Measuring the Quality of Your Day with a To-Be List (Not Just a To-Do List)

“Don't equate your self-worth with how well you do in life.  You aren't what you do. If you are what you do, than when you don't…you aren't.” ~Wayne Dyer

As you crawl into bed, thump your pillow to make the perfect little cave for your head to rest in, pull the covers up tight under your chin, and let go of that big sigh that indicates the day is finished, how do you look back on the waking hours you just experienced? How do you measure the quality of your day?

Measuring Your Day by What You Do

Most of us will measure our day by what we did. We will reflect back and count the things on the to-do list we were able to check off. The more check marks, the better.

How well we did will also come into play as we reflect back on our doing. The more praise we received for it, either the self-provided kind or that offered by others, the higher we rank our day in terms of quality.

We may compare our daily accomplishments to those of the people who trudged through the hours with us. “Did I do more or better that Jim, John, or Mary?” No matter how much we goofed up, if Mary goofed up more, than we can sigh with relief and call it a good day as we close our eyes for the night.

The Not So Good Days of Doing

What happens, however, if you never got done what you wanted to get done or if what you did was simply more of the same old drudgery that fills most of your days? If you didn't do what you had planned well or, heaven forbid, you screwed up royally and had others chastise you for it, chances are you are thumping your pillow a little harder than necessary.

Your ability to fall asleep may also be disturbed as you ruminate regretfully over all the things you did that you wish you didn't. Tonight you may be giving Mary something to smile about.

So is it safe to say you had a bad day when you didn't do enough or do it well enough? Only if that is how you choose to measure life quality, the way I did for most of my life.

Learning the Hard Way

I have given the Marys of this world plenty to feel good about over the years. I have spent many nights abusing my pillow and tossing and turning as I reflected back on the dids and did nots of my waking hours. I spent my days as a check mark addict, a praise dependent, and a competitive comparison seeker.

I was compelled to set one goal after the other; to constantly add “just one more’’ thing to my mile long to-do list. I believed I had to do in order to feel like I was enough. So I did and I did and I did until I could do no more.

I got sick. I was forced to cut back on the doing and face the reality of my situation. Now, I consider myself a pathological doer in recovery.

Most of us still measure the quality of our daily experiences, the quality of our lives by what we do. We seldom determine the value of our life experience by how we are or on the beingness of it all.

What would happen if we did?

A Day Based on Being Rather Than Doing

What if you and I ignored the urge to check out the check marks on our to-do lists before getting into our PJ's and brushing our teeth? What if we sat quietly somewhere before bed and reflected on how we were that day; how we felt and how others seemed to feel around us rather than on what we accomplished and who we did more than? Would the quality of our day change?

I know the quality of my life has changed since I began to measure my day differently. In fact, my life improved almost immediately when I began, at the end of the day, to reflect on the questions that really matter.

The Important Questions to Ask At the End of the Day

  • How was your day? Really?
  • Were you feeling peaceful and calm at certain points of your day? If so, you can give yourself lots of points for that.
  • Were you loving and compassionate with Mary when she spilled coffee all over the stuff you were working on, or did you refrain from honking your horn at the slow driver in front of you that made you fifteen minutes late for your appointment? Give yourself even more points, if you said yes. Your day score is getting better.
  • Were you mindful and aware of the beauty around you? Did you appreciate it? Did you whisper a few words of prayerful gratitude? If so, better still.
  • Did you seek stillness and quiet at some point for a few minutes at least? Did you take a moment to just breathe and observe the life force within you?
  • Did you reach out a hand of support or offer a few kind words to another, not because you had it on your to-do list, but because it was something you were inclined to do from the heart?
  • Did you smile often? Did you laugh? Did you find moments of unexpected joy? Did you seek them?
  • Did you love what you were doing or most importantly did you love the people around you?

Congratulations! All these things make for a great day.

Is There Room for Improvement?

