with Carl. As someone who has already reached FI, he has so much advice on how to approach the path to FI differently than he did. In the interview, there was one particular thing that struck me. He said,
“The real value of FIRE is how it impacts your daily life, whatever that is to you. This isn’t sexy, but FIRE is most valuable to your daily routine. For me, it’s about being able to walk my kids to school every day. It’s about being able to attend all their functions. It’s about taking long walks with Mindy in the middle of the day. It’s about being able to hang with friends on a weekday afternoon.”
He then goes on to say, “I’d encourage you to ask yourself this question, ‘If I didn’t need to work for a living, what would I want to do every day, week, and month?’ This will be a much greater indication of what life after FI looks like than anything else.”
It’s important for us to not only focus on the big vision we have for the future.
Because, even if we achieve it, our daily lives still won’t be full of joy and fulfillment.
We’ll still be living for the next big milestone or adventure. We’ll still be so caught up in striving for the next goal that we’ll miss out on the journey of life.
To design your best life, you need to start with the most basic building blocks – each day, each week, and each month.
Designing Your Ideal Day is the Foundation of Lifestyle Design
One of the first things clients do in the Design a Life You Love Program is to focus on their ideal day and week.
Days and weeks are the basic building blocks of our lives. And, you know what? We won’t be having peak experiences on a daily basis. If we did, we’d be exhausted!
Our lives are filled with days. We can design days that provide us with enjoyment, fulfillment, and energy.
When we do this:
- We experience more satisfaction and fulfillment in our daily lives.
- We are able to be more resilient in the face of challenges.
- We take part in a virtuous cycle, where every change provides us with more brain space to figure out the next idea we want to undertake to improve our lives.
- We start to believe in ourselves (by seeing the evidence) and that we can take more steps to improve our lives.
Focusing on making small changes in our everyday life sets the foundation for higher levels of satisfaction now and space to create the life we want long-term.
When we figure out what our ideal day would look like, we can start to incorporate those elements into our days right away!
For example, I’m working with a client right now on this process. One thing he realized was his vision for his ideal day included starting the day by taking time for himself. Part of this included “treating” himself to a really good cup of coffee (at home). These were things that he did for himself on the weekend.
But, the weekdays felt like a lost cause. On weekdays, he’d roll out of bed, make a crappy cup of weekday coffee and get straight to work. This is not a joke. He had good weekend coffee and crappy weekday coffee. He said, “By making the crappy weekday coffee, it’s like I was saying ‘I know today’s going to be terrible, so why even try?”
Over the last few months, a lot has changed for him. Importantly, he no longer has weekday coffee. When he gets up, he starts his workday with a great cup of what was formerly weekend coffee and spends time doing something for himself. He might watch a show of interest, practice disc golf, or do some research for his business.
Now, even when his workday doesn’t go well, he feels more resilient and balanced. Doing something for himself in the morning sets the tone for the day and his life.
Beyond making those simple changes, he’s started to do so many other things to design his life, including:
- Setting clearer boundaries around his work hours
- Prioritizing time for hobbies, relationships, and volunteering
- Creating a side hustle that will hopefully allow him to quit his day job within the next year.
When you design (and begin to implement elements of) your ideal day/week, it sets the foundation for more daily contentment and long-term lifestyle changes.
How to Design Your Ideal Day
To figure out what your ideal day looks like, I’d encourage you to use these strategies:
- Collect Data
- Reflect on key questions
- Articulate what you want your ideal day/week would look like
- Experiment with aspects of your ideal day now
Strategy #1: Collect Data
As part of my coaching program, clients spend 4-6 weeks doing an energy/engagement audit. I first heard about this activity in the book Designing Your Life, which I’d encourage you to check out.
At the end of each day, people write down everything they did that day and they rank it on a scale of 1-5 for energy and engagement. It’s important to define the terms:
- Energy is the extent to which an activity provides you with energy and depletes your energy. Five for energy would be, “I freaking loved this activity. I had even more energy at the end of it than I did when I started.” One would be, “Wow. That was exhausting. Now I feel so depleted and want to go and take a nap.”
