How to Use Daily Questions to Keep Your Life on Track

How do you keep you life on track? How do you ensure you are working towards creating a life you want? How do you ensure you are not just going with the flow and letting other people dictate your life?

Every 90 days I look at my various productivity systems and review how they can be improved. This is more about continuous improvement than trying the latest hot new thing.

Over time I’ve come to appreciate that mindset, habits, and process are more important than the apps, tools, or methodology that you use.

Last year I used Sebastian Marshalls ‘Lights Spreadsheet’ to track the most important things in my life. I highly recommend it as a great place to get started – it is simple, scalable and just works.

So why change something that was already working? I have a confession to make – I am a data geek, the binary nature of the lights spreadsheet is great to start with but I like the scoring on a scale of 1-10. That said for most people I still recommend starting with Sebastian Marshall’s Lights.

I first heard about Daily Questions on the podcast Cortex and after I read the book Triggers the concept of Daily Questions really resonated.

This combined with the proven results the author was getting in the real world was enough for me to try it, adapting my Lights Spreadsheet into a Daily Questions hybrid.

I was intrigued that the author, an executive coach, only got paid after working with his clients for up to 2 years if, and only if, the people around them confirmed that the change the client was seeking to make had happened… Wow – talk about putting your money where your mouth is. That is master positioning and a signal of confidence in your techniques.

If you want to implement this yourself, I have a free Google Sheets template for you. Just click here to make a copy of it and add your own daily questions.

How you speak to yourself is everything

The language we use is key not only to getting things done but in building long term relationships.

For example it doesn’t take much to project the difference in outcome between asking your partner to: ‘give me the salt’ and ‘please can you pass me the salt’!

The same applies when speaking to yourself. If you’re anything like me if you spoke to other people the way you speak to yourself you wouldn’t have any friends. Or if someone spoke to you the way you speak to yourself you wouldn’t want them in your life.

In a world where we are so often our own harshest critic and own worse enemy. Daily Questions help kickstart a better relationship with yourself in your attempt to become a better person.

The trick is starting each question with ‘Did I do my best to…’. For example ‘did I do my best to stay fit’ is a much better question than ‘did I exercise’.

Why?

To start with it is active vs. passive. It places the responsibility on you, challenging you to act.

Let’s imagine that you had a day of travelling. It is easy to answer the second question ‘no – I was too busy travelling’. Whereas if you knew you were not going to have time to do a formal workout but you took the stairs or went for a walk around the block at lunchtime you can answer the first question maybe a 6 out of 10. Not only is this a fairer outcome than a binary NO, it encourages you to do your best – just like your parents and teachers always told you…

Next, ‘did I do my best to’ questions are engaging. Whilst that word has become overused in social media content and HR departments around the world – 71% of Americans say they are ‘disengaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ in their work – it does still have a use in placing the responsibility on you not external circumstances or environment.

I’ve known so many people who set lofty goals but when they inevitably fall short they lose it completely instead of ‘getting back on the horse’.

E.g. when someone on a diet goes to a restaurant and if there isn’t anything that is raw, organic and vegan prepared by virgins then they go crazy and order the chocolate cookie cheese cake with extra ice cream and then spiral for weeks.

Failing small is a skill.

Getting Started with Daily Questions

Marshall Goldsmith recommends the below 6 questions for everyone. They are a great starting place, to which I recommend adding 2-6 of your own.

  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?

Keeping this manageable and starting small is key to it becoming a habit. This should take you less the 90 seconds to complete each day.

Here’s a screenshot of some of mine:

Don’t overthink your questions. You will learn more through action and testing than you will through contemplation. Think about what you should be doing regularly or what you want to improve.

Sebastian Marshall has a great question to ask: “What was I doing during the peak periods of my life?”.

He has some other great practices here:

  • Design to survive the worst possible week
  • Aim for 70% success rate
  • If weekly success was 90%+ make harder or add more
  • Don’t add more than one aspirations thing you’ve never done before
  • Start with 10-15 items, never go above 30
  • Add recharging and rejuvenation items

Repeat to form a habit

Part of the beauty of Daily Questions is that they should be quick and easy to complete. You are going to score each item on the list between 1-10 every day. With 10 being you did your best and 1 being you didn’t try at all.

