Design Your Day with Skill (Day 22 of 30 Days of Getting Results)



“Let your imagination release your imprisoned possibilities.” — Robert H. Schuller

Your Outcome:  Design your day to support you for success.  Learn how to structure your day to make the most of what you’ve got.  Chunk up your day and avoid being overwhelmed.

Welcome to day 22 of 30 Days of Getting Results, based on my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.  In day 21, we learned how to carry the good forward and let the rest go to fail forward, fail fast, and improve as we go.  Today, we learn how to design our day with skill.  By designing our day in a mindful way, we create just enough routines to give us a firm foundation and platform for success.  When we’re having a great day, these habits amplify and catapult our success.  When we’re having an off day, this foundation will help us deal with whatever life throws our way, as well as vault our key challenges or hurdles.  It’s all about getting the system on our side, by design.

You drive your day or your day drives you.   When you drive your day, you get to define what good looks like, and when you set the rules, you win the game.

It only takes a moment to take a look from the balcony before you get on the stage.  Before you are mired in your day, take this brief look to see the scenes you’ll be stepping into.  if each day is a play, you have a beginning, a middle an an end.  What roles do you want to play, and what do you want your day to be about.  Whether it’s from the balcony or the director’s chair, you need to set the stage for your success, one scene, one act, or one play at a time.

Each Day is a Fresh Start
Each day is a fresh start. Remember as a kid waking up each morning to a new and exciting day? That’s the point you need to start from. The difference is now you have skills. You also picked up some good habits and some bad habits along the way. You looked forward to growing up so you could do whatever you want.

Unfortunately over time, maybe you started to think that life isn’t as full of possibilities or as limitless as you once thought. But what’s really limiting you? You are, and all the limits you bring to each new day. Baggage brings you down. Don’t pick up your bags today. Travel light. Test yourself. Test your limits. Chances are you’ll surprise yourself time and again; just give yourself a chance. If things don’t work out today, then you can still walk away with lessons that will help you shape a better tomorrow.

3 Ways to Design Your Day with Skill
Here are three ways to design your day with skill:

  1. Create an effective Startup Routine — This is how you bootstrap your day. You already have a startup routine. It’s the activities you do to start your day and feel grounded. For example, on weekdays, my startup routine is to wake up, throw my shoes on, workout for 30 minutes, shower, eat breakfast slowly, and take the back way to work. On my drive to work, I listen to my favorite music, and I think of my three most compelling outcomes for the day. When I get to work, I scan my inbox, my queues, and my calendar to see if I need to adjust my three outcomes.
  2. Create an effective Shut-Down Routine — This is how you end your day. Just like having an effective startup routine helps bootstrap your day, an effective shutdown routine helps you wind down. The key to an effective shutdown routine is testing different patterns until you find one that helps put you in the right frame of mind for a more restful sleep. Sleeping well is the means to starting the next day refreshed.
  3. Drive your day with the Rule of 3 — If you remember nothing else, start your day with The Rule of 3. Know the minimum three outcomes that you want for the day—simply identify three results. These are your “tests for success.” It’s your chance to define your success, and you get a clean slate each day.

Designing a Great Startup Routine
The way you start you day can have a dramatic impact on whether you start the day fresh, centered, and from a firm foundation, or you start the day like a chicken with its head cut off.  I’ve seen the difference in myself and I’ve seen the difference in many others, up and down the ranks.

As I’ve built teams over the years, I’ve asked various team members how they start their day.  Normally, they would tell me what they do at work.  I’d say backup, start from when you wake up out of bed.  I was surprised to find how varied many started their day with the news and their email, even before they got to work.   They would also tell me how the news would either make them feel anxious or depressed.  They would also be running through their emails in their mind all the way to work.

That’s the key right there.  By the time you’re at work, it’s too late.  You’re in the line of fire.  You’re reacting.  The key is to use your Startup Routine to create a firm foundation for your day before you even get to work.  It’s not about watching the news or checking your email.  It’s about first deciding what you want your day to be about and what you want to accomplish.  Now you are ready to “respond” instead of “react” to the barrage of inputs throughout the rest of your day, from emails, to news, to people stopping by and whatever changes your course throughout the day.   Because you created a quick mini-plan for your day, you can effectively choose how to respond and make more effective trade-offs, rather than get knocked around by whatever comes your way.

