Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Three Keys to Keep You From Feeling Like a Failure at the End of the Day

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Josh Christophersen, who is a web developer, church planter, and blogger. He lives in Kansas City with his wife and seven kids and is currently working on creating a board game with his four oldest. Visit his blog at 31kings.com.

A lot of people go to bed at night feeling like a failure. Either they don’t get done what they wanted to do or what they did get done felt insignificant and unsatisfying.

How To Keep From Feeling Like A Failure At   The End Of The Day

Steve Jurvetson (Creative Commons)

Most people have hopes and desires of being successful, but for many, the problem is their definition of a successful day is undefined, vague, or unrealistic.

So let’s fix that.

Key #1: You have to be definitive

Many people are plagued by a vague sense of guilt that they’re not doing enough.

Until “enough” is defined, the voices will never be silent. And until success is defined, you won’t be focused on what needs to get done, much less accomplish it.

Defining success makes success possible. Defining the specific action items necessary to accomplishing success is what makes it practical.

So you can’t just define the outcome. You also have to define the process.

Key #2: You have to be specific

Some people have a definition of success, but their definition is too vague.

If your definition of success isn’t concrete, then any attempt at determining whether you’re successful (or not) will also be vague.

It’s no fun being unable to determine whether your day was a success or not. Merely hoping it was successful is a far cry from knowing it was.

A vague definition of success robs you of the satisfaction of knowing you ended your day well.

Key #3: You have to be realistic

Lastly, having a definition of success that is unrealistic sets you up for failure.

The more often your definition of success is unrealistic, the more often you will fail. And the more often you fail, the more often you’ll feel like a failure.

The more unrealistic your definition of success is, the higher your hopes will be, and the greater the let-down, which can make your heart sick.

So let’s put it all together…

What’s your definition of a successful day? That may be too broad of a question. So let’s be more specific, because each day is different.

What’s your definition of a successful today?

What’s the minimum that needs to be done to make today a success? Defining that allows you to create small wins that create momentum. Which empowers you to get way more done than any guilt ever could have accomplished.

Exceeding expectations leads to satisfying and significant work. So here’s how you can make tomorrow a success:

  1. Pick the minimum number of tasks required to make your day a success. Do this first thing in the morning or the night before, and try limiting the list to no more than three items.
  2. Do those things first. Make them a priority ahead of everything else.
  3. Get more done with whatever time is left in the day. Use that sense of accomplishment you feel to create momentum.
  4. Go to bed with the feeling that your day was a success (because it was) and do it all over again.

 What few things could you accomplish today that would make you feel like today was a success? Share in the comments.

About Josh Christophersen

Josh Christophersen is a web developer, church planter, and blogger. He lives in Kansas City with his wife and seven kids and is currently working on creating a board game with his four oldest. Visit his blog at 31kings.com

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  • Sarah Lentz

    Great article! I would also say that it’s important to do those specific things for the right reasons. Purpose plays a role in how we evaluate the worth of our actions–even the litany of mundane daily tasks that establish (however briefly) a bit of external order in our living space. Knowing why we do X, Y, and Z helps us decide what to do and how to do it.
    Thanks for writing this article. I’m always forgetting or putting off the making of any kind of list of things I need to do, so it’s no surprise when I don’t get much done those days. My days are full as a mom, but many days end with my wondering why I accomplished so little of importance. It’s not that I see so much of what I do as a mother as unimportant. It’s just that I often hear that nagging voice that says I’m not doing enough. That I could do more with each day than I’ve been doing.

    • Thanks Sarah, I totally agree with your emphasis on purpose playing a role in how we evaluate the worth of our actions. This article was actually inspired by the many talks I’ve had with my wife and other moms. It pains me that so many moms hear that nagging voice saying they haven’t done enough at the end of such busy days. Define what “enough” is so you can silence that voice!

      • Sarah Lentz

        Thanks, Josh. 🙂 That’s where I get stuck: defining “enough.” Have a blessed Easter!

