I was beyond frustrated. Truly.
Eric and I were trying to raise our young children, build our business, serve in our community, and do “all the things”–while also keeping ourselves healthy and our marriage strong, and I felt like I was falling behind every single day.
(Today I’m sharing how the concept of the “Multiple-Choice Perfect Day” totally changed that…enabling me to wake up excited and go to bed content, and I hope that these ideas serve and lift you!)
During that period of time I described above, I would essentially map out the “perfect” week and the “perfect” daily schedules, and then I would watch it all fall apart as the week progressed.
It didn’t feel like I was asking for that much. Usually the plan went something like this:
- Quiet time with God
- Project work
- Time teaching/supporting the children
- Home organization
- Dinner prep
- Fun family time
- Quality time with Eric
- Bedtime routine with the children
- My evening routine
- Down time
But then I’d find myself at 5pm, STILL in my exercise clothes, never having exercised or showered–and I felt like I was crashing and burning every day because something was wrong with me.
Sometimes I could go 2-3 days in a row, getting most of the things on my list accomplished, but if someone got sick, a neighbor needed help, I felt grumpy, visitors dropped by, we had a glitch on our website, etc. it felt like everything was ruined.
One day, as I was explaining my angst to Eric, he brought up the idea of the Multiple-Choice Perfect Day.
“April,” he began, “what if you could pick and choose from your full list each day–and work according to your energy and circumstances–and then call each day PERFECT? Some days you’ll take a shower, some days you won’t. Some days you’ll get a ton of project work done, some days you’ll spend more time with the family. Some days you’ll focus on errands, some days you’ll spend more time at home. But as you make those choices each day, you’ll do so deliberately, and you can go to bed at night knowing you didn’t have to do everything, but the day was still perfect. It’s your perfect day. Your Multiple-Choice Perfect Day.”
I remember when he shared that idea, it was like a light bulb went on. I’d never thought of it that way, but it made so much sense.
When our first child was nine months old, I took her to the pediatrician and admitted I was worried about her eating habits. Some days she ate all her baby food. Some days she just wanted Cheerios. I couldn’t force her to eat, and I worried she wasn’t getting the nutrition she needed.
Our pediatrician said, “You know, I don’t really worry about what your baby eats in one day. I prefer to look at the whole week and see how things are looking. Generally, babies will eat more on some days and less on others, but as long as they’re eating a balanced diet over the course of a full week, they’re usually okay.”
I could apply the same principle to my life and schedule, and it brought SO much relief.
But here are a few reasons why this matters so much:
(1) It provides space for humanness.
Maybe you are uniquely consistent in your energy and motivation, but mine ebbs and flows throughout each week and month. Sometimes I feel creative and happy. Sometimes I am concerned about a loved one, and I feel more introspective and perhaps a bit more tired. I also live with other humans–who also have different moods and energy levels, so my tasks and schedule might fluctuate to accommodate their needs.
If we’ve just had a full holiday weekend, I might crave time for quiet and reading. If I’ve just had a call with an optimistic friend, I might feel more ready to dive into work. You’ve experienced this too, right? When we allow for fluctuations in health, energy, circumstances, moods, etc., it takes off SO MUCH pressure.
(2) It honors the beauty that’s present in every day.
Prior to my Multiple-Choice Perfect Days, I tended to focus on what I lacked. It was easy to see how many items were left off my list or how many routines I failed to complete. But when I changed my perspective and got to hit the “perfect” level every day–whether or not my lists were finished, I didn’t see interruptions as a problem, and I started feeling more fulfilled by the unexpected surprises. For example, if our younger children wanted me to watch them perform the play they’d been practicing all morning, or if an older child wanted to open up about what was going on with friends at school, I was excited for the opportunity to be with them (rather than quietly resenting the fact that “conquering the list” was going to be delayed).
One day, our neighbor showed us their new kittens, and we sat in the front yard for 45 minutes holding them, eating zucchini bread, and just enjoying the nice weather. That wasn’t on our schedule, but it has become one of those cherished memories I’m glad we made. I’ve learned that the most beautiful moments usually aren’t planned in advance, but goodness, it’s easy to miss them when we feel like we have “so much to do.”
(3) It emphasizes the fact that ALL things don’t HAVE to happen EVERY day.
