Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it. –Margaret Thatcher

From time to time, I revisit this quote, which I’ve carried in my subconscious since I first read it. Each time it occurs to me, I find it brilliant all over again. I take mental inventory of my own experience, and I can’t find a single exception to this axiom. On the contrary, my ever-lengthening accumulation of days can be segregated into those that support it from the positive side and those that support it from the negative side.

On the positive side, my most satisfying days have been packed with activity. One day that comes to mind, for example, found me driving home from a video shoot in Wisconsin. Along the way–I was in the back seat, not driving!–I planned a menu and compiled a grocery list for the dinner party I would host the next evening. In the hours that followed my 4pm arrival at home, I hugged my son as he left for a weekend with his dad, sped to the Y for a run, bought ingredients for the 20-person dinner party, returned home to shower (left the groceries in the car, preserved by sub-zero temperatures), and dashed downtown to watch my daughter sing with her choir. I then made my way back home, unloaded the groceries, cranked out a couple of batches of homemade pasta, prepped the braciole and chicken Marsala, made desserts and sides, and cleaned up the kitchen. As I fell into bed at 2am, I was exhausted–and exhilarated.

On the negative side, I learned through experience that there is nothing worse than being bored at work. Many years ago having just come back from maternity leave with a freshly minted MBA, I found myself with little to do. In preparation for my time off, my boss had divvied up my previous responsibilities. He made the changes permanent, intending to provide me with a new assignment upon my return. The plan worked great, except for the new assignment part. For a few months, that assignment didn’t materialize, and I found myself desperately treading water. Oh, I made sure I had activities to occupy my time, but those often consisted of reading and learning about the business; I didn’t feel as if I were accomplishing anything or contributing to the company’s daily forward motion. I was bored, and I felt worthless. I hated that period of time when I didn’t have a to-do list, let alone a task to check off. (Trust me, that has since been remedied!)

It’s important to note that this quote focuses on feeling satisfied, not feeling happy or content or anything else. It has to do with a sense of accomplishment. There are certainly days when I feel very happy with a latte, a good book, and nothing else to do. Along with everyone else, I need those once in a while. Those aren’t the days that leave me feeling fulfilled, however. Mrs. Thatcher is right–I need to make a list and get it done. Checking off that last item feels great.

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