Designing a Great Shutdown Routine
You might think it would be easy enough to think of a great shutdown routine, but there are a lot of variables. It’s actually better to test a variety of patterns to see what helps you the most, whether it’s watching TV, reading a book, meditating, etc. For example, if you tend to watch the news before you sleep, test watching a comedy; different shows will produce different results. If you like to read a book before bed, are you reading a book that helps you wind down, or are you reading material that makes it hard for you to fall asleep? Simply notice the results you’re getting and test different approaches.

There’s a lot of research and opinions, but the most important thing is to find what works for you. It’s less about the specific activity you do and it’s more about how it impacts you or how you react to it. For example, if you watch a comedy where the main character always gets into a stressful situation, and you have a lot of empathy, maybe this is not the best thing for you before bed. Then again, maybe the happy ending is just the perfect tension and release you need for the perfect slumber. Test your results and change your approach if it’s not working. At the end of the day, you’re the most important judge.

Lastly, in addition to how you feel at the end of your day, it’s also important to notice how you feel when you wake up. If you’re not waking up refreshed, chances are that it’s what you did the night before that makes all the difference (barring any medical conditions, of course). So go ahead and find what works for you. Test some new patterns. Get creative. Explore your results.

Why Use the Rule of 3 to Drive Your Day
The Rule of 3 is one of your main tools for driving your day.  You can use it anytime, anywhere to make the most of what you’ve got.  Here are some of the main reasons to start your day with The Rule of 3:

  1. You define the three tests for success. If you set the rules, you win the game.
  2. You get to define what good looks like.  It’s your life.
  3. You get to chart your course. If you start by quickly looking over the time you’ll spend for the day, then you have a map to guide you through your day and to lead you if you get lost in the thick of things.
  4. If you know what you’re trying to accomplish, you can prioritize more effectively. There are a lot of little mini-decisions during your day that you can influence by knowing where you want to go.
  5. If you know you’re working on the right things, it’s easier to give your all—to find your motivation.
  6. When you map your day, you know how to pace yourself. You can’t run ahead if you can’t see what’s in front of you.

Remember that your three outcomes aren’t tasks. You might have lots of tasks that roll up to these three outcomes, but these are three results you want for the day. For example, for today I want see a good movie, have a great lunch, and ship a post that helps people make the most of their life, a day at a time. Those are the lines I’ve drawn in the sand for my day.  They are subject to change, but they chart a simple course that I can choose to depart from, and trade-up or scale back with skill.  Even if I decide to do nothing, it’s the art of making a mindful choice that matters.

Today’s Assignment

  1. Design a Startup Routine that works for you.  Own the way you start your day.  Find the simple habits or routines that unleash your inner-Tigger or your corporate warrior or whatever supports you in the most effective way.
  2. Design a Shutdown Routine that works for you.  Own the way you end your day and cap the night.  This is one of life’s little moments that you can shape each day in a way that renews you.
  3. Use The Rule of 3 to shape three stories, outcomes, or results for your day, in an inspiring way.  Own your destiny, a story at a time.  Remember that our favorite characters in our stories don’t always choose the adventures or challenges they find themselves in, but it’s how they respond, especially when they get tested, that we really care about.

My Related Posts

Photo by karpov the wrecked train.


  1. I am actually working on a blog now that speaks to my new morning routine and how much I am gaining from it. It really is magic time in those first hours of the day and taking control and designing it to further my purpose and experience joy is proving to be extremely beneficial. I jumped into this series late and am looking forward to exploring other posts. 🙂

  2. I am starting to tune in myself into 3 compelling outcomes during my morning drive while listening to my favorite music…. vs. just listening to the music.
    It clearly helps me to focus, no doubt. Thank you.

  3. Good morning –
    I’ve been reading through the 30 days from my inbox and really gaining some great ideas and (what’s that word?) insight. Thanks for putting this together. Spot on for me today; my morning task was actually to sit down and work on a morning routine to be more effective/on target in the morning, not distracted with busy work but doing what matters.
    I’d like to throw in the punch bowl here that I’m a mom of 3 kids (under 4 years old) who works 25-30 hours a week as a freelance writer/editor/blogger. Your ideas have helped me with the Mom stuff and the writing stuff: I especially love the power of 3, the setting up boundaries (day 7) and productivity personas (day 12).
    Thanks again!

  4. Hi JD,
    Thats a good one… bookending our day with the right routine switches our thoughts from fearful self-concern to empowering self-insight. I make it a point to begin and end each day with principles that support life going my way.

