When you’re busy, it’s easy to go through the day in reactive mode – rolling from one commitment to the next, handling challenges as they arise. But Chapter 1, Choosing your Filters, explains how you can shift the way you experience the whole day if you take a more deliberate approach to setting your intentions for the hours ahead. And a strangely effective first step is to decide which good things you want to notice more of in your day.
Research has found that the way we articulate our goals makes a big difference to our chances of actually achieving them. Chapter 2, Setting Great Goals, describes four ways to boost your success rate by tweaking the way you set goals. A powerful one is to make a “when-then” plan (e.g. “when I’m walking back from my 11am meeting, then I will make that important call I need to make”). It also explains how to write brain-friendly to-do lists that will make you feel good rather than guilty.
With the best of intentions, we can all get derailed by the unexpected. But we don’t have to be completely at the mercy of circumstance. Read Chapter 3, Reinforcing Your Intentions, for three techniques to help you stay on course with your most important aims for the day. “Mind’s eye rehearsal” is one which uses the proven fact that you’re more likely to stay on track and overcome obstacles if you’ve taken the time beforehand to visualize yourself doing just that.
We tend to believe that by doing several things at once, we can fit more into the day. And we’re surrounded by potential distractions almost all the time. But chapter 4, Singletasking, explains we actually work smarter and faster when we do one thing at a time – and shows how to build “singletasking” into our always-on lives. Take the first step when you next tackle an important task, by turning off all alerts and notifications for as long as you can.
Taking a break can seem like an indulgence when you’re busy. But our brain functions far better when we give it frequent opportunities to refresh itself. In chapter 5, Planning Deliberate Downtime, learn why and how to create strategic pauses that allow you to reflect and reboot. One practical tip is to plan to take important decisions just after you’ve taken a break (rather than when you’re tired and desperately in need of a break).
Most of us have times when we have too much on our plates – and the stress that this causes can make it hard for us to be at our best. One way to reduce the feeling of overload is to focus on the most important thing you need to do that day, and then identify the very smallest step you can take to get that ball rolling. Chapter 6, Overcoming Overload, has a broad range of other techniques for making a dent in the workload and restoring clearer priorities – as well as making you feel more in control.
It’s not just you – human beings are wired to procrastinate. After reading chapter 7, Beating Procrastination, you’ll understand the fundamental reason that we tend to put off important tasks. And more importantly, you’ll have new tools that will help you beat that temptation and start getting things done. For example, one proven way to get moving is to actively picture the benefit of doing that thing you’ve been putting off.
Obviously you can’t just manufacture rapport with someone you’ve just met. But research suggests that you can get a surprisingly long way by asking truly open questions (ones which don’t have a “yes” or “no” answer) and saying “tell me more” when you hear something you’re interested in. Chapter 8, Building Real Rapport, reveals similarly practical tips that are virtually guaranteed to improve the level of openness, warmth and trust in any interaction.
Even a little bit of tension can get in the way of your having a good day. In Chapter 9, Resolving Tensions, you’ll learn what tends to cause other people to behave badly and how to put them back on their best behavior. Plus you’ll learn safe ways to raise difficult issues and resolve disagreements in ways that are all but guaranteed to improve your relationships. For example, highlighting everything you agree on turns out to be a highly effective way to improve the conversation.
Everyone around us has their strengths and weaknesses. But the way we treat other people has a surprisingly big impact on how smart and resourceful they’re able to be on any given day. Chapter 10, Bringing the Best Out of Others, covers four techniques to help you bring the best out of anyone you work with. One of them explains why it’s unexpectedly helpful to avoid the phrase “yes, but” when you want to raise an alternative viewpoint – “yes, and” will feel more collaborative and will lead to more creative thinking (for both of you).