Given the simplicity of the spreadsheet I recommend using Google Sheets. It is free, cloud based, available everywhere and always in sync – accessible from your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Setting a daily reminder was key to reduce the friction and make this a daily habit for me. I use Launch Centre Pro on iOS to create a recurring daily reminder at 8:30pm that takes me directly to the Google Sheet.

This is a bit of a hack using URL schemes on iOS. To set this up yourself open your Google Sheet on a desktop browser and copy the long URL after the https:// and before the /edit.

Next in Launch Centre Pro or a launcher of your choice add googlesheets:// to the start of the url to give you something like this

googlesheets://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/XXX

When you click on that link it will automatically open the Google Sheets app (make sure you have it installed, it’s free) and take you to your ‘Daily Questions’ spreadsheet ready to answer your questions.

See the below video for an example:

Weekly Review and Adjustment

The second tab on the spreadsheet shows you how you are doing on a weekly basis by averaging out your scores for each question.

As part of my weekly review I glance over my scores and reflect on why they are the way they are. As required I’ll add or drop questions, set a task or take any other measure to improve. But more often than not just the awareness is enough.

e.g. if I’m scoring low on building positive relationships I might schedule coffee with a friend for the next week.

Every quarter I take a deeper dive into the daily questions and ensure they are aligned with my overall goals for the quarter.

In the template I shared I’ve also colour coded the responses green, yellow and red based on score you enter, so you can quickly review what is working and what needs more attention.

Changing yourself

Some mistakes I see people make with any kind of new habit or self improvement are:

  • Making it too difficult to do
  • Starting with too many items
  • Giving up when they first fail
  • Letting perfect be the enemy of good

In fact the other section from the book Triggers that really resonated was the list of flaws in change thinking:

  1. If I understand I will do
  2. I have willpower and won’t give into temptation
  3. Today is a special day
  4. At least I’m better than _ _ _ _
  5. I shouldn’t need help and structure – contempt for simplicity, instruction, follow up and our faith we can succeed by ourselves
  6. I won’t get tired and my enthusiasm will not fade
  7. I have all the time in the world
  8. I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur
  9. A sudden epiphany will change my life
  10. My change will be permanent and I will never have to worry again
  11. Eliminating old problems will not bring on new problems
  12. Effort will be fairly rewarded
  13. No one is paying attention to me
  14. If I change I am inauthentic
  15. I have the wisdom to assess my own behaviour

My Daily Questions Q1 2019

My focus for 2019 is getting my consulting business up and running so my questions are focused around that.

As of February 2019 my current questions are:

Did I do my best to…

  1. set clear goals
  2. progress towards goals
  3. find meaning
  4. be happy
  5. build positive relationships
  6. be fully engaged
  7. stay fit
  8. eat healthily
  9. meditate
  10. sleep well
  11. witness sunrise
  12. witness sunset
  13. live outside
  14. build a business
  15. learn something
  16. limit screens
  17. limit podcasts
  18. limit info consumption

As mentioned I will review this on a weekly basis but only make significant changes ever quarter.

I also use these daily questions as my ‘keystone’ and include other key metrics around how I spend my time and outputs – I’ll write about that another time.

Whilst only a month in, this has been a big win in 2019. It helps me keep focused on what my ‘higher self’ deemed important. Helping balance the urgent with the important.

It focuses on the process vs. the result. For example sleep. I may do my best to sleep well e.g. no screens at night, no alcohol or caffeine but for whatever reason I don’t sleep well e.g. a car alarm went off outside. I don’t beat myself up over that I’ll just keep focusing on the process, knowing in the long run the process will work out.

“You are only entitled to the action, never to its fruits” – Bhagavad Gita

Future Improvements

I’d love to hear your feedback and any improvements I can make.

If you want to implement this yourself, I have a free Google Sheets template for you. Just click here to make a copy of it and add your own daily questions.

Have fun and let me know how you get on on Twitter. I’d love to hear what your personal daily questions are and how this works for you.