The Case for Taking Things One Day at a Time


We’ve all seen that mildly admonishing phrase bouncing around Etsy shops and Pinterest pages: You have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyoncé. Technically, yes. But we definitely don’t have the same number of assistants, nannies and private jets as she does, allowing her more control over how she spends her time. (Not in line for TSA, that’s for sure.)

In terms of getting sh** done, work or otherwise, blink and those sands will still keep pouring through the hourglass. So you push writing that email off until tomorrow and beat yourself up about not finishing that project yesterday. Yet, just like Beyoncé, we only have today. Even if she spends her day on a yacht. 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the hugeness of my business isn’t growing fast enough or it’s impossible to lose all this weight or how will I ever get over the divorce when your health, happiness and ability to pay your bills is affected. There’s only one way: day by day. No matter if you’re dealing with sickness, grief, heartbreak or addiction, one day at a time is the best, and only really, increment of time to focus on.

Abraham Lincoln even thought so.

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln

The concept of a year is too big. That’s four whole seasons, depending on where you live. A birthday, another riveting round of Is Mom Going to Cry on Christmas?, shorts, sweaters, snow, sun, all those lawns to mow and teeth cleanings to endure and mundane stoplight moments. I can barely remember what year we’re currently in, much less tell you that I want a best-selling novel to be published next year when I haven’t even opened the Google Doc yet.

What about weeks? Babylonians just made those up. We’ve all been duped into hating Mondays.

But days, now days, we can grasp. Your body works in increments of days, the sun works in increments of days. There’s a rhyme to a day, the energetic highs and lows that are ultimately bookended by bed, with comforting rituals in between. It’s easy to encourage yourself back on track day after day. It’s hard to veer off track for a year and then try to find your way back to the train station.  

In Twenty-Four Hours a Day, a series of meditations geared towards members of Alcoholics Anonymous, author Richard Walker wrote about the troubles of yesterday and tomorrow.

“Anyone can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when you and I add the battles of those two awful eternities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down. It is not the experience of today that drives us mad. It is the remorse or bitterness for something that happened yesterday or the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us therefore do our best to live but one day at a time.”

How beautiful is that? It reminds me of Anne Lamott’s classic, Bird by Bird. Here she explains the title. (And your new way of approaching life, if I have anything to do with it!)

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was 10 years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

Slow and steady wins the race, right? A day-by-day accumulation of knowledge, work, courage, money – whatever it is you’re working towards – adds up. Write a page of your thesis every day and suddenly it doesn’t seem so daunting. Putting aside $10 a day doesn’t seem like much until you max out your HSA with your savings come tax time.

So there you have it. Bird by bird. Day by day. Days in which we have the same number of hours as Beyoncé! *eye roll*

So what’s the art of taking things one day at a time? Here’s a start:

  • Focus on the next baby step, not the final result. I won’t bore you with a Tortoise and the Hare metaphor; you get the idea.
  • Find the time. Depending on your goal, you may set your alarm for a half-hour earlier than normal or eliminate watching that episode of The Office you’ve practically memorized again. Be mindful of mindless time – not to be confused with restful, relaxed time that’s good for you! – and realize where you can squeeze in the workout, painting session or online course that’ll help you achieve your goal.
  • Every night write five specific, micro to-dos for the next day. Don’t you dare write “Find a publisher for my book.” More like “Pitch Lauren at Random House.”
  • Today wasn’t so great? That’s okay. Shake it off and try, try again tomorrow.

And remember, as comic book writer Harvey Pekar once said, “Every day is a brand new deal, right? Just keep on working and something’s bound to turn up.”

So, tell us: what are you working on today?

BY Megan McCarty - August 31, 2018

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August 31, 2018 7:44 pm

Great article Megan! I’ve always hated that expression about Beyoncé because you’re right – she does have about a zillion people helping her accomplish her goals. Not to mention the voices of millions of fans encouraging her. Thanks for shedding light on the practical, and not-at-all-sexy idea of slow and steady.

Eva |

September 1, 2018 1:33 am

Great article!I especially love this ending quote “Every day is a new deal. Keep working and maybe something will turn up.” The last point you mentioned really spoke to me. If I apply it to college life then I see that if an assignment doesn’t go as planned or wasn’t that great I try again and work harder the next time. motivational words!

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