  • Hi Josh! this is a very helpful article. Very timely too. You’re right, until we define what is enough, we will always feel like we’re somehow falling short and the voices of guilt will not be silent. Thanks for making me see that 🙂

  • Kate @ Indulgent Wellness

    This hit home with me…big time! I suffer from a major case of unrealistic expectations and my to do list is always 26 tasks longer than humanly possible. As a newly minted Chief Household Officer (Aka stay-at-home mom), I need to determine the baseline activities that define a successful day (taking car of myself and my family) and then prioritize the steps I want to take in my free time to pursue freelance writing. Thanks for these spot on suggestions.

    • Awesome. Realistic expectations are hard to set, but setting ourselves up for failure day in and day out is a horrible motivator for getting things done – especially as a mom.

  • I so needed to read this today. Both as a writer and as a mom of little ones.

    For me, keeping tasks to a minimum is most relevant to the latter and being definitive is to the former. 🙂

  • Guest

    This is so timely for me. I was in the midst of a blog post of my own when this hit my mailbox. Just came off a conference that excited me to make some major changes to my goals and my day. Amazing how this paralleled my thoughts. Thanks so much for this common sense post we should all know so well already but easily forget.

    • It’s very easy to forget. I think that’s why it’s really important to be intentional to make this a habit. Now that this is a habit for me, I notice much earlier in the day when I don’t do it and I’m able to make the necessary corrections to set my day on course.

  • Hope Clark

    This is so timely for me. I was in the midst of a blog post of my own when this hit my mailbox. Just came off a conference that excited me to make some major changes to my goals and my day. Amazing how this paralleled my thoughts. Thanks so much for this common sense post we should all know so well already but easily forget. http://www.chopeclark.com

    • Sorry Hope, I just realized I replied to your other comment. Here’s my reply: It’s very easy to forget. I think that’s why it’s really important to be intentional to make this a habit. Now that this is a habit for me, I notice much earlier in the day when I don’t do it and I’m able to make the necessary corrections to set my day on course.

  • Richard Peeke

    I will print this off and stick it over the computer!
    Inspirational.
    Thanks

  • Helpful, but success is also dependent on living out our values, not merely accomplishing significant tasks. Asking at the end of the day ” was I true to what I value the most in life ?” For me, accomplishing meaningful tasks has to be partnered with the higher value of being kind and loving, to myself as well as to everyone I encounter, of being generous and gracious. Evaluating the kind of human being I was while doing my set tasks during the day and living true to myself is what brings peace at the end of the day.

    • Norma, you’re absolutely right. That’s another post, for sure. 🙂 Satisfaction that comes from getting done what you want to get done, while neglecting the much more weightier things like love, kindness, generosity, and grace is a false comfort and the most ugly form of “success”.

  • Julia Tomiak

    You make it sound so easy!! But I know that I often get discouraged when thinking about the big picture- these simple steps should help me stay focused and positive- today! Thanks.

    • Yeah I know, right? 🙂 I can attest from personal experience that it’s not easy to develop this into a habit, but after it becomes a habit, it’s so much easier. Thanks for reading!

  • maria smith

    I used to have many unrealistic goals that I couldn’t reach, or I used to break my neck to try and achieve them, but since I took a step back and had a real look at what was happening, and why I was feeling so miserable, I got back on track!

    You are quite right, we all need to define what good enough is? I do make a list every day, and I try to do the top three things first. Anything beyond five, I class as a bonus. And I never have more that ten on my daily list now. They range from big tasks that might take an hour or two, like rewriting a chapter of my novel, to nipping to the shop for vegetables for dinner, which takes ten minutes, but if left have dire consequences later. No vegetables, no dinner, and so on. That knock on effect was stressing me out and making me ill.

    I feel much happier now I’ve defined what I need to do, and what I want to achieve, and yes I get more done too!

