Living a Prioritized Life: A Guide to Using Daily Questions

Living a Prioritized Life: A Guide to Using Daily Questions

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.

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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

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  2. Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today?
  3. Did I do my best to find meaning today?
  4. Did I do my best to be happy today?
  5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  6. 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.

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*According to this study, 40% of daily activities are habits and not deliberate decisions made by a person.

Re-Thinking Productivity

Re-Thinking Productivity

Productivity has been a popular topic for quite some time now. Ever since the industrial revolution introduced a focus on maximizing worker productivity we’ve been looking for more ways to get more output in less time.

In the last decade or two, we’ve seen a shift in interest from industrial productivity to interest in personal productivity. It’s quite common now to see articles that begin with “7 ways to improve your productivity” or “What the most productive people do before breakfast”. Websites like Lifehacker are focused on helping us find ways to be more productive with tips, tools, and advice.

Personally, I’m fascinated by the topic of productivity. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past few years reading books like David Allen’s Getting Things Done and attending Ari Meisel’s Less Doing Live conference to learn more about the systems, tools, and habits that can help maximize my day.

When I began my research on how to be more productive I spent a lot of time in the weeds. For example, I spent hours setting up a to-do list application to fit David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) model and hours each week to keep it updated. After a while, it started feeling like I was trying to be productive to keep up with my productivity tools!

This is not a knock on the GTD system or any other organizational system out there. In fact, I think it’s a great tool. The real issue was that I wasn’t using these tools in a way that was connected with my overall goals.

I found it a lot of fun to test different apps, buy fancy notebooks, and spend time learning techniques to manage my to-do list. It was easy for me to get lost in the world of productivity for productivity’s sake. It felt like I was making progress but the more I delved into this world of productivity, the more I felt like I wasn’t getting any closer to my goals.

Eventually I came to the realization that the process around productivity shouldn’t be starting with the tools, tips, and tricks. I was looking at “being more productive” as the end goal rather than focusing on what I truly wanted to accomplish. When I zoomed my perspective out, I realized that I wanted to be more productive so I can make a bigger impact, add more value to people around me, and focus on the projects that truly matter.

Take a moment to think about teams in the Formula 1. Their ultimate objective for every race is to win the race. They pay meticulous attention to all the details around the vehicle, the race course, the conditions, the pitcrew efficiency, etc. They look to squeeze out every bit of productivity from both the driver and the vehicle for a very specific purpose.

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Photo courtesty of Bert van DijkPitstop F1 ING Renault

Formula 1 teams are very deliberate in deciding which area to improve. If a team loses a race due to the inefficiency in the pit crew speed, they’ll fix that. If they noticed something was off in the handling, they’ll work on that. All with a lazer focus on helping them get closer to getting the checkered flag.

We’re generally pretty good at identifying areas we want to be more productive at. We know we want to be making more money, responding/sending more emails, connecting with more friends, reading more books, etc. We know all the areas that we want to do more and get more out of. But the crucial difference between us and teams in the Formula 1 is often times we forget (or don’t think enough about) how greater productivity in “x” is connected to our goals and dreams.

For example, if you’re interested in making more money – what is your purpose around that goal? For some it could the freedom to retire early and for others it be a feeling of recognition for the value that they bring to the company. Whatever it is, it’s important to think about the purpose in the area that you’re looking to get more out of.

It’s liberating to know what the purpose for greater productivity is because you can stop doing something if it’s not helping you get closer to the purpose. Maybe your time may be better spent working on something else? We have the incredible ability to persist and push but the great tragedy is sometimes we’re pushing on the wrong cart and we don’t even realize it.

So how do we go about shifting the way we think about productivity? Here’s a checklist of questions to ask yourself before you start exploring greater productivity in a specific area.

  1. Does being more productive in this area match my priorities in life?
  2. Will this bring more joy/happiness/satisfaction in my life?
  3. What does success look like?

