We can improve our productivity by asking the right questions of ourselves.
What are some productive questions you can ask yourself?
This week when searching for something on the internet, I came across a post called “The Power of Asking Yourself Questions.” The article itself is behind a paywall, so I couldn’t read the whole thing, but the “teaser” on the home page caught my attention. The writer said,
“Humans have an incredible capacity to reflect on their own self–their thoughts, emotions, habits, and relationships. It’s exactly this self-awareness that makes us so intelligent and gives us the ability to adapt to our environment so effectively.”
I agree with the concept. To me, one of the keys to a meaningfully productive life, a life that matters, is awareness. It’s so easy to go through life on autopilot, reacting to things that happen to us and around us, and then look back and think, “Well, that wasn’t how I meant to live my life!”
Anything we can do to raise our own awareness in any given moment is, I think, a good thing for those of us who want to be productive in the best senses of that word. When we are aware, we can then exercise the other key to meaningful productivity: intentionality. Choosing on purpose how to show up in the world, what to do with the precious life we’ve been given. Here are some questions that can be helpful in that process.
What am I grateful for?
As we’ve discussed before (e.g., see TPW167 and TPW270), grateful people tend to be happier, healthier, and more productive. For many of us–me included–gratitude has to be intentionally cultivated. I try to ask myself this question first thing in the morning, and then throughout the day whenever I find myself getting angry or frustrated or discouraged or down. Pausing for a moment to ask myself this question can prevent the negative thoughts from taking over and spiraling me down into a bad day.
What’s the most important thing today?
This question helps us focus. On any given day, there probably are lots of things on our to-do list, many commitments and obligations and needs and interests calling for our attention. It’s a valuable exercise to review, early in the day, our calendar and lists and make sure we have a handle on it all. But when we do that quick review, stopping just for a second to ask this question can help us evaluate, adjust, and move forward with intention and purpose. This is similar to Gary Keller’s question in his great book, The ONE Thing: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
What’s one thing I can do today to be better?
I think of what we talked about last week from Atomic Habits, the idea of improving just 1%. We’re not shooting for perfection in any area of our lives, but as long as we’re alive we can keep growing, improving, expanding our scope and abilities. Pick any area of your life: what’s one thing I can do today to be a better lawyer, writer, wife, mom, believer, citizen, friend, human? Depending on the area of your life you choose to focus on, some examples might be:
- Send a note, an email, or a quick text to a friend you know is going through a hard time, or that you haven’t connected with in a while, or to your mom
- Do a few extra reps or a few minutes more on the elliptical at the gym.
- Read a journal article relevant to your professional development.
- Eat a salad for lunch instead of a burger
Another version of this question from an article in Entrepreneur: How can I grow today?
How do I want to feel today? What can I do to make sure I feel that way?
Recognize that how we feel is up to us–our emotions are the result of the thoughts we think–this question reminds us of that and shakes up the habit of letting our circumstances dictate our feelings (and thus our actions).
Whom can I help today?
Remembering the John Stuart Mill quote from last week, talking about how the people most likely to find happiness are the people who aren’t looking for it, but are looking for the betterment of something or someone outside themselves. I think the quickest way to get past our own internal miseries is to look outside ourselves.
For example: I am uncomfortable in large groups of people I don’t know, such as when I need to attend a conference or some event like that. I feel self-conscious and awkward. The best way I’ve found to get past that is to look at the room’s perimeter for someone who might be feeling the same–maybe standing or sitting alone. To introduce myself, say hi, and start a conversation.
So whom can I help? Can I look the grocery store cashier in the eye and smile at her? Can I offer the Fed Ex guy a bottle of cold water? Can I help that frazzled young mom at the store or on the plane? Can I send a friendly message to my kid’s teacher or call a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while? Let that person on the highway on-ramp get in front of you. Bring a co-worker a cup of coffee. Simply by asking the question, we can prime ourselves to notice opportunities to help make someone’s day a little better.
What is the best use of my time right now?
- Staying aware, awake, present
- Make sure we don’t sacrifice the best for the good
- Sometimes the best use is to take a break . . . or a nap
What can I learn from this situation?
I personally don’t do well with things not going to plan. Failure embarrasses me, and change disrupts me. In either case, I can easily spend hours, even days, wallowing in the embarrassment or the dis-ease. The best way to stop that unproductive wallowing is to ask myself what I can learn from the situation, what I can
What can I do today to prepare me for what’s happening tomorrow? Next week? Next month?
This is a really practical question that gets us out of the habit of dealing with last-minute deadlines. Simply take a moment to look ahead a week or a month to see what’s on the agenda and think about what you can do today to be more ready when the time comes.
I’m not suggesting that you spend all day asking questions, but adding one or two of these at a time into your daily practice can reap results. One article I read recently quoted Voltaire as saying, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” The article’s author noted that “A fulfilled life isn’t so much determined by what you know as it is by how willing you are to learn. The most obvious way to learn is by asking questions.”
What do you think?
Are any of these questions helpful to you? Can you suggest another question that might be helpful to us as we work on making our meaningfully productive lives? Post your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me
Resources and Links
- 87 Self-Reflection Questions for Introspection [+Exercises]
- Ask Yourself These 20 Questions to Improve Your Self-Awareness | Shine
- 10 Life-Changing Questions to Ask Yourself Today | Inc.com
- 60 Deep Questions To Ask Yourself If You Want To Be Self-Aware
- The Power of Asking Yourself Questions
- What Happens When You Ask Yourself One Question Every Week | by Mofrad Muntasir | Better Humans
- The Question You Should Ask Yourself Every Day
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Royse City, Texas