Why every day should be your day before vacation

Updated to Habits, Life on December 27, 2022.

I’m leaving tomorrow for a week of racing and paddling and something unusual is happening.

Monday through Wednesday I crossed a bunch of stuff off my Flight Plan, but it was a battle to stay on task.

On Thursday I was side-swiped by client requests and helping team members get stuff done. I felt defeated.

But, today is different! Today has been phenomenal.

It’s the day before vacation and I’m on fire. Nothing stands in my way. I’m saying “Yes” to overdue decisions and “No” to invitations I knew long ago were a waste of time.

Heck, today I’m so damn good I should be wearing a cape.

Before I get to what’s going on, let’s take a wee step back, shall we?

Stop wrestling the monkey

Our world is no longer the 9-5, single-task, day-in, day-out routine our parents enjoyed. No sirree.

Old strategies, like writing a tidy little list every morning and then dutifully crossing tasks off one by one not only don’t work, they’re stupid.

Trying to get work done is like wrestling a monkey, with one hand tied behind your back and holding a banana. The monkey wants to win and you want to get away. Good luck with that.

Sure, it’s frustrating to fight your way through a sea of distractions (like 18 emails about a staff barbecue) to get to important work, it’s also tiring. You sat down an hour ago, fired up, take-out coffee at your side, ready to take action. Now it’s 10:30, and you’re experiencing decision fatigue.

By allowing dozens of micro-decisions to creep into your morning – read that email? make that call? check my Instagram feed? ask my client for more time? – you sap yourself of self-control.

In other words, when you’re forced to make lots of little decisions, it becomes increasingly hard to make big, important decisions. In short, you screwed yourself.

And then you have a day like I’m having today and wonder…Hmmm, how is it that today is SO MUCH BETTER than yesterday?

The trick is you have to stop wrestling the monkey.

The Day Before Vacation Phenomenon

On those days stuff gets done, you make decisions, procrastination takes a back seat—you’re at the wheel and in charge.

Sometimes the stars align and you have a brilliant day. Not often, but on those days you get stuff done, you make decisions, procrastination takes a back seat—you’re at the wheel and in charge. It’s sweet.

It might have been a last-minute effort on a proposal or you nail a presentation to a client. You stayed focussed, didn’t wander off into email land and worked from a plan.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a day like that…every day?

Like the day before vacation when urgency to get stuff done and get out the door beats distractions. It’s days like this when you are performing at a higher level.

Sure, you’re working a bit harder, but the results you enjoyed far outweighed the extra effort. Plus, you feel successful.

The secret is to make every day the day before vacation.

No, you don’t have to cash in your RRSP (if you live in Canada) or 401(k) and book a flight to Cancun. You need to think like you’re going on vacation.

You need urgency.

The reality is you know how to do this:

  1. Plan the day before.
  2. Work from a plan.
  3. Work in blocks of time on one task/project at a time until complete, or you hit a milestone.

Here’s what you DON’T do:

  • keep one eye on email, Slack, SMS text, Instagram, Facebook, or a picture of your dog ‘Woofy’ AND try to get stuff done.
  • abandon your working list in favour of some email rabbit hole that ends with “Thanks, I’ll get back to you.”
  • write 300-word emails when one decisive sentence could nail it.
  • think about (and then think about some more), picking up the phone, deleting that email, or crossing an old task off your list. In those moments, remember Tim Ferriss’s advice “Let small bad things happen.”
  • work at your desk for 2 hours without water, food, movement, or to pee. If you wear your body down, your energy and mind will follow.

I have a small sign “Today is the day before vacation” over my desk to remind myself that instead of more time, urgency and decisive action is what gets me the results I want.

Aren’t you ready to make today your day before vacation?


Want to read more about self-control?

Why you need to take back control of your life
How drinking tea can make you rich (and build willpower)
12 ways to build kick-butt confidence by taking action