Before jumping into improving productivity use the questions above to reflect, ruminate, journal, etc. to clarify the why behind the desire to be more productive. Personally, I find that it really helps to journal and let things sit before you jump in. Your process may be different and that’s okay.

The hard part about productivity is not the actual being productive but it’s thinking about why being more productive will positively impact your life. That’s the higher level of thinking we need to be doing more of. The Richard Bransons, the Barack Obamas, or Steve Jobs of the world didn’t become who they are because they were focused on the minutea. They became who they are and changed the world subsequently because they were focused on the bigger picture. I believe we can all do the same.

 

My Morning Routine

My Morning Routine

There’s been a lot written in the past few years on the benefits of having a morning routine. I’ve definitely hopped on this bandwagon over this period and experimented with a variety of routines. I’ve tried waking up at 5am, sleeping in until I naturally wakeup, and everything in between. Over the past year or so, I’ve refined my routine to a point where it’s gotten quite comfortable and productive.

While I’m sure the current structure will change over the course of time and through different seasons in my life, knowing that I have a firm foundation in my morning routine is really helpful. I don’t complete all 8 components to my routine every morning. For example, if I have to catch an early morning flight, I may only complete 1 or 2 components and try to make up parts of it throughout the rest of the day. I try to stay away from making it a rigid timesheet and more of a guideline.

Before I share with you the components of the routine, there are a few notable benefits to mention about a morning routine.

1. Minimizes decision-making early in the day

Willpower is a limited resource and making sure you don’t expend too much of it early on the day is crucial to your daily success. With a clearly defined routine to follow in the morning, you minimize the number of decisions to make yet still maintain productivity. No longer are you thinking “what shall I do this morning?” You’ve set a series of helpful activities in the morning that have become a habit. That’s a good thing.

2. Starts the day with quick wins

Have you heard the expression “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”? Having a morning ritual to take care of the quick wins at the start of the day can make the rest of the day feel like a win – even if it was a really shitty day. You’ve taken care of some important self-care activities so you can chalk down the rest of the day as a success.

3. Provides an opportunity for self improvement

I really enjoy using the morning for self-improvement activities including reading, meditation, and journaling. Personally, the morning is when my mind is most relaxed and rejuvenated so putting in time for self-improvement work is highly effective.

So without further ado, here’s my morning routine.

1. Make coffee or tea

2. Read

3. Meditate

4. Journal

5. Set a work and personal goal for the day

6. Admin work*

7. Blog/write

8. 7-Minute Workout

*Includes replying to personal emails, buffering social media articles, reviewing personal finances, etc.

Each component of my morning routine takes between 5 to 15 minutes to complete. In order to make sure I keep on track with my routine, I use a Pomodoro timer to alert me after 15 minutes. It’s a helpful way to keep the momentum going.

The process of developing this routine took me about 3 years to complete. It’s important to remember that a routine is a cumulation of habits you’ve built up. So if you’re new to morning routines, I would recommend starting small. Pick one habit you’d like to do every morning and after you feel like you’re in auto-pilot with that habit, add on another one. This way you’ll build confidence in yourself and the joy you find in completing the habit every morning will lead to a virtuous cycle.

Do you have a morning routine or are you working on developing one? Let me know what yours looks like in the comments below!

Three Principles for Developing Resilient Habits

Three Principles for Developing Resilient Habits

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is therefore not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

Ever heard of the phrase “it takes 21 days to build a habit”?  The saying comes from the observations of Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon in the 1950s, who noticed that his patients took about 21 days to get used to seeing their new faces. This was observed even among amputees who felt like they still had a phantom limb until about 21 days.

In this great blog post by James Clear, he explains how we missed a key point in Dr. Maltz’s observations. When Maltz wrote about his experiences, he explained that, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

Note the minimum of about 21 days. According to further research cited in Clear’s article, the true number of days it takes to establish a habit is between 18 days to 254 days. A much wider range than the 21 days. Depending on the complexity of the new habit and how adept we are at incorporating it into our lives, it could be as short as 3 weeks or up to almost 9 months to establish a new habit.

