If you want surprising answers, go with this question. I’ve found it to be one of the most powerful questions ever for focusing oneself as it makes very explicit the opportunity costs of a certain course of action. If you are doing this now, what remains undone? If you are reading this post, what are you not doing? Laundry? Cleaning? The important project you need to finish? Taking the dog out? Chatting with your kids?
Once these other activities become front and center in your mind, it becomes really easy to compare the value of what you are doing with what you are not doing. In a way, this question serves as both a description of activities and a prescription of what you actually ought or want to be doing right now. You want to learn Spanish? That’s cool; it will probably take a single-digit number of hours every week for the next couple of years. What are you not going to be doing during this time? Is it worth it? You want to be a photographer? Very well. All it takes is a number of years of daily practice and you are there. What are you going to miss during this time? Are you ready to let go of these other things?
Framing ourselves to think of the things we’ll be sacrificing brings forth their value – how much is this thing you are doing really worth to you. Enough so you don’t meet your friends? Enough so you don’t have a vacation next summer? Enough so you drop your old hobby?
I also love the prescriptive side of this question. We all like to be engaged in new projects – there is a certain thrill in starting unfamiliar things. But as I’m sure everyone knows, there’s never enough time for all the things that we want to do in our lives. Answering this question can help you focus yourself on what really matters to you. It’s not only that if you want to learn photography, you need to invest the time. You actually shouldn’t take on many other things if you want to succeed. Same with learning a new language. Same with other projects. There’s always a price we pay; it’s just that often times it hides carefully in the dark corners of the excitement from the new. Asking yourself “What are you saying ‘No’ to?” makes this price explicit, which in turn makes it manageable.
My best wishes for a great day ahead!