- Engagement is the extent to which something can hold your attention. Five for engagement would be, “I was so fascinated by this that I was fully present and it felt like the time flew by.” One for engagement would be, “That was so boring. It could not hold my attention. My mind kept wandering to much more interesting things.”
Once you track your days for a few weeks, you’ll start to see trends. This is exactly how the client I spoke about above realized the difference between weekday and weekend coffee. Making and drinking weekday coffee was always a 1 or 2, but weekend coffee was a 5. So, why not make weekend coffee everyday coffee?
By doing this activity, you’ll also start to get clearer about the specifics. Instead of seeing work generally as something you don’t like, you can get specific about what aspects are energizing and draining. This will hopefully provide you with immediate ideas for things that you could try to minimize or do more of.
I also encourage people to look critically at activities that you sometimes rate high and, other times, low. This can tell you a lot about the conditions under which you thrive. Were there particular people involved with things that were energizing vs. draining? Was there a difference in the time of day, the amount of sleep you got the night before, your level of hunger, or did you simply have too many things in a row?
Over time, we want to see the average score of our days go up. We can do this by minimizing the things that drain us and doing more of the things that we find energizing and engaging. These small changes can set up a virtuous cycle.
Strategy #2: Reflection
You can mine the depths of your experience through reflection to figure out what’s important to you.
To help define your ideal day/week, I’d encourage you to pick up a journal and reflect on this list of questions:
- What small things bring me the most happiness on a day-to-day basis?
- Think about a recent day that felt good. What did it feel like? Why did it feel that way? Describe it. What did you do? Who did you spend it with? Where were you? Why were you doing the things you did?
- What contributes to me feeling my best? Are there certain enabling conditions (such as sleep, connection, a morning routine, taking time for myself, exercise, etc.)?
- If I could choose, what would I generally want my schedule to look like?
- When am I at my best throughout the day? Am I an early bird or a night owl? Or an afternoon finch? (Note: I just made up that one… but finches do come out in the afternoon.)
- What amount of connection with friends and loved ones do I want to have?
- What kinds of activities get me into a flow state, where I feel fully engaged and time feels like it stands still?
- What activities actually help me to recover (i.e. when do I have more energy after something than before doing it) when I’m feeling really tired?
- What would my ideal work schedule look like? When would I start working? What time would I stop working? How often would I take breaks?
- How do I want to feel? You can break this into different areas of life to make it easier. For example, you could ask, “How do I want work to feel?” or “How do I want time spent on my hobbies to feel?” or “How do I want time spent working to feel?”
Reflecting on these questions will help you to get clearer about what your ideal day looks like.
Strategy #3: Articulate Your Ideal Day/Week/Month/Year
As you reflect, you’ll realize that there are many things that are important to you. Some of them, you’ll want to incorporate into your daily life, and some of them you’ll want to incorporate into longer time horizons (weeks, months, or years).
To get clear about what we want, it’s important to be specific.
First, I’d encourage you to get specific about what your ideal day looks like. Of course, not every day will look the same, especially as we work toward larger goals in our lives. One of my clients likes to think of this as the things she does more often than not. I’d encourage you to do the same.
For example, here is what my ideal day looks like.
- I wake up without an alarm when my body feels rested.
- I take time for myself in the morning when I eat a healthy breakfast, journal, and plan my day.
- I jump into some energizing work (for me that’s writing and coaching).
- I take breaks throughout the day to exercise, walk the dog (and usually do a walking meditation at the same time), eat a healthy lunch, and sometimes talk to a friend or family member.
- During my ideal day, I work about 4-5 hours. When I’m not running groups in the evening, I finish work by 4-5 PM, so that I have time to relax, hang out with my husband or friends, or spend time doing hobbies or personal projects.
- Overall, I want my days to feel relaxed, intentional, energizing, and enjoyable.
As I’m reviewing this, I realize that there are so many things missing that are important to me! But, I don’t necessarily want to do those things every day. Plus, I don’t want to work every day. These are the things I want to do more often than not.