Even if you have big beautiful checkmarks beside everything on your to-do list at the end of your twenty-four-hour time block, there may still be room for improvement in the being department. How would you answer the following questions?

  • How was your day? Really?
  • Were you tense, irritable, stressed out in the process of the doing?
  • Were you experiencing rage, impatience, or resentment for more than a few minutes today?
  • Did you complain or criticize a great deal?
  • Did you consciously seek to do more or better than someone else?
  • Were you unkind or unloving to anyone or anything, including yourself?
  • Did you fail to reach out to someone you knew was in need?
  • Did you forget to notice, let alone appreciate, all the beauty of life that was going on around you and in you?

If you said yes to a few of those questions above, maybe it is time to work on improving the quality of your day and of your life.

Take Heart: Tomorrow Will be Better

Don’t be too hard on yourself, though, for you are not alone. Many of us will answer yes to those questions if we are being honest. Most of us spend too many moments of our day diminishing its quality by getting too wrapped up in doing. Even in my recovery, I find myself slipping from time to time back into unhealthy doing.

Recognizing the problem is the first step to healing. The good news is, from that awareness, we can grow from the less than good days of being. We can begin to experience life the way we were meant to, with peace and joy.

All it takes to begin the change is three simple steps.

Steps to improve the Quality of Tomorrow

  1. The first step is to be more conscious, before you drift off to sleep, about how you are living your life regardless of the things you get done or do not get done. Use today as an example. Reflect, learn and grow from the hours you just experienced.
  2. Next, than doing. Of course you will have to do something but prioritize the living component over the doing component for the upcoming 24 hours.
  3. Finally, write a to-be list instead of a to- do list, for tomorrow. It may look something like this:

Tomorrow I will be:

  • mindful
  • aware
  • peaceful
  • a person who seeks reasons to smile and laugh
  • loving
  • appreciative
  • forgiving
  • thoughtful
  • supportive
  • still
  • quiet
  • faithful
  • honest
  • a person who simply wants to be

The quality of your life is determined by who you are, not by what you accomplish. We are, after all, human beings not human doings.

Let’s base the value of our day on that small bit of wisdom and live accordingly. Just be.

Now settle down and have a good night’s sleep. You have earned it!

About Nancy Daley

Nancy Daley is a mother of four, nursing educator, and freelance writer. She is actively seeking more being than doing in her day but admits it isn’t always easy. She is the voice behind Waking Up in a Busy World.

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  • peacefulAang

    What a wonderful article, I personally experience a lot of anxiety, as i try to accomplish so much in a day, and when i’m unable to, it really is a tough time to just be, the problem is even when there is nothing to do, still i ruin those moments cus i don’t know how to just be calm, peaceful and happy and feel like every moment i’m just panting all the way. I will keep this in mind.

  • Nancy

    Thanks peacefulAang for your comment. You are not alone in finding it challenging to be still and quiet. I think most of us find it challenging. It takes time and practice to unwire what we were conditioned to do but it can be done. I think the fact that you are so aware of your doing and have a strong desire to just be has already put you on the “healthy” track. I am hoping you will find a practice that works for you and will soon find yourself panting less and breathing deeply more. All the best.

  • mbfitz

    Gratitude beyond measure for this, Nancy . . . the timing absolutely stunning . . . cannot count the last most grueling months of struggling to reconcile strong ‘being’ and a ‘doing’ that could hardly register on any measurement tool. The last week has been excruciating . . . HOWEVER . . . just this a.m. you and an online teacher have lifted this ‘ me’ as if in a dream. Thank you for trusting your own insights and sharing these tools with all of us – tools to help us approach what may be the most important balance in our lives.

  • Kelly Seal

    Thank you for this – it was just what I needed today! I go through most days riding an emotional roller coaster tied to what I accomplished or how much praise I got. This is some much-needed perspective.

