11 Lessons Evening Questions Taught Me About Productivity

June 16, 2020 · 5 min read

Silver MacBook turned on Photo by Fabian Grohs on Unsplash

Evening questions can help you. They may not be the holy grail, but they work for me.

When I started my journey with evening questions, I was not sure what to expect. But with time, I found out they are a flexible system to improve in the areas in life that are important to me.

I want to share with you what I discovered about productivity by answering my own questions every evening.

Prioritize before you start your day

There are two times where you can plan your day. Either you plan it the day before, or you plan in the morning. Try out what works for you.

Some prefer to jump directly into work and therefore need to plan their day before. Others want to get a clear grip on what they want to accomplish that day, and planning is the first thing they do in the morning.

Pay special attention to your priority 1 and 2 tasks because they shape your day.

Be content when you only finish your p1 to-do

I follow the 1-3-5 model for my task list. 1 task with highest priority, 3 tasks with medium priority, and 5 tasks with low priority.

It works wonders to keep me afloat with a full-time job, two blog posts and a newsletter a week, and other projects. Find the one task that really brings you towards your goals. This is your priority 1 task for the day. Your p2 tasks should also be related to your goals, but you can include something else if it really needs to be done.

Reserve p1 and p2 for your projects. P3 includes optional goals, chores, and any tasks that take less than ~15 minutes.

Related and important: if something takes less than 5 minutes, do it immediately.

Focus and put your phone (and other distractions) away

Manage your attention. Put your phone in another room while you work.

And make your working area distraction-free.

Optimize for high-value/high-impact tasks

Your time is scarce. Use it wisely.

If you're not working on something that has high value to you or a high impact on your business, take a step back. Why are you working on that task? Is there any other task that would have a higher impact on your goals?

If yes, stop your current task, document where (and why) you left it, and work on the highest-value task you have.

You can overcome this by ruthlessly prioritizing your task list for the day. First, get your goals straight. Working without a goal is like driving without a goal. You're constantly doing something, but you'll never arrive.

Then, go over each task on your list and ask yourself: "If a friend had this goal, would I advise them to work on this task, or is there something obvious that has a much higher impact?"

Cut the waste

There are too many task ideas I have every day. If you followed steps 1 and 4, your task list should already be prioritized for high-value tasks.

Look at the rest. Is there anything you really need to do and that you can't delegate or put off for longer? Schedule it.

For all other tasks, remove the due-date. Seriously. These tasks are clearly neither high-value nor important. Put them into an idea/maybe later folder.

You can look through this ideas folder from time to time, maybe you'll find something that helps you with a specific problem. Most of the time though, this ideas list will just continue to grow infinitely.

Allow yourself time to breathe

If you're doing any kind of creative work, you need time to breathe. Being creative is like exhaling. You can't only exhale. You need to inhale, too.

Your brain needs fresh input. So you can generate fresh ideas, relax, and make new connections in your brain. Read books, watch a movie, play games, go for walks.

Sleep enough

You know that feeling when you didn't sleep enough or well. Your head is slower, your heart rate higher, and your attention span is shorter.

I know that I can get things done on such days, but that is neither my best nor my fastest work.

So I created a simple rule: when I have to complete a task, I do that. But only for my p1 task. Even if it means less sleep. But the next day I assess what happened and why I didn't finish it earlier. Often, I find the root cause in the evening questions that same day.

This way I can do it better next time.

Focus on what you have under control

Don't expect something from other people. They are not under your control. You only control how you respond. And that should always be with dignity and respect and love.

You don't control everything.

This means two things for me: 1. You need to focus on things you have under control. 2. You need to let go of things you don't control.

Here are some things you don't control:

  • The weather
  • Chance
  • What happens to you
  • Other people

But you can control these:

  • How you respond to events
  • Where you put your focus on
  • What you say to other people
  • What you do with your abilities

Don't expect something from other people.

They are not under your control. You only control how you respond. And that should always be with dignity and respect and love.

Make tasks actionable

Your tasks should be actionable, otherwise you will waste time siting there and thinking about what you meant or how you should approach that task. All your energy and momentum you built from completing your previous tasks vanishes. You may ultimately decide to just ignore that task and move on to something else.

Always outline all steps needed to complete a task and include all necessary details.

Here are some terrible tasks:

  • Social Media Marketing
  • Hair
  • Blog Research

Instead, use tasks like these:

  • Create a tweet storm about the "evening questions productivity learnings" article
  • Book an appointment online at salon Y for Friday or Saturday
  • Spend 30 minutes researching blog software that allows paid memberships

If your tasks become too long, split them up. A good sign for this is when a task contains the word "and" one or multiple times.

Don't burn yourself out

It won't work to plan 100% of your time forever. You need to have some room in your week that you didn't stuff full of to-dos.

There will always be unexpected events, new ideas, or just the feeling you need some time off. If you previously struggled to schedule a free evening, start with that. If you're currently working every day, plan only half of your usual to-dos on one day.

This time won't be lost. You will fill it, either with new tasks or others that took longer than you expected. But you don't need to. Learn to take some time off.

Make your system your own

Even the tips in this article won't apply all to you. The most important thing I learned in answering my evening questions is that not every productivity advice applies to everyone.

Take some advice you like, try it out, and after some time evaluate what works for you and what doesn't. Make your productivity system your own.