In order to build habits that hold up even during the busiest times of our lives, the implementation of the habit development must be given proper thought and attention. Here are three principles I have around building resilient habits based on some of the successful habit development that I’ve achieved.

1. Expend minimal energy

The key to making habits stick is to make it as easy as possible to start. If the initial hurdle to start the habit is too high, you’ll be stopped in your tracks before you can even begin. So how do you go about making it easier to start? Here are a few examples from my life.

Every morning I do a 7-Minute workout. The workout is usually a high-intensity workout composed of a variety of 30-second exercises. In my bedroom, I have a yoga mat setup and ready to go. In order to expend minimal energy to get started, I don’t put the mat and towel away after the workout. I just keep it there. So when it’s time every morning for me to workout, I don’t need to pull out the yoga mat and drape a towel over it. It’s there and I can get started. No excuses or added energy to pull out the mat and towel.

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Yoga mat setup and ready to go.

Here’s another example. I’ve recently started to add a dash of pink Himalayan salt into a glass of water to support my adrenals in the morning. Instead of having to remember that I need to do this everyday, I just put out the salt and a glass out on the stove top the night before so I see it first thing in the morning. No need to use my memory or my willpower. It’s there and ready to go. Lowering the bar again for better adoption.

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A glass and pink Himalyan salt setup as I walk into the kitchen.

There are many ways that you can lower the bar for your specific habit. If you’re planning on going to the gym every morning, put your workout clothes out on your dresser the night before. If you want to stop drinking sugary drinks, throw out any that you might have in your fridge and replace them with sparkling water. Make it as easy as possible for you to start your habit. More than likely, once you start the first step of the habit, you’ll will yourself to continue the momentum.

Once the habit is ingrained in your routine you don’t necessarily have to keep the bar lowered. At some point you want the habit to be automatic – which is the whole point with habits! But exercise caution with eliminating the cues too early – it’s too easy for the brain to go back to the laziest route if the habit isn’t ingrained yet.

2. Visualize your daily progress

One of the most important ways to keep yourself motivated to develop your habit is to visualize your progress. Visualizing your progress provides motivation everyday to complete the habit and build momentum. Visualization can be done by printing out a blank calendar of the month and putting an “X” on every day you complete the habit. My favourite tool to visualize my progress is the Hustle Calendar which makes it easy to see the entire year with one look.

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The Hustle Calendar helps me keep track of my daily goal to blog for 15-minutes.

Everyday that I complete my daily habit I get the pleasure of marking a big red “X” on the day. The calendar helps keep me motivated to keep the streak alive and build upon my successful habit. It also draws out some trends I see with my habit. For example, I tend to notice my success rate takes a dip when I’m on the road. This helps me strategize on how I can incorporate my habit even on the road. The more data that you collect on your behaviour, the better you’ll be able to take action to improve upon it.

3. Opt for baby steps

This might be the simplest yet most important advice I have around developing a habit. We often get excited about starting a habit – going to the gym three times a week or meditating for 20 minutes everyday – that we forget to remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

The typical scenario is that we show great consistency over the course of the first few weeks of the new habit and then life happens. Something happens at work or family that throws you off your new rhythm. By the time you go back to the habit, it feels a lot harder to get back the momentum and eventually you get down on yourself for not being able to stick to it. It’s something I’ve had to deal with many times and it’s highly discouraging.