It’s interesting because we’re often taught that the most accomplished people do certain things every single day. And I get it. There are some things–like brushing my teeth, connecting with my higher power, drinking water, moving my body–that ideally DO happen every day. And I know how satisfying it can be to accomplish daily success streaks as we’re achieving our goals.
But when we tightly align “success” or “happiness” with those perfect, structured schedules, filled with undeviating routines, regardless of the needs of the people in our lives, our days become somewhat robotic, with the whole focus on achievement and external rewards. I certainly lived that way for a long time, and it was like I was chasing an impossible standard. Even if/when I reached that standard, it never felt as good as I’d thought it would, and it didn’t give me the quality of relationships I craved.
One year, in particular, I was so focused on my goals that I pretty much ignored all my friends. I didn’t go to any events or parties, I didn’t call anyone on their birthdays, I didn’t ever check in to see how they were doing.
When my birthday came around that year, I remember feeling really empty. No one called or dropped by. And sure, I’d gotten lots of checkmarks that year, but I didn’t have anyone to “do life” with. (And it’s not that I need a lot of birthday presents or anything–it was just interesting to see that when I didn’t invest in others, they didn’t feel much of a connection to me, either.)
Great habits make a tremendous difference in our lives, but if we break a streak or don’t get to every little thing on our list every day–because we’re prioritizing relationships and giving ourselves a break when we need it–that doesn’t make us unsuccessful. I think it shows we are wise with our time and energy.
(4) It takes the rush out of life.
I read a book recently that explained how important it is for us to tackle every day with urgency. According to this one author, we need to move quickly, get three times as much done as our friends, make sure we’re overachievers, and work like crazy to be successful.
I don’t get upset by many books, but this one really hit me the wrong way. (Maybe I misunderstood what the author was trying to say…I’m not trying to be critical.)
My mom passed away five years ago, and recently I’ve been reading through her journals and task lists. Whenever I come across something I think my siblings would want to see, I take a photo and send it to them individually or in our group text…
For example, she noted that she was late picking my little brother up from high school, but he was so sweet and patient and didn’t get angry.
She wrote about how excited she was that my older sister was flying in for a visit.
Many days, she made lists of the phone calls she wanted to make, and when I see my name on those lists, I feel so grateful that she prioritized me.
All the random notes about picking up paper plates from Costco or replacing the tires on the car or getting her investment portfolio updated mean very little to me now. It’s reading what was in her heart and how she was showing love to her people that means the most.
One more story…
Years ago, our two daughters (then 11 and 9) heart-attacked our office. They put lots of construction-paper hearts all over our desk:
And then they decorated the window with little sticky notes and messages written with dry-erase markers:
The following morning at 6:30, I was working on my laptop in my bedroom when they came in and asked excitedly, “Did you SEE it?”
“Oh no, I haven’t been in there yet. I’m just working on a couple of things before I come down to breakfast. I’ll check it in a minute.”
In hindsight, I would have jumped right up and ran into the office. But I just wanted to finish “one more thing” (I can’t even remember what it was now).
They waited by me patiently, and then we did go into the office together, and I “oohed” and “ahhed” over all the darling love notes they wrote, but looking back on it now, my gratitude didn’t match the gift. Alia even told me she’d had a dream that I walked into the office, saw their handiwork, and got SO excited. But I was so preoccupied with my list of things to do that I kind of missed it.
It’s been more than a decade since that experience, and fortunately I learned from it and was generally able to make up for it over the years, but if I could go back–with the wisdom and perspective I’ve gained since then–I would have slowed myself down in the “getting things done” department and focused more on the precious human connections.
We all want inner peace, we want to know we’re not missing something that everyone else is seeing, we want to feel successful and protect ourselves and our family from any threats out there. But often those who are telling us to go faster and faster don’t even have that peace and joy we’re searching for.
Yes, having our Current Projects List, essential routines, and full Command Central in place will make a huge difference. I am still a huge proponent of getting our minds organized and creating structure that will help us feel calm. But the true success comes as we LIVE. It comes as we move throughout each day, cherishing the conversations and the opportunities and the moments that really matter. Every box won’t always get checked every single day. But every day can certainly be called perfect.
Write out your definition of a “perfect day”–with all the routines that will help you accomplish what needs to be done, but then practice living with the Multiple-Choice Perfect Day perspective. Let us know how it goes!
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