“Put yourself at the top of your to-do list every single day and the rest will fall into place.” ~Unknown
We live in a busy world. There is always something, or someone, fighting for our attention. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s easy to lose the time we need for ourselves. The white space in our days is often the first thing to get squeezed out as demands on our time escalate.
To combat this pull to overwhelm, I decided to create a list of daily non-negotiables.
Having a list of non-negotiables means I get to control at least a portion of my day. I can ensure some of what is important to me, keeps its space when everything else is at risk of being crowded out.
The Daily Three
My daily three, as I have coined it, includes time for the following.
Let’s break each down.
This is time for either a formal movement practice (most often bodyweight strength work, some weights, or yoga), an informal mobility flow and stretching what is tight, or just a long walk. Some days will include a combination of all.
I believe deeply in the power of a physical practice. Regular movement is good for the mind and body. It energizes and nourishes us. It can also boost our mood, reduce chronic pain, and help us sleep better at night. All good reasons to make movement a priority in our days.
And this time doesn’t have to be something we dread, like an early morning trip to the gym (personally, I love these). We can also introduce an element of play. Discovering movement on a deeper level. Rediscovering that childlike quality of just enjoying being in our bodies and seeing what they can do, whether that means dancing, tumbling, hula hooping, playing frisbee, or running down a hill, arms flailing, like we did as kids.
There are many ways, we can settle on what works best for us but also experiment, peppering our day with mini-movement breaks.
Time to reflect, to ponder. Time to absorb. Time to reset and replenish. Time to be.
Some will use this time for a seated meditation. I prefer long walks (which, along with writing and yoga, are as close as I get to a formal meditation practice).
This is also my time for listening to music. Music settles my mind on the busiest of days, bringing me back to myself. For others, it may have the reverse effect, but this works for me.
Less frequently this space will also mean time for a more indulgent self-care routine (massage, sauna, steam, etc). Time to switch off and be pampered. We all deserve some pampering occasionally.
Time in stillness can often mean thinking of how I can be of service to others and the world around me in some small but meaningful way. This could be a random act of kindness or something more substantial. While self-care and time inside our own heads is important, so is time spent thinking on how we can make the world a little better for those around us.
This is also the time for a gratitude practice. Thinking of one to three things I’m grateful for today. Big or small, they all count.
Making space for a gratitude practice is one of the most powerful changes anyone can make to their lives. It shifts the lens through which we see the world. When we feel gratitude, true appreciation and joy for something, it’s hard to stay in a negative space. When I think about being grateful for something (or someone), my mind clears, it focuses purely and simply on the act of being grateful.
Too often in life, our mind wants to zig and zag. Striving for the next thing and the next. Planning and plotting ahead. Dwelling on the negative, what we are missing, what we did wrong, how far we are from our goals, how we dealt with a situation in a less than optimal way. This negative bias and future-creep does not serve us well. We suffer.
Instead, we need to be a little kinder to ourselves and detach from our expectations of what could or should be. Making time in our day for stillness acts as an anchor to bring us back to ourselves. It’s grounding.
Time to learn something new or dig deeper into an area of interest.
This will usually involve reading (or re-reading) a book, listening to a podcast, or listening to someone smart.
Sometimes it might be a passage from a favorite book I come back to or a quote that speaks to me. I collect quotes for my writing, but there are several favorite ones I return to over and over. They always provide me with inspiration and are a source of energy.
This can also be time to go deeper on a subject in a more expansive way. A course, workshop, or some time with a coach of some sort. Doubling down on a subject we are passionate about. Investing in our knowledge.
Why Have a List of Non-Negotiables?
Your non-negotiables may be different than mine, depending on your needs and values. Regardless, this practice ensures we prioritize the things that serve us (or we need) amongst other priorities. Writing them down and having them in our mind’s eye keeps them present.
This can be time for self-development and self-care. Time to grow, time to reset, time to reflect. Time to slow down.
This is positive fuel that we can run on. A foundation to launch from.
A daily frequency is particularly important when establishing a new habit. Once ingrained you may wish to revert to a less frequent practice.
A better question might be; if it’s important, why not daily?
Because it’s not too many or too few. Three is doable. You might prefer more, or less, if you give a similar practice a proper go. Experiment and keep what works for you. As my examples have shown, I have been liberal in what my three encompass, I encourage you to do similar.
The Time Conundrum: Doing What You Can, When You Can
When life gets busy, it can be tough to find any free time in your days, especially if you have young children (or babies) to see to, or elderly dependents that count on you.
The good news is you can work your non-negotiables into the time you have available. A short five minutes here or there, between other responsibilities, adds up.
If you have trouble making time for half an hour of seated meditation every morning, perhaps you could reduce the pressure and instead allow five to ten minutes before you go to bed (or even in bed) each night instead. Or use a meditation app on your phone for your day while walking from work to home. As I write this, in our home, we are currently experimenting with some Yoga Nidra time just before bed.
You can even look for opportunities to combine some of these non-negotiables with your other daily activities—for example, dancing with your kids so you get the benefits of movement while bonding with your little ones.
The important thing is that we make at least some time for things that are important to us and for us, a promise to ourselves and form of self-care. Some days we might have more time, some days less.
There is no right way to do this. We all work from where we are and with what we have. These non-negotiable elements should add to the quality of our lives, not create an additional stressor.
So long as we make a little time for the things that nourish and energize us, we will reap the benefits.
Experiment, make your own list of daily non-negotiables, and feel the power of this simple habit.
About Carl Phillips
Carl writes short books full of big ideas. He is also the proud owner of Frictionless Living which is focused on helping readers find and live their own version of a simpler, good, life.