Developing good habits isn’t easy and being patient with the process and gentle with yourself is extremely important. Imagine planting a seed. You don’t want to overwhelm the seed initially with too much water. You want to let it grow at its own pace. You also can’t see the progress until the plant has emerged from the soil. Habit development is the same way. Be gentle to start, set a lower bar, make it easier for you to continue to build the habit. The reward will be a more well-established habit that is more resilient when “life happens”.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

According to Charles Duhigg and his book, The Power of Habit, about 40-45% of our daily decisions aren’t actually decisions they’re habits. Fourty to fourty-five percent! If we don’t take control of our daily habits, we’re essentially letting half of our day run in autopilot rather than consciously doing what’s most beneficial to us. So if you’re working on incorporating a new habit into your life (and ideally just try to work on one at a time) make sure you’re reviewing the three tips:

  1. Expend minimal energy
  2. Visualize your daily progress
  3. Opt for baby steps

There are a ton more things that I would add to building better, more resilient habits but I’ll stop here for now. If you have any other suggestions or ideas to build habits, please post them below. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are and experiences have been.

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday (Part II)

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday (Part II)
This post is a two-part series on the Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday. Part I can be found here.
 It’s not the years in your life that counts. It’s the life in your years. – Abraham Lincoln
 In Part I of the post, I introduced the seven questions you should ask yourself everyday. If you haven’t read that post yet, I highly encourage you to go back and read it before continuing. This post is about how to implement these questions on a daily basis. I’ll show you the tools that I use to remind, record, reflect, and act on the questions.

Remind

A quietly underrated aspect of the daily questions is making sure you remind yourself to record your questions. In the early going as you’re trying to build up the habit, having a reliable reminder is essential. In fact, Marshall Goldsmith (who writes about the Daily Questions in his book Triggerspays someone to call him at the end of everyday to ask him his daily questions.

If you can’t afford to pay someone to call you everyday, you can use a free automation service like IFTTT to schedule a daily reminder email. In the reminder email, I plug-in the link to the tracking spreadsheet (see the reflection section) so I can easily access it when I need to record my score.

In whatever way you remind yourself, the important part is that it’s automatic. Whether it’s an alarm on your phone or a friend who calls you, make sure it’s on your radar at the end of the day without taking up much effort.

Speaking of the “end of the day”, I’ve set my automatic reminders for 5:00 p.m. I’ve found that the timing is good as I’m typically wrapping up my workday between 5 to 6 p.m. Your timing could be later like after dinner or right before you go to bed. Find what time works the best for you to receive the reminder.

Record

I record my scores on a Google Sheet. I prefer the spreadsheet because it’s cloudbased and accessible wherever I can get the internet. Google Sheets also have the same functionality as an Excel file so if I wanted to slice-and-dice the data, it’s pretty easy to do. In fact, I’ve plugged in a chart that helps me visualize my daily scores.

Screenshot of sample spreadsheet

I’ve created a sample spreadsheet for you to use. Feel free to go in and make a copy for yourself by going to File -> Make a Copy. You’ll notice that I’ve added a few scores already just so you can see it in action. Delete those scores when you’re ready to start recording.

When I’m recording my scores, I have a couple of simple rules for myself:

  • Trust my initial gut-instinct for the score.
  • Stick to whole numbers. Decimal places are not allowed. (This makes it harder to “sit on the fence” with a score).

Finally, my recommendation is to record at least 21 days of consecutive scores. It’ll be a helpful baseline to start seeing some trends with your scores.

Reflect

Once you’ve recorded the score of the day, now comes perhaps the most important part – reflection.

I use a service called TalkSpace which provides unlimited text/voice messaging with a licensed therapist. On days that I have something I want to talk through, I open up the TalkSpace app or webpage and leave a message for my therapist. The therapist responds within 24 hours with her thoughts and perspective. I’ve been using TalkSpace since May 2015 and it has been an indispensible part of my personal growth toolkit.

Whether you use a service like TalkSpace or not is up to you. You may prefer writing a quick comment in the Google Spreadsheet or journaling about it or calling a friend to talk through your day. The important part is to pull your thoughts outside your mind. You’d be surprised how much clarity you get from verbalizing or writing your thoughts down.

Act

If you stop just with recording and reflection over a period of 21 days, you’re still going to get a lot out of it. But if you’re like most people, you’ll want to take action on the information that comes out of your daily questions.