Insight can seem like an elusive thing. But there are quite predictable ways of increasing your chances of having an “aha” moment whenever you feel stuck or need fresh ideas. One odd but proven technique is to simply phrase your issue as question – from “I need to make more widgets” to “What would be a great way to make more widgets?” The practical advice in Chapter 11, Reaching Insight, shows you several more ways to spark new ideas and connections – without needing to do anything too crazy.
We all tend to make predictable mistakes when making decisions, thanks to the automatic shortcuts taken by our subconscious brains. But you can sharply improve the quality of your day-to-day choices by adopting one or more of the routines described in Chapter 12, Making Wise Decisions. One example: imagine someone arguing against the choice you’re about to make; if there’s even a small chance they’re right, what should you do differently now?
Whenever you’re facing a complex or important piece of work, or just feeling a little too tired to be your usual brilliant self, Chapter 13, Boosting Your Brainpower, will show you several ways to think more clearly and creatively about the task at hand. For example, it explains why breaking a complex task into smaller pieces (using a tool called an “issue tree”) often creates space for a breakthrough by reducing the load on your brain.
Whether you’re writing an email or making a comment in a meeting, research suggests several ways to increase the chances of people paying attention to what you’re saying. Chapter 14, Getting Through Their Filters, reveals which modest changes will help your communication have the impact it deserves. One easy win comes from avoiding the common assumption that others know everything you know. Instead of focusing purely on what you want to tell them, first ask what they understand and feel about the topic under discussion, and work from there.
It can be hard to change the status quo, especially if you face active resistance from people. But Chapter 15, Making Things Happen, shows you how to make more compelling requests and nudge people in your direction in ways that are both respectful and effective. Finding a way to get them involved is one way to break through: if people feel like they’ve had a hand in shaping one part of a plan, they’re more likely to go along with the whole thing
When the stakes are high, it’s nice to be able to radiate the kind of quiet self-confidence that tells people that you’re in control and on your game. Chapter 16, Conveying Confidence, describes a range of steps you can take to make sure that’s the vibe you’re creating whenever you need to maximize your personal impact. For example, if you find yourself feeling nervous, it helps to reframe your nerves as excitement: the physical signs of getting keyed up, like faster heartbeat – can be seen as proof that your brain and body are rising to the challenge.
When you’re in the thick of a challenging situation, it can be easy to lose your balance. Chapter 17, Keeping a Cool Head, is full of techniques that will not only reduce your stress in the heat of the moment, but also make it easier to see a good way forward. A foolproof one is to imagine that the situation is happening to a friend, and think about the kind of advice you’d give them.
It can be hard to let go of past annoyances or disappointments – especially when they’re not our fault. But Chapter 18, Moving On, outlines reliable ways for us to bounce back from things going wrong. One technique involves imagining a range of different explanations for what’s gone wrong – something that reduces our stress level even when we don’t believe those explanations. As a bonus, research suggests that the more you use the techniques in this chapter, the better you’ll cope the next time something goes awry.
Sleep and exercise are strangely powerful in boosting our resilience to the ups and downs of life. But they’re often exactly the things we skimp on when we’re under pressure. Chapter 19, Staying Strong, suggests some practical ways to make sure your body is feeding your brain what it needs to be at its best. Taking a break for a brisk walk or adding a mindfulness app to your phone (and using it!) are just two of the many tips.
If work and life feels like a grind right now, raid Chapter 20, Topping Up The Tank, for seven tactics guaranteed to quickly lift your emotional and mental energy. You’ll also find some science-backed advice on how and when to deploy these boosts to best effect. One tip: Plot how to end each day – and indeed every interaction or task – on a high note. This can be as simple as writing down (or remarking on) the best part of it when you finish.
Most of us have at last one thing on our to-do list that we don’t entirely relish. Perhaps it’s a daunting new responsibility – or by contrast, it’s a boring old task that leaves you yawning. Interestingly, either way, the same technique can be used to spark our motivational mojo – and it’s described in Chapter 21, Playing to Your Strengths. To get started, simply think about something you’re particularly good at, and find a way to apply that talent to the task you’re stuck on.
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