Designing your day

This can be a difficult time of the year. Winter seems unwilling to let its grip loosen, and spring have its chance. The days are grey, wet and still too short. And, chances are, you’ve already blown all the enthusiasm and optimism you had back at the beginning of January. Your New Years resolutions have probably been broken.

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You shouldn’t feel bad. You’re far from alone. The success rate on New Year’s Resolutions is appalling. Research done by psychologists at the University of Hertfordshire suggests that under 25% of people manage to stick to their resolutions. That’s an experience most of us can identify with: the sheepish admission that we didn’t hit our goals last year - and the unlikely claim that this year it will be different. The cycle continues…

That cycle can be broken. The depressing figures don't mean that we can't change, or that we can only change if we're one of the lucky - or willpower-charged - few that manage to keep their resolutions. The problem is the “big bang” aspect of most resolutions - the desire to change something big, in a dramatic way. Instead, you should take a lesson from nature, and evolve. Forget those one-off, once-a-year attempts - and change your life a little at a time.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, proposed an inspired solution to the problem last year: design each day as it comes:

We can work within the constraints of our own natures—and still be agile, build capabilities, iterate. We can conduct experiments, make discoveries, change our perspectives. Think of today as a prototype. What would you change?

He advocates a day-by-day approach that can create profound change in the way you live. This resonates strongly with the traditional advice on making resolutions that stick: make them SMART. That’s an acronym, of course, derived from Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Limited.

A day-by-day approach ticks the realistic and time-limited boxes from the off, and makes setting measurable and specific goals much easier. Sure, each goal will be smaller than any of the sweeping traditional resolutions, but in aggregate, many days of changed habits and working patterns will add up to more change than a single, big - and failed - resolution ever will. In essence, you’re attempting to design new habits into your life, a day at a time, rather than achieve resolutions.

Psychotherapist Phillipa Parry told The Observer why so many people struggle:

A hit of dopamine reinforces a bad habit and we'll tell ourselves any old baloney to get another hit. In addition to this, what is familiar, automatic and comfortable feels right, even if it harms us. So to get the extra help of a ritual makes it more likely that we'll see it through.

The ritual of designing every single day is exactly the help you need to start making your working day better.