  • Nancy Daley

    Thank you for your very kind and thoughtful comment. It lifted this “me’ in my day lol. All the best with your being…and I am hoping the weeks ahead are much more peaceful for you.

  • Nancy Daley

    I am glad it helped Kelly. Thank you so much for your comment. Have a great weekend!

  • mbfitz

    Ahhhh . . . there you are, real you . . . thank you for listening and responding . . . You are mightily gifted . . . leading to that frequent, hopeful image that comes to mind – one of countless ‘you’s and ‘me’s and ‘us’es overwhelming the earth with peace, simplicity, acceptance, and care for all (including ourselves) . . .

  • Stephen C. Jones

    Just what I needed today! Thank you.

    I often become so task driven that I forget to step back and really think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.

    Enjoy the weekend!


  • Nancy

    Thank you Stephen! Have a wonderful weekend!

  • Molly Jones

    What an amazing message Nancy. Much gratitude for your eloquence. I’ve been struggling with measuring myself with my to do list since as long as I can remember. Everyday I am constantly obsessed with how much there is to do and how much I won’t get done because there is never enough time. It is all I ever think about. I asked a therapist about it once, wondering if there was some kinds fear driving this. She didn’t have an answer for me. The best answer I have is I was neglected as a child and this is how I search for praise and internal accomplishment. All of this of course triggering much depression and anxiety over many years.

    Now I’ve been meditating and practicing mindfulness daily for a couple years seeing some relief. I love your article because it gives me more motivation to focus on being and a practical approach to doing so. Finally something I can practice without wondering “my goodness, did I just add ANOTHER thing to my todo list? And is it going to provide any benefit. I’m confident it will. I can’t wait to begin.

    Much peace to you!

  • Shawn Austin

    Boy did I need to read this today! Because this is the real me and I am working in an environment that constantly challenges my inner principles. Thank you so much for reminding me what I really need to feel whole.

  • Rajveer Malhotra

    Hi Nancy I really learned and enjoyed reading it. It was all about inner engineering. Steps to improve wore amazing. Thank you!!! #respect

  • Nancy

    Thank you Molly! I am glad the article helped. I hope you found the answer that you feel you need to explain your “doing.” Regardless of the cause, however, it seems you are already heading in a healthy direction away from the tendency to add more to your “to-do” list through meditation and mindfulness. I think that is wonderful. Wishing you much peace, as well!

  • Nancy

    You’re very welcome Shawn! I hope you continue to feel real and whole! Thanks for the comment.:)

  • Nancy

    Thank you Rajveer for your comment. I am glad you got something from it. And yes I suppose the article did have some yogic or inner engineering ideas in it. I believe we make the biggest and most important changes in our lives, when we go inside. Thanks for reading.

  • carol

    Nancy-thank you for this wonderful insightful article! Very timely!

  • Nancy

    Thank you so much. 🙂

  • Angela

    Thank you for the refreshing perspective.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for your comment! All the Best.:)

  • Nancy

    You are welcome. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  • Rajveer Malhotra

    Your welcome Nancy happy with your reply. Thanks for writing. Lord Mahadev bless you with #Happiness #Joy #PeacefulMind @nancy keep writing.

  • Hakanasw

    Thank you for this post. I truly enjoyed reading this and it adds another perspective to daily reflections.

  • Nancy

    Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the comment.

  • Katherine Nally

    This was a good post, but I’d like it better if the person we were one-upping, or the person who might be ruminating on how we did in comparison to them, wasn’t a female. Why couldn’t it have been Jim who we wanted to do more than, or Jim who constantly compares himself to us and how much we got done? The little things matter.

  • Nancy

    Good point Katherine. I do agree that the little things matter. Thank you for your insight. To explain, I guess the article was written from my own perspective and I work with females. Regardless of the unintended gender bias in my writing, I am hoping that we can all put away our need to ruminate, compare or one-up anyone regardless of what defines them or us on the outside. Thanks for your comment…I will be more mindful the next time. 🙂