The Better Life: Small Things You Can Do Right Where You Are

The Better Life: Small Things You Can Do Right Where You Are

by Claire Diaz-Ortiz


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802412935
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Publication date: 06/01/2015
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Claire Diaz-Ortiz (@claire) is an author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, she holds an MBA and other degrees from Stanford and Oxford and has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. She writes a popular business blog at and is the author of the new book Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption (link:

Read an Excerpt

The Better Life

Small Things You Can Do Right Where You Are

By Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Pam Pugh

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2015 Claire Diaz-Ortiz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8024-1293-5



Like most of us, I want to be happier. Whether it's waking up with more spark or going to bed more satisfied with my day, I want to open my life to the opportunity for greater joy.

As such, I love to read books about happiness. My writer pal Gretchen Rubin has written a few of those, and in one of them she recommends a small, powerful idea that has taken hold to become a big, strong force in my own life.

That idea is to choose a word each and every year that represents the year you have in front of you. Rather, to choose a word for your year. (Oh, and take a cue from Gretchen: years don't need to start in January.) Choose one single word that imbues the type of year you wish to have, one word that can serve as a guidepost for what you want in the season to come. A singular word you can always harken back to in moments of darkness and doubt. One word that informs your decisions, crystalizes your passions and priorities, and embodies you — the new you! — in the months ahead.

Depending on the type of year you seek, there are many words that can do the trick. Words like Move, Pause, Breathe, Dance, Less, Family, Health, Travel, and Choose all hold a certain special sauce.

The guidelines are simple. The word can be a verb or a noun. It can be a long word or a short word. But it is key that the word brings together everything you fervently hope to live and breathe in the year to come. One word to inform and synthesize the year you have ahead of you. One word to mean everything you want the year to be, and one word that will help serve as a guiding light when times get tough and you're not clear on where your priorities are.

A few years ago, my word of the year was Rest.

It was a word that meant the world to me in that season of my life. I was harried and overwhelmed from a few too many years of corporate globetrotting, and I needed a daily reminder to do less. And so I did. Although my Rest might not have been as restful as the Rest that some might be able to enjoy (I saw nary a beach that entire year), my word still served as a key force in getting me to slow down. It helped me to make decisions, and to keep in mind what was really important when difficult choices arose.

Should I go to that social event — or stay home? Should I say yes to what could be a great opportunity, or pass it up to wait for something better to come along? Should I travel to that work meeting — or call into it instead?

When life and work calls for us to be busy, it is hard to slow down. However, by attempting to make this word forefront in my mind, I sought to make small strides that would lead to notable changes and positive transformation. I knew I wouldn't be perfect. I knew I would never get it 100 percent. But I did know that by setting the intention, I could make some progress.

In the end, I did. And you can, too. Set a word now, and watch your year rise up to take shape around it.



If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: The early bird gets the worm.

It turns out that cultures all over the world have concepts that convey the same idea.

Morning people get more done. Morning people are more effective. Morning people win more often.

The reality is that morning people do seem to get an awful lot accomplished, and even night owls have reported that short periods of morning waking have made them feel more productive, even if they really aren't.

As a self-professed night owl (or "late chronotype") who has worked hard to get up earlier, I can vouch that waking up in the morning earlier can make you feel you've done more. In contrast, doing a lot between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m., like many a raging night owl, invariably makes me feel behind when I drag myself out of bed at noon the next day. Waking at 5:30 a.m., watching the sunrise, and literally feeling that you beat everyone at the first competition of the day — getting up — is something that just can't be matched.

There are many reasons to try your hand at getting up earlier. Here are my favorites:

You get the best of you. If you're generally sleeping enough and you aren't suffering from health problems, then you should feel rested in the morning. In those first precious hours, you'll have energy in abundance to do what you need to do. This is the golden hour of productivity, and by getting up early you can use it to the best of your ability to kill your to-do list and really get rocking.

You get the best of others. I once heard someone say that people are nicer in the mornings because they haven't yet had the chance to have a bad day. It just might be true, and you just might benefit as a result.

You get quiet. Fewer people are around in the morning — in your house, in your office, and in the world at large. That means quiet, peaceful time for you to do what you need to do. Make the best of these moments.

Getting things done early makes you happier all day long. The earlier you get done the necessities, the better you'll feel the rest of the day, no matter what pops up to surprise you. You're also far less likely to be off-track at the end of the day, because you'll have at least gotten something done in the morning.

You're likely to get more done by the end of the day. Even if your workday is the exact same nine hours it might have been had you started work at eleven in the morning, by starting earlier you're likely to get time on your side through the simple art of personal motivation. The more you get done earlier, the more you're likely to get done as the day progresses. By the end of the day, you'll be farther along than you would have been had you started later on.