This is why the next step is to articulate your answer to the following question. If I could design my ideal, what would I want to do every…
Here are my answers:
- Every day, I want to: wake up without an alarm clock, take time for myself, eat healthy/nourishing food, do some sort of physical activity, get outside, do work or other activities that I enjoy, and spend quality time with my husband.
- Every week, I want to: hang out with friends, take a longer walk/hike (that’s not my normal neighborhood walk), make really amazing pizza, have a “shouldless” day (a day without any shoulds or required activities), do more vigorous exercise 2-3x, read for fun, and meet with my accountability partner.
- Every month, I want to: take a local adventure within a few hours of home (e.g. camping, hiking, biking, fruit picking, etc.), play board games, and have regular meetings with my support system (e.g. therapy, mastermind, etc.).
- Every year, I want to: take 3-6 months to travel either in our campervan or internationally, visit friends and family who live far away (or have them visit us), complete an annual visioning/planning process for myself (and support others), try a new hobby/interest.
Over the last 4 years that I’ve been designing my life, I’ve been able to implement my ideal day, week, and month. I’m still working on the 3-6 months of travel in my ideal year.
Strategy #4: Experiment by Implementing these Elements into Your Life Now
Once you are clear on the things that you’d want to do every day, week, month, and year, you can begin to incorporate these things into your life right away.
But, you don’t need to do them all at once! I’d encourage you to put the things on the list into categories. Then you can tackle them one at a time. Here are the three categories:
- Things that I can implement right now without making lifestyle changes
- Things I could implement if I had slightly more time
- Things that would require significant lifestyle changes
For example, when I first started designing my life in 2018, I was able to implement a few things immediately:
- Taking time for myself daily (to journal, meditate, take a walk, etc.)
- Getting outside
- Taking a longer walk/hike on a weekly basis
- Meeting with my accountability partner
- Playing board games
- Hanging out with friends and my spouse
- Doing an annual visioning process
But, I knew that I’d need more time to:
- Do more physical activity
- Take local adventures
- Meet with a mastermind
- Try new hobbies and interests
And, I knew that a few of the things would require significant lifestyle changes:
- Waking up without an alarm clock
- Doing energizing work/activities every day
- Taking a “shouldless” day each week
- Taking 3-6 months to travel each year
I’d encourage you to make a similar list.
Then, don’t try to tackle everything at once. First, focus on the things that you can implement immediately.
Then, you can start to brainstorm, how can I gain more time to do the things I want? Can I set better boundaries around work? Are there certain things that I need to quit or scale back that don’t bring me value? Can I delegate anything or get outside support?
Finally, you can think more about the long-term lifestyle changes required. When you think specifically about what’s on your list, you can ask, What lifestyle changes would this require? Don’t be narrow with your thinking.
While I decided to pursue entrepreneurship, there are many other ways to wake up without an alarm clock. Someone could:
- Work part-time in the afternoon hours
- Become a freelancer so that you can set your own hours
- Find an extremely flexible job
- Go to bed earlier so your body naturally wakes up before you need to be awake
To take a “shouldless” day off each week, someone could:
- Negotiate a schedule where you work less than 4 days/week (either working four 10-hours days, or working a part-time schedule).
- Use your banked vacation time or other PTO to take a day off/week for the foreseeable future.
- Become a freelancer or self-employed.
Be creative about the ways to make your ideal happen. And, it’s important to know that it will take some time to get there. After four years, we are still working toward taking extended periods of time off to travel. Because of all the small changes we’ve made over time, this goal will be within our reach over the next couple of years. And, it’s not necessarily because Corey will quit his job in 2023. Taking a sabbatical is also an option!
As you make changes, pay attention to how you feel. I try to look at all this as an experiment and ask, Does this thing actually make me feel the way I want to? Does my ideal life require this? Or, is there something else I want to incorporate?
Your Ideal Life is Made Up of Ideal Days. Make them Count.
When designing a life you truly love, it’s important to balance peak experiences with an awesome day-to-day life. When we can articulate what our ideal day, week, month, and year would look like, we realize that we can start to put in place so many of those things right away!
We don’t need to wait until we reach some sort of milestone to make this happen. We can inject activities that bring joy and contentment into our lives. This will set off a virtuous cycle that will help you design a better life today and long term.