When you went to bed last night, how did you feel about your day? Did you use your time well?

Days quickly come and go, and as a result, we feel the mounting pressure to make our best days count. But monotony and misuse of our time can leave us with nothing significant to report, and then we fall into ruts.

So who are you when nobody else is looking? Are you who you say you are, or somebody completely different?

Every evening has a mood, which usually serves as a reflection for how our days are spent. Did you accomplish what you had planned today? Or was it a complete misuse of your time? Some nights we feel like we’ve been walking on sunshine all day — highly productive days breed positive results — while others feel like missed opportunity after missed opportunity. As though we’re coming up short on the expectations we have for ourselves and others have for us. Whatever the mood, a lot of it is based in how we spend our time, whether we seize it to do what we’re on this planet to do, or if we squander a perfectly good day.

But it’s not just how we spend our time, it’s that we’re smart about how we spend it. Tom Brady recently said you can practice football all day, but if you’re practicing the wrong plays, you can get real good at doing the wrong thing. The key is to find the best way to do something, what works for us, and then commit to doing it well routinely.

Perception Isn’t Always Reality

While many of us go through the day with a clear depiction of who were are and what our days are meant to accomplish, there are still many of us who have a false sense of who we are and how the world perceives us.

A perfect example is the novel writer. Movies and television tell us he lives a decadent life, exploring the underbelly of life. Maybe he travels to romanticized places, drinks white wine in the afternoon, has wildly unplanned sex with a woman he just met, gets lost in the proverbial dark alley and maybe lives long enough to make it home and write about it, if he’s not too drunk or passed out. This might even be a perception that his friends, readers and even the writer himself have, but the reality usually is far from the projection. Reality might very well be pajama pants, dry cereal and a deadline he can’t hit if he doesn’t get off his phone and YouTube. Reality might be a lack of insurance, direction or ambition for what the days ahead may offer. Reality might be total misery, even though it’s one of the most romanticized professions. That may be the world he inhabits, whether it’s the one he chooses to share or not.

What’s important is to have a healthy perception of who you are and what you do. You know what’s expected and you have goals, and your ambition to exceed expectations. You have a clearer idea of what you need to accomplish each day.

Set Daily Intentions to Start

First off, start the days early. There’s no worse feeling missing the morning and waking up well past the prime of the day, which is a great time to find a routine. In the early morning, there’s more space to do things you love before you’re subject to meetings, analysis reports, bad news and backlash. It’s where we find time to stretch, read, eat well, go for a long walk and enjoy the things we have to put on hold while we work. It’s where we find time for gratitude.

Before you set off into your day, take a beat and pause long enough to set intentions for what you want to accomplish. What are the tasks, what lies outside the plan you’d like to get to if you have extra time and what do you really want to knock out of the park to justify that glass of wine or frosty beer at the end of the day? Whether it’s in our heads or on a list, it should be with you throughout your day. And there’s no harm in checking in on how it’s going halfway through it.

Check Yourself Each Day

As your day draws to close, take another beat to check in with your goals for the day. It doesn’t hurt to be outside enjoying nature while you contemplate.

How’d you do? Did you cross everything off your list and still have time left for a couple of unplanned wins? Maybe you even had a second to call your mom back. Or did you waste hours on the internet and social media, fall behind and scramble to make something to show for your day, only to come up with some weak, brittle excuse for a day that looks like it could fall apart at the seams?

It’s in these reflective moments we decide what kind of day it was overall and how we’re going to feel before heading to bed. And if the writing isn’t on the wall, your sleep quality is usually a good indicator. Do you lie awake, flopping around like a fish, thinking of all the things you should’ve done differently? There’s no use in that; all you can do is try to do better tomorrow. But with more discipline than you had today. We have to hold ourselves accountable; no one else will.

Who You Truly Are v. Who You Can Be

Outside the context of work, consider how you spend your time. Do you spend a lot of time angry or a harsh judge of yourself? Maybe you spend more time hating yourself for the past or not having enough planned for the future to enjoy the present moment. Or maybe you’re too distracted by it all to use the moment to make things better.

If you say you’re dedicated to writing a book, but you spend all your free time gaming, that’s who you truly are. If you tell people you’re vegan, but you cheat by using all the vegan loopholes, that’s who you truly are. If you say you’re a family man, but you don’t enjoy the time you have with them, that’s who you truly are. So focus on what’s important to you, for the short and long run, and get better at making them your priority.

Complaining Negatively Rewires Your Brain (Gratitude Can Bring You Back)

If you’re trying your best but you spend all your free time being hard on yourself, how will you ever be happy? The harshest critics have nothing on the mental abuse we can do to ourselves. So be strict and hold yourself accountable, but also go easy on yourself, too. And reward yourself for the small wins.

We are how we spend our time, simple as that. Take some time to examine what you want for yourself and if the path you’re on is going to get you there, or is it taking you someplace you don’t wish to go? Then take a long look at how you spend your time and see if it aligns with your goals. If you find yourself in a routine of subpar weekdays in which you try to justify your unhappiness by living for the weekend, you might be pissing some of your best days away.

There’s no worse feeling than not being who you want to be, and even worse not being who you were meant to be. But there are few feelings better than being just that and doing it well. So get up early tomorrow and get to know that guy.

Let your best days begin now.

Cover: prostock-studio (Envato Elements)