Even if you agree that waking up earlier is a good move for you, however, it's not (yet) possible to turn on a magic switch to make it happen. Instead, you've got to work a bit to make it a reality. Thankfully, it may be easier than you think. In my efforts do just this, I've learned a few key lessons:

Accept the Fact That You Will Be Tired at First

The first step in becoming a morning person is acknowledging that the initial adjustment won't be pretty. If you are not already in a state of perpetual exhaustion (I hope not!), when you try to go to bed two to three hours earlier than you normally do, it just isn't going to work. Thus, the result of the initial shift to waking earlier will be a tired, grumpy you no one wants to be around. Warn those around you, and remind yourself you're doing it for a greater cause. Better yet, try to combine it with that necessary red-eye flight you have to take, or that crying baby that just can't seem to get to sleep on her own (I have one you can borrow, if needed).

Immediately Find a Way to Reward Yourself in the Morning

Especially in the beginning, you've got to find a way to reward yourself for the effort of getting out of bed before the sun brightens the sky. What is one thing you wish you could do each day that you rarely give yourself time for? Reading a novel? Watching a TV show you love? Doing the Wednesday New York Times crossword (not too hard, not too easy)? In the beginning, do that one fun thing each morning to reward yourself for getting up and to make you excited to keep doing so. One day soon, you won't need it.

Start a Morning Routine

Once you've found a way to create the initial shift to getting sleepy earlier at night, and have done so for a few days in a row, you've got to find a way to develop a strong morning routine that will get you waking up at that same (early) time each morning. As we'll talk about, no one routine works for all breathing beings, and ultimately, it's all about finding a series of morning steps that work for you, and then making them automatic.

Soon enough, your (more) productive self will thank you.



No matter what time you get up, having a morning routine will help ground your day. Most days, I start my mornings with a seven-step process I have come to call the Present Principle. It's a simple routine built around the simple acronym P.R.E.S.E.N.T., which reminds me to implement the seven most important things I need to do daily to keep me present — and to do those things in the mornings.

My routine won't work for everyone, but I hope it will give you the inspiration you need to come up with a morning routine of your own that will lead you to success. As you'll see as you read through mine, the key to developing a routine of your own is to identify the handful of important activities you want to accomplish each and every day, and then to front-load them into your morning.

The 7 Steps in My Morning Routine (the Present Principle):


I start my days with a steaming cup of bulletproof coffee or tea and a prayer of guidance, thanks, and direction for my day ahead. Another way to think of this moment more broadly is as a "pause" — for prayer and contemplation. It's a critical way to start a busy life, day in and day out.


After praying and pausing, I dive into reading something inspirational and motivational. I generally work through one particular devotional for a few months, and sometimes have a few going at a time. Make sure to find one that speaks to you personally, and not one that someone else loves but you think reads like fluff (been there, done that). If you aren't into the idea of inspirational or spiritual reading at this groggy hour, think about a good read on business, leadership, or productivity that you can slowly work through sections of, day in and day out.


After reading, I then take my own thoughts to paper. I use a black Moleskine journal that has seen better days, but a Post-it note or Evernote document will do just fine. The key is just to get your feelings out there. Worries, thoughts, thanks, angst; anything and everything.


Now's the time in my routine that I sketch out an overview of my day and do a check-in on my week. I typically spend five minutes on this step — drafting my days schedule and checking in on the week at large. I do this on paper, with the goal of this step being offline, but you may find it works best to use your computer or an app.


I try to get in exercise of some sort every day (I run most days, except when my jogging stroller gets the best of me), and I find that doing it in the morning is the most effective way to keep at it. Experts say this is also smartest when working to form solid habits. Move daily, and you'll feel better.


Each day, do one thing that truly nourishes you. Go on a walk. Take a bubble bath. Read a novel. Talk to someone you love. Do something for you. It's fun to do this in the morning straightaway, but if not, put this off until later as a reward for getting your big tasks of the day done.


At the day's end, look back at how many of the steps in your routine you were able to accomplish. Can you do better tomorrow? Track your progress, and think about what is working and what isn't. This will better poise you to make tweaks and win long-term.

I'm not always perfect. Some days I don't do every step, and some days I don't do any of them at all, but trying to implement this routine each and every day has been an incredible motivation for me and has given me the conviction that morning routines can make anyone's day better and brighter.

Now you try it.



In 2008, I was in business school in England when Biz Stone, the cofounder of Twitter, came to visit Oxford University. By that point, I had been in touch with folks on his team for a few years: first, when the original Blogger crew found and promoted my travel blog to the world; and later, when the Blogger team and Biz started Twitter and they featured me as an early user, tweeting away from my life trotting the globe and living in an orphanage in Kenya.

