Stop. Don’t let a bad start ruin your day: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi

I’m not entirely sure who embedded this thought in the head (it was a productivity guru on X, I think), but here it is: “A bad start to the day does not mean the rest of day is destined to go badly.”

There’s a f**k-up in the title, and several through the show. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his team are somewhat-struggling spies, in the series FUBAR (2023 -), but they probably break their day into chunks, because they never let a disaster get them down.

The thought stayed with me because most of us have been told otherwise. Instead, the guru suggests we break each day into chunks of time. Each chunk then has a beginning, middle and end. When thought about this way, much changes. A metaphorical narrative comes to mind that places this in perspective.

Once upon a time, in the land of Routine, people lived by an unwritten law: that if one’s morning stumbled, the rest of one’s day would fall too. But in a neighbouring realm, Flexibility Land, the inhabitants had discovered a secret: Break the day into segments, and each gains the power to reset the narrative.

In the land of Routine, citizens were victims of what psychologists call “negativity bias”. This is a quirk in our mental wiring that makes bad experiences stick like burrs, while good ones are quickly forgotten. This is a much-researched theme. In fact, as early as 2001, the psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues proved that the impact of negative experiences is more substantial than that of positive ones.

In Flexibility Land, people refuse to view time in a linear way. Instead, they use a practice called “chunking”, a technique that is both simple and revolutionary. They imagine each day as a necklace. The chunks are beads that are strung together, but remain distinct as well. The dwellers of Flexibility Land know there are times when you look at the beads, and others when you look at the necklace.

Their day begins with the Launchpad Chunk, a period of morning rituals that include exercise to awaken the body, meditation to clear the mind, a nourishing breakfast to fuel the day’s endeavours. Next is Productivity Powerhouse mode. This is time for deep work and focused effort, when Citizens of Flexibility Land think up new ideas, collaborate with colleagues and conquer to-do lists. (As a new citizen of Flexibility Land, I like to get into this zone at about 10 am and go on until 4 pm, with a short lunch break.)

Then comes the Wind-Down phase. This is akin to landing a plane. It’s tough. Temptation to stay in Powerhouse mode is high. But there is only so much time one can spend there usefully. There are lighter tasks to be done as well; ones that are important, but don’t require as much focus. This is also when practitioners of chunking begin setting the stage for the next day. The intensity of the plot eases and resolutions begin to form.

As dusk falls, one moves on to the Leisure and Learning Lounge. This is time for family and friends, relaxing pursuits, absorbing the words of a good book or movie or whatever else is enjoyable. Here, one may soak in the stories of others or write one’s own.

Finally, Restoration Realm. Sleep, that essential yet elusive character in our story, takes centrestage. Six to eight hours is ideal. (I need at least seven, without which I am a restless mess.)

When thought about like this, Flexibility Land offers something vital: the reminder that life doesn’t move in a straight line. It is a series of highs and lows. By breaking the day into chunks, one can find ways to ride these waves with grace.

This method isn’t just about time management; it is about gaining perspective, reframing the narrative of day-to-day existence, and understanding that every segment of time holds the potential for a new beginning. It is a reminder that the story of one’s day isn’t written in stone at dawn, but is an evolving script.

Embrace flexibility, and one can turn a page if a chapter doesn’t go as planned. One can keep moving forward, one chunk at a time.

(Charles Assisi is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)

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