Today is the only day that matters

I have two questions for you. First: are you trying to get something done? Maybe it’ll take weeks or months to finish, or maybe it’s a particularly demanding or frustrating task. It could be a phone call, an art piece, a blog post, or anything else that takes your time & effort.

Second question: when are you going to work on it? Let’s keep the question simple: if it’s a long task, you don’t have to finish it in one sitting. If it’s annoying, you don’t have to enjoy the process. All you have to do is work on it, and all I want to know is when.

You’ve read the title of this note, so you know where we’re going with this. I’m asking you these questions because the more I reflect on what I’ve accomplished (and what I’ve painfully delayed), the more I recognize that “tomorrow”, in this context, is a lie. It’s a self-directed sleight-of-hand that proves to be much more convincing than I think most of us want to acknowledge.

The trick is that there are two tomorrows. There’s the absolute tomorrow, the one where that meeting is scheduled, or that game comes out, or your visiting friend flies back to their hometown. Those tomorrows arrive on a perfectly monotonic cadence: you go to bed, you wake up, and all those things you knew would happen come to pass. But then there’s the relative or semantic tomorrow – the one that floats in front of us, distinguished from today not by time, but rather by name. This is the same tomorrow you hear about in lyrics and at the end of films. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this tomorrow; it serves its purpose in rhetoric flawlessly. Unfortunately, reality isn’t rhetorical, and your life isn’t a song or a movie.

We resign progress to tomorrow for a variety of reasons. Sometimes our todays are too busy, too overwhelming to try to realize something greater. Sometimes the todays just feel broken, like they couldn’t possibly be worth the extra effort. Be very careful with this framing: much like there are two tomorrows, there are two todays, and casting doubt on today can easily slip into devaluing the present, the ongoing state of the world. The present is the only frame of reference where you have any real agency!

Sure, the future is important. Tomorrow, in absolute terms, will always come. But when the question is about your personal goals, my belief is that today is the only day that matters, because today is where all the progress happens.

What can you get done today?

“Today is the only day that matters” is one of my mantras.