During my time in business school, I had been thinking a lot about what I wanted to do next with my life. I had a strange background — having spent time in both digital innovation and in the nonprofit world of social change — and I wanted to marry the two. Silicon Valley seemed like the obvious place to do so.

During Biz's visit, one of our mutual friends told him I'd take him on a tour of Oxford. I'm not a very good tour guide, though, since I get lost even in my hometown of Berkeley, where my parents have lived my entire life. So that didn't seem like such a great idea. Instead, I introduced myself after he gave a talk to my business school class, and we hung out while some reporters asked him if it was true that Facebook was trying to buy Twitter. That evening, he sent me a text, telling me to come stop by.

I go to bed early, and England is cold in October, and I was already cozy in my small turreted room at an Oxford college, and I'm one of the more introverted people you'll ever meet. I wanted to say no. I really did. But a different part of me took over. The part of me that sensed that something might happen if I went, and that I should make the effort.

And I did. I put on the big tweed coat I had bought at the thrift shop the week before and walked all the way to where he was staying, the famous old jail that is now the fancy hotel.

And that night Biz said I should come work for Twitter. (There was more to it, of course, as I talked about what I wanted to do with my career, and what he wanted to build with Twitter, and how he wanted to use the platform to change the world, and why people called him Biz anyway, but I'm skipping over that part.)

And I did.

And it was one of my best yeses.



The year I decided to create a word of the year was the year I also tried to learn how to better say no. It made sense, of course. My word of the year was Rest, and as I learned almost immediately, the only way to rest more was to limit the things you say yes to.

When I had a choice between X and Y, I remembered my word. When I needed to make a decision between going out or staying home, I remembered my word. When I wanted to drink another double shot espresso and fire off a string of emails to world changers about things we should do together, I remembered my word. And this meant I had to say no on many occasions when my normally overactive brain and body simply wanted to shout YES!

Saying NO, as everyone knows, is hard. And so I had to work to get better at it.


Excerpted from The Better Life by Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Pam Pugh. Copyright © 2015 Claire Diaz-Ortiz. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Set Your Intentions
Become a Morning Person
Try the PRESENT Principle
Say Yes
Say No
Do Something Big
Find the Peace around You
Realize That Sometimes It’s Not Going to Be What You Thought It Would Be
Live through the Hurt
Keep up the Search
Be Open to See
Be Who You Are
Celebrate Your Real Life
Do a Good Thing for You
Learn to Waste Time Well
Quit Something Every Week
Stop Beating Yourself Up
Remember Practice Makes Perfect
Give Thanks
Live the Life You Choose
Do Good
Remember It’s Just Stuff
Learn the Art of Hospitality
Worry Less
Expect More from Life
Look for Help in the Right Places
Read More
Let Go
Write Now
Track Your Days
Be On Your Best All Year Round
Build on Small Early Wins
Do Less to Do More
Believe in the Power of Small Things to Change Your Life
Do the Thing That You Can Do

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Practical, witty, intelligent, and a well-articulated read, The Better Life wooed me toward the kind of journey I love—a simple, focused, meaningful life.
Mary DeMuth, author of The Wall Around Your Heart

I can't say enough great things about The Better Life. Each chapter had me nodding my head and having an aha moment. Claire Diaz-Ortiz has such a wide array of expertise. We all benefit from her wisdom with this book. From productivity to increased happiness to finding time for yourself, I loved the gentle reminders and wisdom she shares. This is a book you will read again and again. 
Alli Worthington, chief operating officer of Propel Women and author of Breaking Busy

Sometimes we forget that the moments that allow us to feel fully alive aren’t found in what we accomplish but who we become. In The Better Life, Claire reminds us that those moments are still possible and inspires us to make them ours, new once again.
Bonnie Gray, author of Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest

Claire is a force of nature—brilliant, compassionate, unstoppable. And this book, The Better Life, is her manifesto on living well.
John Sowers, author of The Heroic Path

I read The Better Life in one sitting—and it made me want to be a better person. Claire’s words are wise, transparent, and practical. They breathe hope into souls inundated with information and overloaded with pressure. They offer rest to the weary heart. Highly recommended. 
Emily T. Wierenga, founder ofThe Lulu Tree and author of six books including the memoir Making It Home

Claire Diaz-Ortiz is like a travel guide for life. Her stories and insights will give you a vision of where you want to go and practical steps that will help you get there. And the place you'll arrive at by the end of these pages will be more filled with joy, peace, and what truly matters to you.
Holley Gerth, bestselling author of You're Already Amazing

The Better Life is a super-motivating, practical, inspiring book that will help you live a more meaningful, intentional life without feeling overwhelmed. If you feel like you've been going through the motions and are aching to live out a better life, get this book stat!
Sarah Mae, author of Desperate and Longing for Paris

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