Why are we here? Why do we get up every morning and aim to achieve something? Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near? Why ask why?

“Why?”

It’s a powerful question.

Philosophers use it to better understand the human condition and seek out the answers to The Big Question. Scientists use it to cure diseases and The Carpenters once asked it to make a pretty catchy song.

The good news is, we can ask that question ourselves on a regular basis to aid us in the all important mission of getting things done.

Have you ever sat down to make your to-do list of plan a series of goals without thinking too much about why you’re going undertake a particular task beyond the simple excuse that it just has to be done?

Have you ever found yourself half way through a deadly dull, time-consuming task and suddenly thought what the hell is the point of this?

If not, more power to you. If so, welcome to my world.

Too much to do

I suspect I’m not the only one who has ever found far more on my plate than I can possibly handle. Sprawling To-Do lists, bursting at the seams with endless amount of actions spiralled out of control. Projects which seemed important sat forever half-finished and progress on long-term goals had barely begun.

There was just so much to do. More than I could ever possibly conceive finishing in anything like a manageable time scale  and I had to do all of it.

I didn’t ever stop to really think about why I had to do something I just knew, even subconsciously, that it had to be done. After all, if I didn’t have to do it, why would the thought even occur to me to scribble it down on a To-Do list?

It created a habit of assigning too high a priority to what were pointless or unnecessary tasks, spending so much time on those tasks that I never had the time to accomplish anything that was really important to me.

That was, quite frankly, insane.

Asking Why

So I stopped. The next time I came to plan out my goals and lay out a To-Do list, I forced myself to think long and hard about why I was planning to do all this stuff.

  • Why is it important that I finish this project?
  • Why is it important that I reply to all those e-mails as soon as possible?
  • Why is this long-term goal on my bucket list?
  • Why do I need to spend my whole day working on something that will ultimately have little benefit?

By employing such thinking every time I came to plan things out, I came to see that I was wasting a great deal of time on things that didn’t really matter, either because priorities had changed, because I’d convinced myself something was important when it really wasn’t  or even because somebody else had said it was important.

It was the latter bunch that I struggled with the most.

After giving much thought to certain tasks, it turned out that the only reason I had to do something was because it was expected of me by somebody else.

I suspected that those people hadn’t given much thought as to why this had to be done either. On closer inspection, it was an entirely pointless exercise designed to suck time and keep busy. Still, people were expecting this of me. How could I justify not doing it?

I asked another question.

What’s the worse that can happen?

What’s the worst possible thing that can happen if I don’t complete this task? Or, as I so dramatically liked to think of it: Will anybody die if I don’t do this?

More often than not, it turned out that nobody would die, nothing terrible would happen, and I could therefore feel confident in eliminating that stuff on my list to focus instead on what was really important.

Justification

Of course, there’s a problem which this approach; if we spend enough time thinking about anything we can easily find a million excuses to justify doing, or not doing anything.

That’s why it’s important to be honest, perhaps harsh, with yourself when undertaking this approach. Is this really important? Will it matter in the long run or does it just seem like it right now? Can I delegate this to somebody else? Can I let it go altogether and concentrate on what really matters?

If not, get it done. If so, let it go. The only person you’re really letting down if you don’t ask why is yourself. That way, you’ll have much more time to focus on what really matters to you, like answering the bigger questions in life such as why we’re here, or even why birds suddenly appear.

Featured photo credit:  Gorgeous young brunette in thinking posture via Shutterstock

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