Earlier this month, I wrote a post called Re-Thinking Productivity to discuss some major issues I see with the way we view productivity today. Generally, and this includes myself, we’re very good at the “doing” part of productivity whether it be sending more emails, scheduling more meetings, making more money, etc. But we often spend the scantiest time and effort thinking about why we want to be more productive with “x”.
To me, this comes down to spending more time thinking about our priorities. What do we want out of life? What is most important to us now? Who around us do we want to impact positively? What is the legacy we want to leave? Big questions, yes, but the sooner that we start thinking about it and incorporating it into our lives, the more fulfilling our lives will be.
As part of my research around personal growth, I came across a book called Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith. Goldsmith is a world-renowned leadership coach and has written numerous bestsellers on leadership, strategic thinking, and behaviour change. He’s been recognized by Forbes as one of the Five Most-Respected Executive Coaches. In Triggers, he shares a framework called The Daily Questions that has since become in integral part of my prioritization and behaviour-change process.
In a nutshell, the Daily Questions is a way to help clarify your priorities and track how you’re progressing towards them. The exercise helps create awareness on whether your daily actions reflect your priorities. Awareness is the keyword here as most of us depend on our well established habits and routines to make hundreds of decisions everyday.* Without the awareness, we risk continuing to run on autopilot and not being able to make the key behaviour changes we need to reach our goals and dreams.
So how do we go about setting priorities and, more importantly, find a way to keep us on track and accountable with them? I’ll take you through a step-by-step process on how the Daily Questions work.
Step 1: Make a list of your priorities
Make a list of 10 priorites you currently have in your life. The list might include something like this:
- Be a better mother/father/spouse/partner
- Build stronger relationships with my friends
- Learn how to ______
- Eat a healthy diet
- Look into a side business to launch
- Give back to my community
- Meditate for 10 minutes
- Find ways to increase my income by 20%
Step 2: Turn them into questions
Take the list of your priorities and turn them into a question by adding “Did I do my best to…” at the start and ending them with “…today?” Here’s what the above priorities will look like in question form.
- Did I do my best to be a better mother/father/spouse/partner today?
- Did I do my best to build stronger relationships with my friends today?
- Did I do my best to learn how to ______ today?
- Did I do my best to eat a healthy diet today?
- Did I do my best to learn about a side business to launch today?
- Did I do my best to give back to my community today?
- Did I do my best to meditate for 10 minutes today?
- Did I do my best to find ways to increase my income by 20% today?
I find that the questions typically break into two types: habitual and goal-oriented.
Habitual questions like “Did I do my best to be a better mother/father/etc. today?” or “Did I do my best to build stronger relationships with my friends today?” have no specific end date. They’re ongoing questions to help you stay consistent with the priority on a day-to-day basis.
Goal-oriented questions focus on something you want to achieve by a specific end date. “Did I do my best to learn how to ______ today?” or “Did I do my best to find ways to increase my income by 20% today?” are both goal-oriented. At some point in the future, you’ll be hitting an end-point and achieving these goals.
With goal-oriented questions try to break them down and start small. For example, the question “Did I do my best to find ways to increase my income by 20% today?” is probably not an achievable goal in one day. So you may want to break up that goal into smaller pieces. Perhaps it may be “Did I do my best to read a book on a profitable side business today?” or “Did I do my best to spend 15 minutes exploring alternative career opportunities today?” Breaking up your priority into sections can help generate momentum for you.
Step 3: Rate yourself daily
At the end of each day, rate the effort on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being no effort and 10 being a full, complete effort. I’m emphasizing “effort” here because the results are not important at this point. You’re trying to develop a daily habit to be aware of this priority and take actions towards achieving that question. With consistent daily effort you’re automatically going to be working towards your goal.
In terms of tracking the scores, you can do it however you’d like whether that’s a piece of paper, an Excel spreadsheet, or something else. I like using Google Sheets because it’s accessible via the cloud and fairly easy to navigate.
You’re welcome to view a template version of my Daily Questions sheet here. To make your own copy, just go to File -> Make a Copy and safe it into your Google Drive. Alternatively, you can download the document as an Excel file by going to File -> Download as -> Microsoft Excel.
Whatever it is you’re using, make sure you’re recording it somewhere. Being able to compare the scores on a daily basis helps bring further clarity on how well you’re progressing with your scores.
Step 4: Repeat and reflect
Try this for at least next 3 months. Over the course of 90 days, you’ll collect enough data to see which priorities you’re progressing on and which priorities may not be getting the attention they deserve. At this stage, you’re just trying to get a baseline for yourself. Just because you have a low score on a certain question doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent/friend/team member/employee/etc. It might just mean the question you’re asking yourself isn’t a priority at the moment.
The key here is to take a moment, reflect, and ask yourself “Is this really a priority for me right now?” If the answer is yes, it’s time to think about ways to put your thoughts/words into action. If the answer is no, it’s a good time to rearrange your priorities. It’s quite a relief to realize that something you’ve been thinking about doing isn’t really a priority for you.
If you’re having trouble crafting your list of priorities and questions, check out Goldsmith’s original list of Daily Questions. They’re broader and likely more useful as a starting point if you’re stuck with your priority list. After a year of recording my scores, I’m still using most of Goldsmith’s Daily Questions.
Goldsmith’s Daily Questions
- Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
- Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today?
- Did I do my best to find meaning today?
- Did I do my best to be happy today?
- Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
- Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?
The beauty of Goldsmith’s questions is that they can be highly applicable for both your personal and professional productivity goals. For more on Goldsmith’s Daily Questions, you can check out my previous posts – Part I and Part II of Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday.
For additional support around crafting your goals and priorities, I highly recommend checking out Travis Hellstrom’s online course to Craft Your Purpose. It’s a fantastic program to help you clarify your values, key roles you play in your life, and ultimately be in control of your life. You’ll get a better idea of what your true priorities are by going through this program. Travis and I recorded a conversation that you can check out as well.
What would your daily questions be? Comment below or tweet me @peternakamura. Would love to hear what your priorities might look like.
*According to this study, 40% of daily activities are habits and not deliberate decisions made by a person.