The sun sets. Lights go out. The day is over.
What do you ask yourself at the end of the day?
Whether spoken aloud, jotted in a journal, or a vapor passing through the mind, every person sorts their day. When we ask it, we experience something. Do you feel tired at the end of the day? Or are you torn by what the done and undone. Or did your life hold true.
If you looked back at your to-do list, the natural question is “how busy was I today?”
Many are like bees buzzing around the hive. The constant motion is there, but the progress is not. It never ends.
Some characterize their day as busy. It is a swirl of activity. We call it many things—the daily grind, the hamster wheel, the rat race. It all adds up to the same thing. Busy is the new 21st Century designer disease.
But the busy person is no more productive than the spin cycle of the washing machine. It goes round and round but stays in the same place.
There are times I was so busy I don’t remember anything I did. I felt exhausted in a heap staring through glassy eyes at a not-so-entertaining TV.
In the end, busy people are tired.
Let’s phrase the question another way.
“What did I do today?”
That one is easier to answer. We can pull out a taskmaster or to-do list and read off the checkmarks.
- I wrote a report.
- I talked to friends.
- I prepared a class.
- I called a client.
- I responded to a complaint.
You can make a list and I can, too.
We can pinpoint what we did. But that’s not the problem. It comes with the foggy feeling that I did not accomplish anything.”
We checked the boxes. Punched the clock. Our lives get weighed and measured by tasks done. You can take pride at what you have done.
The problem with the question is its focus. Tasks fill the spotlight. But tasks cannot dance, and they cannot sing. They just stand there looking puny.
Task lists filled with the check marks leave us torn between doing and accomplishing.
The third question sounds similar but changes your viewpoint.
Benjamin Franklin wrote about the question he asked at the end of the day in his Autobiography. Following a stringent system of personal growth, he ended the day by answering a single question. “What good have I done today?”
It focuses a laser beam on life. The real issue stands out like a giant among pygmies.
- Who did I help helped?
- What problems did I solved?
- What crisis did I prevent?
- What did I build, improve, or change for the better?
At the end of the day, something changes with that question. When something is better, we feel better.
John Wesley, the circuit-riding preacher who started Methodism, wrote:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
At the end of your life, don’t have the words “I wish I had…” on your lips. Instead, ask the right question every day, and you can say, “I did the good I could.”