The 3 Most Important Questions to Answer Before Doing Anything

I spent the weekend staying in this adorable little rustic cabin in the woods, sitting my butt on a cushion, practicing a bit of gentle yoga, breathing, and feeling my feet.

I went on retreat because I was craving spaciousness and slowness. While I attempt to create this feeling as part of my daily rhythm whenever possible, as we all know, it can be hard - and can even feel impossible at times. 

We have meetings, events, tasks, places to go, stuff to get done, and seemingly never enough time to do them all. 

Spaciousness is both seductive and elusive. It winks at us from the 30 minutes of white space on our calendar between meetings, before disappearing into a sea of back-to-back appointments for the rest of the day. It flashes us a big smile during the rare completely unscheduled summer weekend, only to vanish into a sea of Saturday morning classes, weddings, weekend visitors, trips, baby showers, and reunions. 

Spaciousness can be confusing. On one hand we yearn for it, yet on the other hand, the things that fill our calendars and our weekends are often full of fun, love, community, and connection. We want to do it all. 

Spaciousness can feel scary. Often, upon connecting with colleagues or acquaintances who I haven't seen in awhile, the first question they ask is, "How's business? Are you busy?" We live in a society that associates "busy" with "good" and "successful." While this is slowly starting to shift with the growing popularity of books like Essentialism, The One Thing, and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as a whole, our western society operates on the principle that "more is better." 

And sometimes, it is. For me, the "good" kind of "more" involves: more positive impact, more connection, more community, more generosity, and more creativity. And I've discovered that this type of "more" requires space.

Creating space doesn't always require going on a weekend retreat. What it does require, however, is constant intention and attention about the things we say yes to and the things that fill our minutes, hours, and days.

Derek Sivers famously said, "if it's not a Hell Yeah, it's a No." While I love this quote and concept, I find that our Hell Yeah isn't always abundantly clear. For example, "doing laundry" is never a Hell Yeah for me. Does that mean I abandon it altogether, leaving my clothes in a defiant heap on the floor? And while "saying no more" is often touted as the answer to cure our society's disease of busyness, I believe that the answer is often slightly (or largely) more complicated. 

As a result, I've created three key questions that help me to make the best possible decisions about what I say Yes to, and what I say No to. 

  • Does this come from a place of gratitude?

  • Is this aligned with my highest purpose in the world?

  • Is this 100% aligned with my values?

I use these questions whenever making a decision about what to do or how to spend my time. 

Making an Important Decision

Several months ago, I was trying to engineer a very complicated system for determining which out-of-town engagements I would say "yes" to, and which I'd say "no" to. I was traveling too much at the time and was feeling burned out. My system involved analysis, spreadsheets, and complicated self-created formulas which would help me determine the right answer for each of these requests that came in. Excited, I explained my new system to my coach. She replied, amused, "or, each time you receive a new request, you could just take a breath, and ask yourself, 'what would make this opportunity worth it?'" Damn it. Her advice was always so simple, and always so spot on. In that moment, I threw out my spreadsheet and embraced this new approach.

  • Step One: Take a Breath.
  • Step Two: Ask Myself the 3 Key Questions

This simple process of breathing and reflecting on my 3 key questions led me to let go of two of my largest pieces of business at the time. While both were projects that I enjoyed, and both involved working with some incredible people, the cost for each had become too high. Taking a breath and tuning into the key questions allowed me to set aside the voice of my ego (But...they want you to do it!! But...what if you don't find anything to replace these two enormous projects?) and tune into the voice of my intuition and my deep inner truth. These were two of the best decisions I've made in my business in the past year. 

Responding to a Request

I get a lot of inquiries from new coaches and potential new coaches who want to learn more about becoming a coach, starting a coaching business, and becoming certified as a coach. I love helping new coaches; I believe that coaching skills make the world a better place and that we could truly create world peace if only we knew how to talk to each other and ask questions from a place of curiosity.  I am eternally grateful to Chariti and Darcy, the two spectacular Madison-based coaches I called up on the phone when I was a new coach starting my coaching business. 

However, there was a moment about 6 months ago, when I realized that I was spending so much time in meetings and on phone calls with other new coaches that I was doing my own client work exhausted, at 1 in the morning. This was not okay. My core 'why' for my business is Impact. Clearly, I was not having the greatest possible impact on my clients or in the world if I was doing my most important work in an exhausted state at 1 in the morning.

This realization forced me to reevaluate how I handle these requests. Now, instead of shifting around my calendar or eliminating my independent working time to "squeeze in" these meetings, I schedule them around my existing appointments or independent working time. Sometimes this means that these meetings need to take place a month or more in the future. Sometimes this means I need to send a link to a blog post in the meantime. While this is still incredibly hard for me (I want to say yes! I want to be helpful! I want to squeeze in just one more thing on my calendar and make it work!), my three key questions help me know that this is the right thing to do. 

Managing our Calendars

It's easy to feel as though our time, our inboxes, and our calendars belong to everyone else but us. Often, from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed, we are fielding calendar requests for our time and presence, email requests for our input and review, and in-person requests for our attention, car keys, or knowledge of where the paper towels are stored. 

If we aren't deliberate and intentional, our minutes, hours, and days are quickly gobbled up by the requests of others. And as Annie Dillard says, "our days become our lives."

I like to frequently spend time looking at my calendar and appointments, and "cross checking" my calendar with my three key questions. If I don't have time for my most important, purpose-filled work, I add blocks of time to focus on key projects. And if there are "rogue" meetings or appointments that are filling my hours and my days and distracting me from the things that truly matter, I'm forced to think carefully about how to proceed. 

I recommend doing this "cross checking" yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily. It sounds extreme - I know. And, for most of us, it's one of the most difficult, yet most critical things we can do to ensure we are living in a way that aligns with our values and our highest purpose in the world. 

I hope that these questions are of service to you as you look for ways to create more spaciousness in your life, in service of the things that matter most. 

With Gratitude,