A few weeks ago I talked about one question that is very impactful when it comes to avoiding procrastination. This week I want to talk about the question I recently discovered that allows me to do the tasks on my to-do list even when I don’t feel like doing them. The question that recently turned my lazy day around.
One lazy day turned around that proved the concept
I kept this question a secret for a while now because I wanted to test for a longer period of time to see if it works in different situations. And last Monday was the day that made me a full believer in this question. Last Monday was a hard day for me. You know… one of those days where you don’t want to do anything from the very beginning. You wake up in the state of ugh… not today. Every simple task feels like torture. You overreact to the smallest inconveniences. You feel like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. We’ve all been there. I always struggled to turn these days around. And last Monday was the first time I was able to complete all of my tasks for the day even though I didn’t feel like doing them. And that’s when I knew I was definitely onto something big here.
Where is the magic, you might ask? It is in the question of “Can I?”.
“Can I?” vs. “have to”, “need to”, and “should”
What I found out is that if we replace all our shoulds, have tos, and need tos with the question “Can I?” something magical happens.
See how you feel when you read these sentences:
“I have to clean the dishes.” vs. “Can I clean the dishes?”
“I shouldn’t really eat another cookie” vs. “Can I just have one cookie and stop after that?”
All the shoulds, have-tos and need-tos have the underlying idea of being forced into doing something you don’t really want. And the more force you feel, the more you want to rebel against it.
When you change it into the “Can I?” question, the underlying concept changes, too. It becomes more of a fun challenge or a question of pride or character.
“Of course I can clean the dishes, who do you think I am?”.
“Of course, I can stop after eating cooking, it’s easy!”
“Sure, I can do that.”
I think it happens because other people usually ask us this question, “Can you do [insert activity]” And most of the time we say yes. And this creates this habit of saying yes whenever we hear a sentence starting with “can you”.
Your spouse asks you, “Can you please take out the garbage?”. You respond, “Sure, honey”.
An elderly person in a grocery store approaches you and says, “Can you please pass me that sauce from a top shelf?” – “Of course, here it is.”
A friend who thinks he is better than you challenging you to do 20 push-ups, “Can you do 20 push-ups?” “Yes, I can!” (even though it’s unpleasant and hard but hurting your pride is a lot more unpleasant).
“Can I?” in practice
So let’s come back to last Monday and see how I used “Can I?” to check off all the tasks I had planned for the day even though I was utterly not in the mood to do these things. This was me and my thoughts throughout the day:
- Wakes up. Ugh… not today… Ok, maybe I just need to brush my teeth, have my coffee and I’ll have my mojo back.
- Has the coffee. Does her morning routing. It doesn’t work. Still in a bad mood.
- Let’s just write the day off. We can do everything tomorrow. Let’s take it easy today. Let’s watch Netflix, eat and just relax.
- Ok, ok… Sounds like you have a plan. But listen… Can we just walk the dog first?
- Walks the dog. Comes back. Still not feeling energized to do anything.
- Yeay! It’s time to throw in the towel, cancel all the meetings and watch Netflix! Let’s go.
- Looks at her daily tasks. Finds something that doesn’t require too much thinking but needs to get done.
- Can I go to the post office and drop off two parcels?
- Sure, it doesn’t sound so bad. All you need to do is just drive.
- Drops off her parcels (one task is done)
- Looks at her tasks for the day.
- Can I call the bank and set up an appointment?
- Sure… It will only take 10 minutes and I can do it from a couch.
- Calls the bank. Sets up an appointment (another task is done). Feels a little better. There is some momentum going on.
- Looks at her tasks for the day.
- Ok, can I send that email?
- Sure, it’s just one email.
- Sends the email (another task is done). She is already in her office in front of her laptop.
- What else can I do from my to-do list?
- Finds a task, completes it, moves to the next incrementally growing in complexity.
At the end of the day, all the tasks are completed, even the most difficult ones.
How to turn your lazy day around
- Look at your to-do list.
- Find the easiest task.
- Can I do [insert the task]? Focus on the ‘can I’ part? If you are like me, you will feel a slight insult. “What do you mean “Can I?” Of course I can, it’s easy! Who do you think I am?” Or you can just simply feel like doing a favour when someone asks you for help “Sure, I can do that, not a problem at all”.
- Complete the task.
- Find the next easy task from your to-do list.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4.
- After the first few easy tasks, you will feel the momentum. And the difficulty of the tasks completed will rise.
Please, please, please… Don’t throw your need-tos, have-tos and shoulds into the mix. It will ruin everything. You will be back into your victimhood mentality of being forced to do something despite your will.
need-tos, have-tos and shoulds = victim mentality
Can I? = winner mentality
need-tos, have-tos and shoulds = someone else is in control of your life
Can I? = you are in control of your life
Don’t do this – “Can I stop eating a cookie? I shouldn’t eat too much sugar. It’s not good for my health”
You just say, “Can I stop eating a cookie?” as if someone is genuinely asking if you are physically capable of such a thing. As if someone was asking if you can play guitar.
We are wired to say yes whenever we are asked, “Can you?” Use it to say yes to your goals.
Feeling lazy? Discouraged? Exhausted? This is when you should stop using have-tos, need-tos and shoulds. They only add more exhaustion and overwhelm. Instead, find the easiest task and ask yourself if you can do it. “Can I?” When you phrase an easy task as a “Can I” question, it sounds ridiculously easy and you are more likely to say “yes” to that question. Let our social conditioning and our pride be our friends in turning lazy days around.
If you want to discover the one question I use to fight procrastination, check out this post.
If you want to see what other tools and mental shifts you can use to achieve your goals, check out my work.
- Consuming vs. Producing
- Why long-term planning is not as good as you were taught
- How to be consistent. Normalize, then optimize. The Rule of 10.
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