For two weeks I've finally got my teeth into a new habit, one that had been eluding me for over a year. The results have been surprisingly great even though the habit is amazingly simple. Every morning, I start out by answering three questions:

  1. What must I do to create the most impact today?
  2. What should I do to build a better future?
  3. What do I want to do so that I may enjoy today and life more completely?

My morning routine is pretty solid. I wake up, meditate, and then I sit down with my notebook and a pen. I draw three little boxes and begin to write

Yes, I am writing with a purple pen. An amazing purple pen.

Yes, I am writing with a purple pen. An amazing purple pen.

This simple exercise primes me for the day. It sets the right tone so that I engage life fully; I am productive, but I am enjoying myself.

I don't like to be idle. I love the feeling of producing, learning, and stretching myself just a little bit further. Even with that intrinsic motivation I often need to prime my brain to move forward, to warm it up. Once I begin thinking in these terms of must, should, and want I can stay focused. Without this focus, it is disturbing how quickly I fall into a lethargic, apathetic state.

The other risk I face is becoming hyperfocused. Productivity is all that matters and I neglect other parts of life. Without enjoying myself, all the productivity in the world has no value. This is the purpose of the "I want…" item. It specifically ensures I am reminded of what I enjoy. Recognizing this human need allows a signal to be heard: I'm not an automaton! Sometimes I need to schedule a break or recognize that the day will not be that productive. Last Sunday I eagerly spent 4 hours preparing a dinner and dessert for some friends. That morning I wrote, "I want to pull off an amazing dinner". My other items were much easier so I could accommodate this goal, and dinner was great.

While I enjoy being productive, I more so enjoy being human. I want to enhance that experience as much as possible. My goals and ambitions in life support this but I must always be reminded and engaged with the reason I work towards a better self. This work directly impacts, and increases, the depth and quality of the relationships I have with others. Planning alone is not adequate to be a productive human enjoying life.

Reviewing is more important than planning.

Before I plan any new items for the day I first review the plans from the day before. I wait until the next day so that I can get some distance, and sleep is the best method. It cools down judgements and allows more rational evaluation. Reviewing only takes a few moments. I tick off the boxes and have a few symbols to rate the quality of the outcome. If it exceeded my expectations, it gets two plus signs. Double minuses expresses "Wow, that was a total let down!", which I affectionately refer to as doubleplusungood.

When I don't complete something, I still evaluate it. Except now it's based on the reason for not completing it. Did I run out of time or did I not make time? Usually it's the latter. If I failed to make time for something worth writing down there better be a good reason. Plus signs represent good decisions, minus is a bad decision. It's acceptable to miss items, as long as they are skipped because of well-intentioned, deliberate choices.

Not everything is good or bad.

Sometimes in my review I realize that it wasn't bad, but it didn't have the positive effect that I expected. It certainly wasn't negative and sometimes didn't seem to have any effect. For this I simply put a tilde (~), meaning that it was fuzzy. I pay close attention to these items because I am convinced that it only means I didn't do something quite right. If the execution was not good enough, the change I wanted to see cannot be created.

What has changed over 2 weeks?

I got myself out of a deep cycle of lethargy. I started to tackle new projects with more enthusiasm and zeal, staying focused and reminding myself what was most important to me. I have been more mindful of the time I spend with my family.

Now that I have a degree of focus and clarity, my outlook changed from an Eeyore-ish Ho-hum to Tigger-level enthusiasm. I can more easily identify desirable outcomes and transform obstacles into opportunities. Writing down 3 things each day is simple and takes hardly any time. It's hard to believe such great changes can happen from such small efforts. It does work, at least for me, by causing a natural perspective shift.

You always head where your eyes are looking. If you aren't focused on anything, your life is fuzzy and lacks meaning. If you focus on your mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them. If you focus on what you must, should, and want to do you will get closer to where you need to be to find complete, sustainable happiness.