We all feel the pressure to get (more!) things done. Yet getting clear on why we ought to do something is usually an afterthought.
I always ask users of my app, “How do you decide what to do each day?” The answer is usually something to the effect of, “I look through my [email / calendar / to-do app / notebook] and pick something to do.” That method is beautifully simple: have a list, look at list, pick thing from list, do thing. But the tradeoff for simplicity here is intentionality. By making tasks so easy to prioritize, we spend a lot of time on things that don’t connect to our big-picture life vision.
So what’s the alternative — force ourselves to connect every hour in our schedule to one of our lifelong values? That feels daunting. Attempting to connect our daily lives to our values and then falling short of that standard is even scarier. We’d rather keep doing more things for the sake of doing more things.
This is where a “Why Document” comes in, a resource that helps you decide if something is or is not worth your time. This document should be so accessible, short, and skimmable that you reference it often. It should also be easy to edit so that it can evolve along with your priorities.
Those requirements leave a lot of room for interpretation, so here are some examples:
- A desktop picture that shows your core value (family, friends, health)
- A notecard that you keep in your pocket that lists the top priorities of the current year
- A note on your phone’s home screen that has a customized decision-making flow chart
- A list of intentions that you put at the top of your note app or the start of your current journal
- A document that defines your roles (father, brother, teacher) and values (family time, creativity). You can then turn those values into actions each week to ensure they’re prioritized (Cal Newport’s example).
This Why Document doesn’t have to be complicated or all-encompassing. The purpose is to make it easy to accomplish things, but not so easy that you forget why you’re doing them in the first place.
Do you already have a form of a Why Document? Reply and tell me about it.