The 5-Minute Exercise to Boost Your Life - Evening Questions

June 8, 2020 · 6 min read

Women standing on the edge between water and a forest Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash

Do you feel stuck sometimes?

You’re not alone.

I feel stuck, too. Often. And it sucks to feel like I don’t make any progress. Like nothing I do really matters.

This year, I started a habit that helps me to un-stuck myself. To not even get the feeling that I am stuck.

I’ve discovered that evening questions do wonders for my contentment and productivity.

In this post I’ll tell you why evening questions work, which ones I use, what I learned from my evening questions, and how you can develop your own.

Why evening questions?

How do you improve? What makes you content in your life? How do you learn what works for yourself, and what doesn’t?

When we want to improve our lives and be content, it is crucial that we learn about ourselves. With time, you will learn more about yourself, your preferences, and your way of working. But without a system in place, your discoveries happen more or less accidentally.

Your reality is defined by your perception.

Every event, person, conversation, text, and thought in your life is shaped by how you perceive it. And luckily, you can change your perception by placing your focus on specific areas of your life..

Not yet convinced? Imagine you write down every day what you are grateful for. I find it hard to believe that this would not give you a more positive mindset over time.

Evening questions are my favorite tool to improve my mindset, and to learn more about myself. You get valuable insights after only a few days. And the best thing is that your improvements are sustainable.

What are evening questions?

Evening questions are a set of personal questions you answer every evening for yourself. They help you be more content and to advance in the areas of your life important to you.

These questions can come from different backgrounds. Some focus on your own happiness, so you can reflect and learn what influences your happiness in life. Others focus on your productivity or other areas where you want to learn and improve.

You can ask any question you like in your evening questions. Anything that you think will have a positive impact on your life is a good choice.

Good evening questions fall into one of the following categories:

  • Positive questions rewire your brain to perceive how many wonderful things happen in your life by focusing on gratitude and happiness. There are so many things we are grateful for. But we often don’t recognize them. This can be the smell of the first cup of coffee in the morning. The way the wind whispered in the trees on your way to work Or that story you laughed about together with your coworkers. You can also be grateful about general things in your life, such as the roof over your head, your pet, your friends, or your partner.
  • Negative questions help you find out what makes you sad. This way you can recognize patterns and try to improve or overcome these sources of sadness. You will find patterns of thought, people, or events that influence your mood more often than you think.
  • Goal questions improve your productivity and help you reach your goals. They can help you find your most productive hours, or to find out how good your plans are and if you stick to them. Whether you want to write an app or improve your cooking, you knowing your progress and finding roadblocks helps you reach your goals faster.
  • Learning questions prompt you to think about what you learned today. You can often find something you learned that you didn’t note down anywhere. We could also call these "1-percent-better questions". Because they help you get 1 percent better every day. Over time, 1 percent a day makes you 37.78 times better over the course of a year. Your habits are the compound interest of your daily actions. What we know intuitively for some areas (we won’t be able to speak Japanese after studying for one hour tonight), also applies to all other skills and habits we have.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Will Durant

My personal evening questions

I keep my evening questions and answers in Roam. If you haven’t heard about Roam: it is a note-taking app for networked thought. Take a deep dive into it with Nat Eliason’s post on Roam.

Roam allows you to write content anywhere in your knowledge-base, add new pages through bi-directional links in your texts, and discover your notes again with powerful search.

I write my evening questions in the daily notes. At the end of the day, I simply type in [[Evening Questions]], and copy & paste the current template.

The start of my journey with evening questions was inspired by questions I saw people on the internet use:

  • What made me happy today?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • What made me sad?
  • Were there any signs of my day going to shit that I could recognize?
  • What interesting ideas did I come across?

Answering these questions helps me in many areas. (See below 👇)

My current evening questions are:

  • What’s on your mind?
  • What made me happy today?
  • What made me sad?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • Did I follow my plans for the day?
  • Was I prepared enough?
  • What could I do better?
  • What have I learned that will help me tomorrow?

I start with free-flow writing, like the morning pages. There I just write everything I have on my mind, without editing it. Evening pages are a great way to clear your mind before going to bed.

Then I go through my questions and write as many or as few points for each question as I feel. I always try to write at least one point for every question.

I think about what made me happy that day, go over what made me sad, and lift my mood again by writing what I feel grateful for that day.

Then I go on to my productivity questions where I determine if I completed my to-dos, and if I prepared my day the right way. I also want to find out if there is anything I could do better. Sometimes something immediately pops into my mind, and I can write it down.

The last question is a learning question to find out if I learned anything valuable that I did not already write in my note-taking system.

Once a month, I go through my answers to these questions to extract valuable information.

When I review my gratitude answers for example, I know the basic building blocks of my contentment. The same goes for my happiness answers.

The productivity and learning questions help me to get 1% better every day. They help me to improve my life steadily, by finding out what works for me and what doesn’t.

What I learned from my evening questions

This is going to get personal.

I learned that what makes me most happy are my fiancée, my friends, my coworkers, and creating things (like this blog).

I learned that I get sad when people close to me are sad or mean, and when I don’t find the time to work on what is important to me (meditation, fitness, and working on my own projects).

I learned that I am most grateful for my fiancée, my two closest friends, and that my family is healthy.

And I learned so much about productivity that I wrote about it in another post: What Evening Questions Taught Me About Productivity.

How you’ll develop your own questions

I started with a simple set of five questions that I copied from several articles:

  • What made my happy today?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • What made me sad?
  • Were there any signs of my day going to shit that I could recognize?
  • What interesting ideas did I come across?

But my current template is much more sophisticated.

The way to improve your evening questions is simple:

  • Start simple, and take note of questions you find elsewhere that you find interesting.
  • After a few weeks, go through your answers. Revise your questions. Remove the questions that you rarely answered or that you feel didn’t add much to your happiness or understanding of yourself. Add the most promising questions from your notes.

So, start simple, and re-evaluate your questions from time to time. Add questions you find interesting.

Now it’s your turn. Prepare your evening questions for today. I promise you that you’ll learn something interesting. You will improve. In exactly the areas of your life that matter to you. Start with a simple set of questions and take inspiration from my categories above.