The First Question to Ask Each Day

February 13, 2020

For years, I operated in a Crazy Busy state. Getting through my To Do list was all that mattered.

I’d wake up and the first question I’d ask was, “What do I need to do today?”

The list was always overwhelmingly long.

Nothing like setting your mind off in a frenzy first thing in the morning! I’d hit the ground running in that daily tornado, racing from one item to the next, attempting to do and have it all.

Sometimes I’d wind up at work and only then realize I was wearing two similar, but clearly different, shoes. I was too busy to notice.

The hazards of racing around from one thing to the next…

I’d end each day with more items on the list than I’d started with.

Exhausted, but too keyed up to sleep. Then I’d wake up and do it all over again.

If I’d had to title that chapter in my life, it would have been called “Hurry Up, Get in the Car, We’re Ten Minutes Late!

Perhaps you can relate. Are you purposefully and productively meeting each day or are you COMPLETELY FREAKING OUT ABOUT HOW MUCH THERE IS TO DO?

It took a bad case of burnout for me to realize that pace was no longer sustainable and, if I was being honest, had never been enjoyable.

I did a complete 180. I quit my job, cut expenses and decided to call the next chapter “Chasing Joy.”  More time and space to prioritize what mattered most. More relaxation. More things to love.

Rather than waking up thinking about all I had to DO that day, I’d ask myself the simple question, “What do I need most, right now?”

So sure was I of this solution, I wrote about it in The Only Self-Care Question You Need to Ask.

And it worked, for a while. I filled my days with rest and time outdoors and writing and planning. But if what I needed most was to crawl back under the covers, I let myself do that.

A little nap. A little Netflix. A little Nutella. (I don’t actually eat Nutella, but I do like alliteration, so substitute your favorite vice here…)

But, again, if I’m being honest, what I was choosing to do wasn’t always good FOR me.

Especially when a little became a lot.

A lot of naps. A lot of Netflix. A lot of Nutella.

And some days became more days. Most days.

I did a lot of joyously not getting much done. And that didn’t leave me very joyful in the long run.

For someone who had always been so ambitious and productive, it just wasn’t me. I’d become unmoored from what was most important to me – living a purposeful and productive life.

My philosophy had become a crutch. My daily “What do I need most” question was really a cover for “What do I feel most like doing?” And who wants to do the hard work when it’s so much easier to hide under the covers with Netflix and Nutella?

I needed a better question.

It’s no longer “What do I need to DO today?” that set me into a hyperproductive state of frenzy, wearing two different shoes.

It’s no longer, “What do I need most right now?” because we know “need” can be hard to define when it’s much easier to sacrifice long-term gains for short-term joy.

Now I ask myself, “What can I do today to improve my tomorrow?

That pretty much knocks Nutella off the list. And it makes me stop and think. About needs and wants, short-term goals and long-term plans. About getting things done and living in the moment AND thinking of the future.

Most days it’s a combination of all of those things.

I no longer try to do it all in a single day. I no longer find myself under the covers hiding from it all.

I’m striving for a healthy mixture of Enoughness.

“What can I do today to improve my tomorrow?”

It allows me to deal with the Juggle of Life without making myself crazy or hating on myself for not getting it all done. It reminds me of the benefits of working today for what you want tomorrow.

In the past year, I’ve quadrupled my business revenue. You don’t do that by hiding under the covers. I know myself well enough to know I’m steadfast in my goals and will accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I also know I easily exhaust myself and need reminders to slow down and re-set with relaxation.

If you struggle with your days – too much to do, not enough joy, being too hard (or too lax!) on yourself – ask what you need to do to be your BEST SELF.

Some days it’s knocking things off your To-Do list. Some days it’s acknowledging you’re better off with a To-Don’t list.

Some days it’s prioritizing the hard work to reach those long-term goals over the desire for immediate satisfaction. Some days it’s permitting yourself the rest so that your Next-Day You is ready to go.

And sometimes it is giving yourself a total break and getting under the covers with the Nutella to watch some Netflix. Just not every day.

(Note: You can – and likely should – also ask yourself each day, “Am I wearing two matching shoes?“)

Better questions generate better answers.

Revise the question when necessary. Respond accordingly.

Rewrite the story.

Your best self awaits.

Valerie Gordon is a long-time storyteller, award-winning producer and the founder of career and communications strategy firm Commander-in-She. She speaks at conferences and works with corporations to help clients use the power of story to grow their careers and their businesses.

 

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