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What's a Big Day?

To knock off anything ambitious you generally need two things: unbroken time and sustained focus. But nobody has the first, and we’ve lost the muscle for the second. The solution – one solution, my solution – is Big Days. I’m suggesting you carve out one 24-hour block of time per month and devote it to a single task. When you clock back into your life the next day you’ll have put something significant in the books – be it soul work or work work. And no one will even know you’ve been gone.

One Big Days

Assemble a Barbecue

One Saturday morning not long ago, I popped down to Canadian Tire to buy a barbecue. There they all were, out on the floor, in their gleaming stainless steel hoods. I found one that looked pretty good. The cooking surface was huge – like the deck of an aircraft carrier. And the price was right. I thought,…

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Be a Movie Extra

There are a lot of rabid fans of The X Files. They’re probably called X-Files-philes. Jill Gardiner isn’t one of them. Okay, she wouldn’t kick David Duchovny off the pick-up soccer team for removing his shirt. But neither the show nor its star was the big draw on this particular day in September. Jill was…

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Harry Potter Marathon

Imagine you entered a pie-eating contest where each pie is richer and more delicious than the previous one. The last pie is baked by Julia Child. Trouble is, at that point you can’t appreciate the subtleties of the crust. You’re just trying to keep the thing down. This seemed to be what the girls and…

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Ride the Nearest Bone-Rattler

Sometimes we all need a good shakeup. You might argue that life itself does that job quite well on a regular basis, thanks very much. So let’s try again: Sometimes what we need is a controlled shakeup – one we know is coming, can prepare for, and be certain the whole deal will be over…

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Create Your Own “Fearless Challenge”

photo: Ryan Pfeiffer/Metroland THE CHALLENGE If you’d asked Franco Scanga five years ago what his number one fear was, he’d have given you the number one answer: speaking in front of strangers. But that was before he watched his father get cancer for the third time. It was a terrifying ordeal, one that put his…

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Read Your First Real Novel

Nine-year-old Lila hadn’t planned to blitz through her first actual, no-pictures novel in a single day. It just kind of happened. It was where it happened that proved a bit awkward. Late July. Thetis Island  — a stupefyingly tranquil haven in the British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. A perfect place to read. Except that, when you’ve…

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One-Room Makeover

  The mission: transform a bedroom from a disaster zone to a handsome and ridiculously functional teen cave. The plan: A three-stage process. First, the purge. Then the deep clean. And finally, as Alex Trebek used to tell Jeopardy contestants who crashed to zero, we “start building.” New paint, new furnishings, new mojo. The reveal…

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Wish Your Country a Happy Birthday

As Americans celebrate their country’s 241st birthday today, in Canada we’re still mopping the streets from our own shindig three days ago. This one meant a lot because it was a big round number. We turned 150. Some of us aren’t likely to be above ground come the bicentennial, so this was definitely the year…

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Stage a Marathon Jam Session

They knew it was a big bite — as big as the bacon-and-egg breakfasts they were enjoying in a London pub as they hatched the plan five years ago. But then, big bites are the whole point of fundraisers — as the three friends well understood. “We wanted the project to be mad in its…

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Be an Art Pilgrim: A Day at The Lightning Field

As I watched the caretaker’s truck disappear in a cloud of dust, headed back to the nearest town — Quemado, New Mexico — it dawned on me that there was a certain amount of blind trust involved here. Watch out for rattlesnakes, she’d warned. Eat the food in the fridge, sleep in whichever bed you…

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Two Dresses for Two Daughters

  Cher Primeau’s mother taught her to sew ten years ago, when Cher was pregnant with her oldest daughter, Meghan. “Mom’s an amazing sewer,” Cher says. “I’d have these visions in my head like, I need this special baby bib, and I’d explain it to Mom and she’d make it. Or she’d touch up clothes.…