There isn’t a cookie-cutter method for you to take action on these questions. You might prefer to collect data for 90 consecutive days before making some course adjustments or you may want to take action on a daily basis. There is no “right” answer.

That said, for me, I generally like to work on improving my score on one question over the course of a month. For example, if I’ve noticed that “Did I do my best to set clear goals?” is consistently a low score for me, I’ll focus on improving that score over the course of a month.

To remind myself of the question I’m working on, I use a Google Chrome plug-in called Momentum that gives you space to set one goal everyday.

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Every time you open up a new tab, you’ll see the Momentum dashboard and remind yourself what the one goal was for you (along with a beautiful photo that changes everyday). It’s a nice way to keep the question top-of-mind throughout the day.

Every morning, before I get started with my work, I open up my spreadsheet and review yesterday’s scores. I plug in the question I’m working on – currently it’s “Do my best to set clear goals” – and go about setting my goals for the day.

And that’s it! Rinse-and-repeat this process everyday. The next step which I’m currently developing a process for is a quarterly review of my scores. Stay tuned to the blog for more thoughts on that.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts with this process? Do you think it’ll work for you? Is there anything missing that you’d add?

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday (Part I)

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday (Part I)
This post is a two-part series on the Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Everyday. Part II will be released next week.

Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed. – Thich Nhat Hanh

Last year, I read a book called Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith and summarized my key takeaways. It’s an excellent book about how triggers in your environment can have a significant impact on your behaviour whether you’re aware of it or not.

One of the key takeaways from Triggers was about the power of awareness in helping us change our behaviour. Changing our behaviour – especially as an adult – is possibly one of the most difficult challenges we’ll ever face. After all, we’ve ingrained behaviours and routines for years and years, and changing our behaviours can mean fundamentally changing the way we live.

Goldsmith provides a really practical tool to help us create awareness called the Six Daily Questions. The concept is simple – ask yourself six questions at the end of every single day and rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how well you think you did with the question.

I was a little skeptical about this concept at first but I decided to trial it for a few weeks to see if it made an impact in my life. After all, Goldsmith is one of the most celebrated leadership coaches of all time and I figured what works for them might work for me.

Before we go through the questions, I should explain how these questions should be asked. I’ve journaled in the past to questions like “What was the highlight of my day?” or “List three things you are you grateful for today” but I often felt a disconnect with the questions.

I’m not sure how to explain this but when I was answering those types of questions it felt more like a passive exercise. Almost like I was recounting someone else’s day (although it was my day) and it lacked the sense of forward progress on why I did what I did that day.

Don’t get me wrong, I think reflection is very important in creating awareness, but with the goal of becoming a better version of myself everyday, I felt like those reflections questions weren’t capturing those thoughts properly.

So here’s how Goldsmith’s Six Questions differ: they all begin with the phrase “Did I do my best to…?”

When you start every question with “Did I do my best to…?” the question goes from passive reflection to active thinking. Instead of “Did I achieve this goal today?”, you’re asking yourself what effort did I put in to achieve this goal? The question becomes about the intention and effort you put into that goal rather than the result.

With Goldsmith’s Six Questions, you’re not trying to control the result (we often don’t have immediate control over that) but you’re trying to develop the improvement process. This makes every question I ask a lot more powerful because now I have the ability to honestly answer to myself – did I really do my best today or is there room for improvement?

Hopefully that makes sense. Now, onto the six questions.

Goldsmith’s Six Questions

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  2. Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today?
  3. Did I do my best to find meaning today?
  4. Did I do my best to be happy today?
  5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

These are six great questions to start with and will provide you with a baseline of questions to answer everyday. Below you’ll find a slightly different version with seven questions I ask myself everyday.

My Seven Questions

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  2. Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today?
  3. Did I do my best to create meaning for myself or others today?
  4. Did I do my best to be happy today?
  5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?
  7. Did I do my best to be physically and emotionally healthy today?

