As with many couples (I’d imagine), over dinner my husband and I typically ask each other: “How was your day?”. A common initial response from either one of us might be a word like “fine”, “ok”, or “decent”, which means the day was basically average and not particularly remarkable as either very good or very bad.

One day recently, I responded with a fairly enthusiastic “good!”, and when my husband asked what had been good about it I struggled to actually come up with a concrete reason why I’d felt my day was better than average. There wasn’t any significant or specific event I could point to that had made the day a good one. That seemed strange to me.

The next morning when I got to work, I went over my calendar, email, and Slack messages from the previous day and tried to run through what I had spent my time doing, and how my interactions with other people had gone. I was trying to figure out what combination of small things had added up to a good day. I figured that being able to more consistently and purposefully orchestrate a good day in the future depended on knowing what a good day actually consisted of!

As I thought more about this over the few weeks, and continued to observe the characteristics of what I felt were better or worse days, some things slowly started to take shape. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Accomplishments and activities that contribute to a good day

  • Do something to learn/think outside my own context (can be as simple as reading an article or watching a short video)
  • Make some kind of connection with my network or the community (e.g. participate in a Twitter discussion, connect with someone outside my company via email or for lunch or coffee, maybe do a small task related to my KWSQA volunteer work such as encourage someone to submit a talk proposal for our conference)
  • Provide useful coaching or feedback to someone (ideally, one of my direct reports, but could also be someone else at my company or even outside of it)

Scheduling and logistics that contribute to a good day

  • Start day by reading and responding to email and Slack messages (hard to concentrate on other tasks until I know I am up to date with communications; so I should try to arrive at work with sufficient time to do this before my first meeting)
  • A block of uninterrupted time to accomplish something (~2 hrs seems good; doesn’t matter exactly what the thing is, as long as it is important to me. Preferably in the morning while my brain is still fresh, and to get my day off on the right foot.)
  • Have 1, or at most 2, 1:1 meetings with team members (more than 2 can be quite draining for me, but less than 1 feels like I don’t have a good pulse on how the team is doing)

Things that contribute to a good week

  • At least one day that is light on meetings; or, a combination of a couple of free mornings/afternoons is also fine
  • Initiate at least one way for my team to interact as a whole, either socially or for work related purposes (we’re a larger group, so often people are split across many different areas of work and I want to make sure I provide sufficient opportunities for team cohesiveness and information sharing)

Anyway, this is what I’ve figured out so far - I’m continuing to observe and monitor this. I also realize that the “requirements” can and most likely do change over time, so I guess it will be an ongoing thing to reflect on.

I’d highly recommend taking a bit of time to think about this topic for yourself, if you can - I feel a lot more in control of being able to create the conditions that will lead to good days and weeks. Of course, I’m not always going to be able to make it happen, and sometimes one bad event can strongly impact an otherwise good day. But I have definitely noticed that I am starting to use more positive words more frequently at dinner time!

Written on March 13, 2022