“The quality of your life is a direct reflection of the quality of the questions you are asking yourself” – Tony Robbins
Before reading through Tony Robbin’s books, I never thought about the questions I asked myself. Maybe that’s why I’m not leading a life as successful as I could be. Questions are powerful. They can elicit information. They can persuade. They can lead to a new opportunity. They can help you break through limits.
This post isn’t about powerful questions. This is about the three simple questions you can ask yourself every day to live a better life. These questions can help you be more productive. Do better work. Develop habits. Improve your relationships. That’s why I’m constantly thinking about these questions.
The three questions I ask myself daily
- What should I focus on?
- What meaning should I give to it?
- What do I do next?
I’m going to elaborate on each question, and then talk about how I have used these questions in my life to specifically be more productive at work.
What should I focus on?
Your work is a never-ending battle for your attention. And work doesn’t get done unless you pay attention to it (wouldn’t it be great to reply to emails while you are asleep?). Stephen Covey has a useful matrix to categorize different tasks: urgency is on one axis and importance is on the other axis.
Clearly, if a task is both urgent and important, it should be done first. But Stephen says oftentimes, tasks that are urgent but not important often jump to the top of your schedule. People mistake urgency for importance when, in reality, they should be focusing on things that are important but not urgent.
At work, these are tasks like learning the new programming language, developing relationships with other departments or taking the time to check in with your team. The tasks that are important, but not urgent, are often things that will set you up for success in the long-term.
I ask myself “what should I focus on” every time I have a block of time. I consider tasks and their urgency and importance and prioritize accordingly. Although to be honest, I spend more time on the urgent but not important tasks, than the important but not urgent tasks.
What meaning should I give to it?
This is a lot like trying to filter your emails. They might all be unread, but there are some emails (such as from your boss or partner) that will be more important than others. Although you can’t always control what things will grab your attention (partly, but if someone calls you or knocks on your door, you can’t just not answer), what you can control is the meaning you give to it.
One important thing to note here – if you link the meaning of something to the values you have, you will be happier and more satisfied.
For example, if one of your key values is family and relationships, you are going to be happier than if you worked all day earning money.
In the context of work, I may have a long laundry list of things to do, but before I figure out what to do next (the next question), I attach meanings to each activity. What is the activity? How important and urgent is it? Am I thinking about the long-term effect of this activity (i.e., if I do this now, will it pay dividends for me in the future?) What other things do I have on my calendar? Do I need to attend?
The first question is to categorize the activities that have caught my attention. The second question is to dig deeper – of the urgent and important or non-urgent but important activities, which ones will make progress towards my overall goals?
What do I do next?
Perhaps the most important question after you identify what to focus on and what meaning to give to it is to identify what you should be doing next.
If your attention is on your health, and you believe it is important to look and feel good, you then may decide that eating a salad for lunch is better than pizza or that after work, you will go for a run.
If your attention is on your family and relationships, and you know that time lost now is time lost forever, you then may decide you want to take your kids to the playground or to spend several hours with your kid watching cartoons.
These three questions are questions I ask myself every time I find myself with free time between meetings or at the end of the day. It doesn’t have to be a long journaling process or require deep thought, but it’s about asking yourself what is important to you and what do you want to spend with the time you have.