You’ll notice that Question #3 for me is modified slightly to clarify that meaning can be created for me or for others. Question #7 was added as health and wellness – both physically and mentally – are important pieces for me.

Your questions might look different than mine or Goldsmith’s – and that’s okay. You have different objectives and priorities in your life so making the questions relevant to them is critical to making this “sticky” for you.

Regardless of which questions you end up with, my recommendation is to setup some sort of system – a notebook, an Word document, a spreadsheet, etc. – to help you keep track of your scores. Remember, you’re scoring yourself between a 1 to 10. With 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.

At a minimum, try these questions out over a period 21 days. Even if you need to stop after 21 days, you’ll get a good baseline of where you stand with your questions. You’ll build awareness of areas in your life that you’ve got under control, that might be a little of out of control, and bring light to areas that you thought were important but maybe not as much as you originally thought.

In Part II of this post (to be released next week), I’ll take you through how to make this process even stickier by introducing the accountability partner, a spreadsheet template, and automation tools to help you remember to record your scores. If you think of this article here as the WHY you should ask these questions, Part II is more of HOW and WHAT of implementing this in your life.

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation
If you are depressed, you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious, you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
– Lao Tzu

I started to meditate about 3 years ago and it’s become an important part of my daily habits. I must admit, however, that it wasn’t easy getting started and it still isn’t the most natural thing for me to do. It’s taken some experimentation with what works for me and adapting a meditation practice around that. Your meditation practice might look completely different from mine – and that’s okay. The important part is that you put in the time to meditate to help you achieve greater mental control and calmness.

I’ll take you through a bit of my journey with meditation and the process and tools that have worked for me so far. If you already believe in the positive effects of meditation, you can skip Part I and just go right into the techniques and resources that I’ve been using. Either way, Part I will be helpful in helping you understand the WHY behind meditation. So let’s begin!

Part I: Why Meditate?

There are a lot of reasons why it’s beneficial to meditate and in no particular order here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced and heard others experience as well.

  • Helps you move into the present
  • Brings about peace and calm in your mind
  • Builds your perspective and compassion for others
  • Helps you feel like you’re in greater control of your day
  • Helps you detach yourself from situations and outcomes
  • Slows down your day
  • Allows you to cut through the busywork and focus on doing what matters most
  • Creates silence during our noisy, busy days

According to Tim Ferriss, the majority of top performers (80%) he has interviewed through his podcast have some sort of meditation practice. I know some of the above might sound “woo woo” and some of it probably is. But the important part is how meditation affects you personally. If you get even a modicum of peace and calm from a 5-minute meditation, maybe it’s worth it for you? After all, 5-minutes is not a bad tradeoff for that kind of feeling.

Part II: How to get started

I initially struggled to get my meditation practice going. When I first tried to meditate, I read a book called Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield. I listened to the accompanying CD and went through the guided meditation practices but I found the experience to be extremely difficult. In fact, I began to dislike meditating after realizing I wasn’t particularly good at sitting in silence for 15-20 minutes.

Retrospectively, I think I tried to do too much too soon. In my opinion, a 15-20 minute meditation is too long for a beginner (especially without some sort of meditation coach) to do on their own. The key is to start small with a 1 or 2 minute meditation. This way you get a small “hit” of that calm, rewarding feeling to get you going.

The “calm” feeling could be different for you. It might not be a feeling of calm but rather a feeling of inspiration and excitement. It could be a feeling of understanding and love. Try to remember that positive, rewarding feeling so that it brings you back your next meditation session.

Rain Wilson (from The Office fame) talks in a podcast episode about how meditation for him is like watching the ticker symbol of a stock market go by. The symbols are your thoughts and they just scroll past you. You’re not attached to the thoughts, you just observe them and let them by. I think that’s a pretty good analogy. Meditation is not eliminating all your thoughts and getting into a “blank” mindset. It’s about appreciating the thoughts and that they exist, but not getting caught up in it.