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Debra johnson

    I agree, this is timely. As I lay in bed last night I was beginning to wonder if my days – and writing – were a value to those who read them, whether it was a blog post of ebook. My main concern is working to combine fiction and non fiction and have it be good. I have a great job and one of the things that have become a challenge it to get the info out there I need to get out in a way that makes sense to me, and that is what I am working on, so success to me is getting the info first and putting it into a fun easy way to read and understand the info without it getting lost. So far when I can go to bed knowing at least two of my many stepped mission is accomplished I’m happy. Now to add exercise to that list…

    • Defining success is easy compared to adding exercise. 🙂

      • Debra johnson

        This is true, any suggestions for an outta shape athlete who has arthritis

        • Sorry, arthritis advice is not my forte. 🙂

          • Debra johnson

            Hehe , not a problem, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. have a good day

        • Lynne R McAnulty-Street

          “PolyFauna” – a game for the iPad. Look for it for any portable device you own: mobile phone, tablet …
          Makes you move – and I mean M O V E – to hunt and find the attacking red dot. And moving the tablet, iPad etc while sitting down isn’t enough- you have to get up and Walk, Bend, Stetch to search the sky, spin around as it zips behind you.
          You’ll get exercise alright – stretching, balance, moving… But you’ look to anyone else like a complete drunken loon!

          • Debra johnson

            Never heard of that, will look into it, but just have a laptop. Thanks,

  • For the past 6 years, I’ve had a morning routine called “The PEACE System” that’s helped me prioritize what really matters and keeps me on track. There are 5 key areas of success that I try to make a point to focus on (Faith, Family, Fitness, Fortune, and Freedom). It’s not always possible to hit all 5 areas each day, and sometimes I an “double dip” by doing an activity that applies to multiple areas, but when I can hit those areas first, I know my day is successful, regardless of what else comes my way.

    • 6 years… that’s excellent!

      • There are days that I don’t do it, and when I don’t I REALLY feel it. It’s been a big contributor to not only my SENSE of success, but my actual accomplishment over the years.

  • Nadyne

    Hi Jeff! Reading your inspirational emails, make me feel like a success and I feel like I’m somebody by just knowing you! Thank you a million times over!

  • Lynne R McAnulty-Street

    IF I had planned three activities to fulfill today, they would have been to complete writing and distributing the Orchid & Bromeliad Society’s members’ Newsletter ⭐️, to write for Camp Nano ⭐️, and to get some exercise ‘stead of couch surfing ☔️.
    Maybe if I Had made me a checklist, I would have hit 3 of 3!

  • Oustanding Jeff!

    For me, being realistic is the hardest. Even though I know it takes 2x as long as expected to accomplish most significant tasks, I still think I can accomplish more in a typical day than I actually can. I’m getting better with my expectations, but still tend to try to do too much (smile).

    • I’m with you Kent. I have the same problem. I usually try to keep my initial list to no more than 3 to prevent this from happening. I can alway add more if I get those three done.

  • gene bourland

    I believe the picture shown is of the crash of Columbia space shuttle. If that is correct I find the choice of that picture revolting given the article and discussion. It was offensive.

    • I’m sorry you were offended Gene. If that were true it would be understandably offensive. It’s actually a picture of an unmanned personal rocket.

  • aliki russo

    Thank you Josh. I just ran across this. I used to make lists of what I was going to get done and somehow I got away from it. This idea of allowing myself to be happy with as few as 3 accomplishments a day should really help me feel like I have more time for myself and my daughter.

    • Get back to it! Life is too short to miss spending it on the things that are most important, like spending more time with your daughter.

  • Krizelle

    Wow! This is very motivational. I mean, yeah, you’re right. One has to have that clear definition of success in a day so as to feel good before you sleep at night. Thanks for this post, Mr. Christophersen. 🙂 It also reminded me of an idea to “Eat your frog” which means to accomplish the hardest task first thing in the morning so you can do your thing for the rest of the day. 🙂 Life indeed is measured not on how long you live but the quality you put into each day. 🙂 Have a great day, everyone! 🙂

  • Ahmed

    This was incredibly insightful, and like other people who have commented rightly said motivational 🙂 3 of the goals I would say I have set for myself that are realistic enough for my to tackle are:
    1. Putting in at least 2 hours of job searching for writing jobs and other forms of employment.
    2. Working on current or brainstorming future projects and writing down what I’ll need to complete them next day.
    3. Take time to do something relaxing yet creative.

    Yeah, think I’ve got the hang of it already 🙂