Imagine this: An envelope just dropped through your mail slot. It has your name on it. You open it up. Inside is a letter. The letter says,
Congratulations! You just won the time lottery. One day this month you get 24 hours all to yourself, no strings attached. You can push pause on all your commitments. You can put the world on hold. You can do whatever you want: no interruptions, guaranteed.
There's just one catch. It has to be ONE thing. One project, one goal. Your job is to build your own mountain that you can get up and down in 24 hours.
And that's all the letter says.
Who's it from? How'd they arrange this? Hey, don't ask too many questions; just accept the gift. Ah, but now you have a decision to make. What are you gonna do? How will you spend your one wild and precious day?
Now, I hear you saying: That's a cool little thought experiment. Too bad it could never happen.
But hold on: It does happen. Maybe not the letter through the mail slot part, but a "snow day," as we call it in Canada. An overnight blizzard has closed the schools. Something that was planned for you unexpectedly fell through. And suddenly you have this magic wrinkle in time that just opened up.
So, seriously: What do you do with it?
Maybe you brew a pot of tea and sit down and read a novel cover to cover. (When's the last time you did that? College?) Or maybe you start that blog you've been thinking about. Or maybe you decide, hang it, I'm cleaning my office—just tackling that job that's needed doing for a decade. Tomorrow when I can actually find things again it's going to feel so good.
About a year ago, I decided to raise the ante on this thought experiment. Could it work, as a strategy, in the real world? Could I make my own snow days? I called it a project and I gave it a name: One Big Day.
It goes like this. Once a month, I devote a day to a single thing. Doesn't matter what that thing is so long as there's a firm plan. (This much I now know: If you don't have a plan for a free day, it's going to go in a million directions. It's going to get colonized by other people's plans for you.)
I mark it on the calendar and clear the decks for that day. Sometimes this requires calling in favors. Luckily, I have a spectacularly largehearted wife who is on board with this, and the kids are on board with this, because they realize that the dad who returns from his Big Days "away" is a different guy than the dad who left. The guy who returns is superdad. Or at least superhappy dad.
Strangely, though, the most memorable Big Days I've logged so far aren't the ones that were engineered to make me happy. The best ones have all involved some kind of a test: a physical test, a mental test, or a spiritual test. (That's actually not a bad way to choose a Big Day: If something scares or intimidates you, it may mean you should spend a day marinating in it. That's a great way to loosen its hold on your amygdala.)
Sometimes a Big Day brings in money, but more often it doesn't. That's actually the hardest part of this whole experiment. To voluntarily step away from your income stream for even one day can seem like pure craziness—especially when you're living close to the bone as it is. But I think it's important not to get sucked in to taking Big Days and devoting them all to work. Because even the Big Days that don't pay do pay. They pay more. They just pay in ways that can’t be measured.
I discovered this after my first-ever Big Day, which I called "Go as far as you can under your own power." Most of us drive everywhere. We don't know how far this little two-stroke engine called our body can take us. I was curious—not just about where I would end up but what it would feel like to have done something like that. It was a totally impractical thing, really indefensible in any rational sense. But it was…magic.
And when I returned, having caught a ride back over the border, been dropped off jelly-legged at home, and locked up my bicycle and crept into the house, I found this waiting for me on the kitchen table.
See what I mean? I'm still poor. But I feel rich.