So here are a few tips to help you start to meditate and I’ll break them down for you in a bit more detail below:

Start with just 2 minutes.

Meditation is just like any sport or exercise in that the more “reps” that you put in, the better you get at it. You wouldn’t run a marathon for your very first run, right? So it make sense to not make your first meditation session a 60-minute session. Start with something small – like, very small. Start with a 2 minute meditation and see if you’re able to handle that. From there, up the timing to 5-10-15 minutes. But take it really slowly. Don’t rush yourself. It’s one of those things where you won’t just be able to “will” your way to doing more. Mary Meckley, host of the Daily Meditation Podcast, suggests that you meditate just up to the point that where you’re able to continue a little bit longer but you save that “little bit” so you can come back excited to meditate next time.

Learn simple techniques to get you going. (e.g. box breathing technique)

I learned a simple breathing technique called the “box-breathing technique” from Ben Greenfield at a conference in 2015. The technique is simple but surprisingly hard to master. Basically, you slowly breathe in for a count of 5, hold your breathe for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 5, and hold (your empty lungs) for a count of 5. Then repeat. This technique allows you to oxygenate your body while allowing you to focus on your breath – not your distracting thoughts – during your meditation. If you find yourself having difficulty concentrating, this is a good technique to practice. Try it once or twice during your first meditation.

Find out what time of day you are best able to meditate.

I’ve experimented with all sorts of times during the day but early mornings and evenings seem to be the best time for me. For you, it might be different. Try experimenting with a 2-minute meditation at different times during the day to see which one delivers the greatest benefits. When I used to work at a fast-paced sales organization, I would find time to do a quick 5-minute meditation over lunch which created some calm in an otherwise chaotic environment. It was super helpful in helping me reset and get ready for the second half of the day.

Part III: My favourite resources

There is a ton of great resources available to get started with your meditation practice. Books, apps, podcasts, and so much more provide resources that you can often tap into for free. Out of all the resources that I’ve experimented with, here are the two that have allowed me to cultivate my meditation practice.

Calm

Calm is a meditation app available on iOS and Android. It gives you the flexibility to do a timed, non-guided meditation or a guided meditation based on different themes like gratitude, happiness, sleep, etc. It’s the first app I used to help me create a meditation habit – starting with a 2-minute meditation. It has a ton of great background sounds that you can choose from and I like how simple it is to use compared to other meditation apps that come loaded with too many extras. Download the app and start with the 1 or 2 minute meditation then go from there.

The Daily Meditation Podcast

This (free) podcast allowed me to take my meditation to the next level. Led by a fantastic meditation teacher, Mary Meckley, a new podcast episode is released everyday. Every episode is unique as there is a new weekly theme and every day of the week features a new style of meditation from affirmations to mudras to walking meditations. When I started getting bored of my 5-minute Calm app meditations, I was looking for alternatives to help me improve my meditation practice and The Daily Meditation Podcast was the perfect fit. I wouldn’t be able to meditate now for 10 to 20 minutes without having learned the meditation techniques Mary teaches through her podcast.

HeadSpace

Another notable app is called HeadSpace. I’ve tried HeadSpace in the past and they’ve got a great (and free!) called the Take-10 which provides 10 short meditations with helpful video explanations to get you started.

The good news is current meditation apps are constantly updating and innovating to make meditation more accessible and new apps are being created as more people begin to meditate!

So I hope this gets you started with your meditation practice. It’s a powerful practice to cultivate which impact so many different aspects of your life. Just make sure to be kind to yourself. Your first few weeks or months of meditating won’t be easy. I still struggle to convince myself that it’s worth the time to meditate especially when I’m in the midst of a busy day. But those just might be the days where you need to meditate the most.

Good luck! And feel free to post your personal experiences with meditation. I’d love to hear from you.