    I like your rule of 3… sounds like a great way to focus in on the priorities.

  5. I love the concept of the “Rule of 3.” It makes us simplify and do the most important stuff first. I always have a list of 20 things on it, but I create a smaller list that feels more actionable. It’s easier to get started when I’m climbing a hill instead of a mountain.

  6. @ Clearly Composed — The magic hours are important to me. It’s my quiet time that really sets the stage for the rest of my time.

    Don’t worry — there is no late for this series. I designed it to be timeless, so whenever you start is the right time, and wherever you start, is the right place. It’s stretch to fit 😉

    @ Alik — Mini-goals are the way to go. Sometimes one of my goals is as simple as enjoy the drive to work 😉

    @ Annie — It sounds like you are truly making things happen and that’s great to hear. I think you’ll find that the more you take care of the morning, the more the rest of the day takes care of itself. It’s a pattern I’ve noticed time and again. It’s like the more you take care of the day, the more the week takes care of itself. It’s contagious.

    @ Rob — Your “bookends” metaphor is perfect. I think that’s a great way to visualize a start and end for your day.

    @ Karl — You’re right — it’s a slick way to make molehills out of mountains 😉

  7. J.D., this was an awesome post.. love the quote and the nuggets!
    I find when I have a great startup to my day, I do very well! The morning is essential for me. If I lose out on that, it is tough to get in the groove for the rest of the day! have a great week! ~Jenn

  8. Hi JD .. another useful thought .. my 30 days is starting in September once I’ve settled in .. and I’ll see what readjustments I need to make .. and I’m going to bring in the rule of 3 at the end of the day .. so that tomorrow, all things being equal, has its’ main goals ready to deal with .. great ideas – thank you .. Hilary

  9. Rate how effective your problem solved skill has been for this week, and explain why you have given this rating for yourself.

  10. After reading this article for the first time 30 days ago, I made a note to myself, “Every day, every weak is the repetition of how productive/ unproductive I am on certain hours. That can be changed for better if I design my day better.”

    Since then, I have experimented, added, subtracted, shortened, switched around the order, liked, disliked and deleted, and enjoyed activities in the Start-up Routines. Earlier this week, I stopped following it completely for three days. …I noticed how unproductive it was to ignore ‘good rhythm for the day’ I could create through the Start-up Routine. I now know how awesome it is to have…routines. I am a free-spirited person, so it is so odd to say I love routines. But I love orderly practical flow (smooth glide!) of the Start-up Routines. I think I have almost perfected my Start-up Routines.

    However, my shut-down routines are still a mess. I have “oh-I-should-do-those-things” kind of inspirational ideas and practical every-day ideas. Somehow my evening is all about unwinding (I cannot even keep track of what I do…) and relaxing but nothing productive.

    I protect my sleep hours, keep clean surfaces (work desk + kitchen etc), and follow my eating schedule (stop eating before 8PM!) more consciously every day. But I am not as productive as I could be… I think ‘necessity’ will push me into it after a job change.

    By the way, I watched “Peaceful Warrior” via Netflix. It had great actors and actresses I could recognize although I rarely watch any TV programs or movies. Your take on “putting the bags down” and “going to work with open eyes and a curious mind” is awesome. I know what you mean, but it’s a whole different game ‘to experience IT’ I will see if I can pay attention and experience it like a newhire person, like really new person. “Fresh Start” coming up soon…

    • Beautiful point on how the efficiency or inefficiencies add up each day, and over time.

      I know what you mean about routines.

      It’s also ironic how something that seems so constraining could be so liberating.

      But as I tell my friends, adding “just enough” structure to your day, gives you a ton of results and freedom that’s hard to argue with.

      I think the saying that first you make your habits, then your habits make you, is so true. And morning habits seem to be the ultimate secret to starting our days well.

      Now that I think about it, probably the most important start-up routine is to practice an “attitude of gratitude.” It changes everything. (It also happens to be how Tony Robbins starts his day.)

      In terms of shut-down routines, one of my best routines that served me well was to use 4 questions to cap my day:
      1. What did I learn?
      2. What did I improve?
      3. What did I enjoy?
      4. What kind act did I do?

      That said, I continuously experiment and change up my shut-down routines. I think the most important insight here is knowing which shut-down routines work against you (such as starting an intense book, or caffeine too late, etc.)

Comments are closed.