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Invent Something

You know that list you’re keeping in the back of the sock drawer, the one with the great ideas you always intended to develop when life got less crazy? Well, push pause on crazy and bring that list out. One recent Saturday, I went into Shark Tank mode. What does the world need that I might…

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Visit Your Mom

    Should be beyond debate, right? Of all the things you can legitimately claim you are too busy to do, visiting your mother isn’t one of them. Even if you can only spare a single day. Even if she lives a plane trip away. Even if she can be prickly, and kinda draining. She’s…

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24-Hour Technology Fast

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a little while. Including you.” — Anne Lamott   After the US presidential election, a fair number of people went on a digital fast, apparently. It wasn’t so much a choice as a reflex: they recoiled from the social media had helped get Trump elected.…

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Paint-the-House Fail: my first botched Big Day

A coroner’s report would likely chalk up the spectacular collapse of Big Day #6 to overreach and underplanning – a deadly combo. The goal was to paint the house. Inside, not out. And just the main floor, if time got tight. How hard could it be? Originally I’d sold this as a summer family event…

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Listen to a Great Book

  If you’ve ever read a novel in one sitting, you know it’s a very different experience than nibbling your way through one over weeks or months or years. You’re dialed in. The characters are in your head—there’s no paging back to try to remember who’s who and where you are. The story is running…

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Walk the Longest Street in Town

Toronto’s Yonge Street isn’t just a long street. At 86 km, it’s the longest street in Canada, and one of the longest streets in the world. That makes what Kyle Park and Michael Carnevale did this past May long weekend pretty impressive. At twelve midnight on Saturday the two friends set out from the TorStar…

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Learn a Skill: Jack Williams Cracks Rubik’s Cube

One Saturday morning in January when he was eight years old, Jack Williams was seized with a strong notion to solve his Rubik’s cube. The cube had been a Christmas present — two Christmases ago. He’d noodled around with it for awhile and then, as small kids who get Rubik’s cubes for Christmas tend to…

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Undertake an Epic Family Quest

The Hero’s Journey is, mythologically speaking, a solitary venture. When you’re out there alone against nature and time and fate, you really have to double down on your courage to get back home to Troy. But who says one can’t have a great quest en famille? Imagine if you stumbled on an adventure so perfectly…

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Prepare a Speech

  What do you do if you have a big speech to give and you haven’t even finished writing it, let alone memorizing it? Take a Big Day. Go somewhere quiet and inspiring. And get ‘er done. Huge thanks to my pals Nancy and Iain for making available their cabin in Whistler for this, my…

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One Big Day Journal

Our Big Flag Day

The government of Canada is giving us a flag. Not just a flag — the flag. The one that flies atop the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The one on the twenty-dollar bill. That flag. Giving it to us. Just for being us. Turns out — we learned yesterday from a tour guide…

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In a world run by Hedgehogs, the case for the Fox

Consider the journalist with a narrowly defined “beat.” He covers baseball, or film, or federal politics. He gets to know that little patch of turf very well. He cultivates a pool of sources and develops a set of firm ideas. Eventually he becomes as expert as the people he’s writing about. That expertise is his…

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Have a Storyworthy Day

One day last year, a man from Bangalore, India — a place of both high-tech riches and grinding poverty — was overtaken by a nagging question: How do the beggars in this city of eight million spend their nights? What must it be like? He decided to find out. The next morning he took a bed…

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Alex Honnold’s Moonshot

Six days ago, the American climber Alex Honnold pulled off the unimaginable. Among physical tests a human could rise to in a single day, this must — in terms of the sheer brute jeopardy of it — be considered the Big Day to beat all Big Days. The 31-year-old “free soloed” the granite face of…

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The Marathon Paradox: Is Too Much of a Good Thing a Bad Thing?

A few years ago the writer and podcaster Tim Ferriss did the New York City Marathon. But not in the usual way. His was a “food marathon.” Instead of knocking off 26.2 road miles, Ferriss undertook to knock off 26.2 dishes, made by some of New York’s best cooks. He’d got the idea from a…

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