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Ten Questions for Setting Great Daily Objectives

2011 October 3
tags: Effectiveness, Getting Things Done, GTD, Priorities, Productivity, Self-Care, Time Management
by Andrew   

What to do today?  Where to start?  I don’t know where to begin!

If you’re like most people, you face those questions, and likely more, at least occasionally and perhaps every day.  They’re daunting questions when considered beyond the immediate timeframe, and I’ll discuss in this article a powerful way to respond to them.

The Challenge

We all face questions every day about what we’ll do for the day, what we need to do immediately versus later, what’s important, and even whether we’re achieving the goals we have set for our life.  Some of this dialog is internal and largely silent to our conscious mind, and some of it is quite noticeable to our consciousness.

Many variables specific to the individual impact whether the discussion is positive or negative, noticed or unconscious, and effective or ineffective.  Among these are general self-awareness, maturity of the individual’s self-reflection and its frequency, and the individual’s trust in their own internal dialog.  Add to these variables the near-constant cacophony of external distractions and it becomes clear why even the simplest of questions, “what am I going to do today?,” becomes an often insurmountable challenge over time.

The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.  ~Socrates


The Solution

I don’t promise that this is the only solution, or necessarily even the best solution.  But it is one of the best solutions available because it frames the context of today’s effort (on any given day) within a larger structure of self.  Ask yourself these questions, and take the time to answer them.  Even repeatedly.  Asked daily, these questions can become nearly automatic as each day is begun – or ended – and can bring much clarity and focus to what is otherwise potential chaos.

  1. Who do you work for? Seriously.  Is it your supervisor?  His or her supervisor?  A more senior executive?  The executive?  I suggest the answer to all of those, and most other responses that immediately occur to people, is a resounding “No.”  Why?  There are many reasons, but the greatest of which is likely that very few people are ultimately motivated by a desire to see any of the people mentioned above succeed at any cost.  What is far more likely is that you work for yourself, for your altruism, or for your God, in each case regardless of whether you are self-employed or work for some small, medium, or large organization.  The source of compensation has little, in most cases, to do with who you actually ultimately serve in your job.  You must decide for yourself what the higher purpose of your work is, and allow this – even require that this – inform the answers to the rest of the questions.
  2. What do you want to accomplish today? This question is writ both large and small, as are many of them.  Do you want to clear the stack in your inbox, make effective assignments to teammates, ensure responses are made to your manager, and form effective new relationships?  Do you want to accomplish all of these things today?  Do you also want to become more spiritually developed, with a greater sense of self and your worth?  Do you want to devote some of your time to charity or social work?  Again, the answer to this question must inform both how you respond to it and how you answer the others.
  3. What one accomplishment would most move your life forward? This question’s answer is unlikely to have much to do with your immediate workload or even your work environment, unless you need to seriously reevaluate your priorities.  The answer to this question is so intimately important to you that it is entirely up to you to determine what you most want to achieve.
  4. What do you feel like doing? What do you have the energy for?  What are you in the mood to do?  Energy follows movement, which anyone who exercises for fun, or writes creatively, knows.  Even if you don’t feel like doing it, get started.  More often than not, motivation and energy will begin to grow quickly.  However, you must not make a habit of consistently doing that which you don’t feel like, or you will grow so averse to it that you will develop an incredibly challenging resistance to doing anything that demotivates you, no matter how important the activity.  Strive for balance in doing what you love and in doing what you must, if they differ.  And strive to reduce the frequency with which they are at odds.
  5. What do you have time to do? There’s little point in beginning a task or project that will take more time than you have, when it must be finished before you can put it down.  Carefully evaluate what’s urgent versus what’s important, identify things that fit both categories, and consider them all against your available time.  Inform the necessary people if you are unable to meet some commitments (even implied ones), because of the confluence of too many items you can’t resolve alone.  Ask for help, relief on deadlines, or forgiveness.
  6. Of all your choices, which will matter in the long run? Which choice most serves the first two questions above?  Do you really need to file another two hundred email messages or review tomorrow’s calendar for the next half-hour?  Or do you need to leave the office to attend an event important to your family?  Do you need to deliver that file today rather than tomorrow, or do you need to focus on yourself and your connection with your God?
  7. What will maintain your integrity? Not reputation, but integrity.  They’re usually intertwined, but you can manage to have a great reputation as a fixer, or a rainmaker, or a sledgehammer – all valued by certain sectors of today’s corporate culture – and still have no personal integrity.  What choices can you make today to maintain your integrity, or even begin to re-develop it, if necessary?
  8. What can you do for someone else today? Does a coworker need assistance with a project, or even just reviewing messages so they can get their head above water?  Does your supervisor need help with a project that normally he or she would do in order to focus on something more pressing?  Do you need to leave a bit early to help a neighbor get somewhere or complete a chore they can’t do alone?
  9. What must you accomplish today to ensure your financial security? There are usually economic aspects to choices about work, even if you’re only choosing which tasks to work on and which to defer; ultimately, someone with the ability to influence your promotions or continued employment may not like the choices you made.  They may really not like them.  Still, you can’t control everyone’s reactions and you can’t make everyone happy, so what tasks must you do today to ensure you perform your job as best you can?
  10. What must be done today because someone else said so? While this question often seems the most important when you’re working “for’ someone else in a hierarchical environment, it really is the least important when compared to the first eight questions in this list, which are much more closely oriented with the person you want to be.  This question, and the immediately preceding one, are quite essential to ensuring you perform your current job to the best of your ability and satisfy the performance expectations; however, ensure you take your responses to questions one, two, and seven into account as you evaluate when to do the items you identify for question ten.


This above all:  to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.

~William Shakespeare

Take care, and enjoy life,



Photo credit Marco Bellucci


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