What Do You Want to Accomplish Today?



Maybe the answer is “nothing.”  If so, at least it’s a conscious choice.   It’s a simple enough question, at first blush.  In fact, it’s the question I use to make the most of my day.  But there’s more to it.

The real question is, “What do you want to accomplish today? … given your available time, your available energy, your MUSTs/needs and/or wants?”

It invites you to think of your time budget for the day.  How many hours do you realistically have?  Actually quantify it – is it 10 hours? …. 4 hours? … 2 hours?  You can only throw those hours at so many things.

It invites you to think of your energy.  Do you feel like changing the world … or are you lucky if you have enough energy to just change your mind?

It invites you to consider your MUSTs and needs and wants for the day.  What are the things you MUST or need to get done today, if anything?  If you finish painting the mast, meanwhile while your boat sank, you missed something important.  Using MUST can help you quickly identify the critical from the non critical.  Note that when you actually do your MUSTs, shift to “Choose To” over “Have To” or “MUST” (it’s subtle but effective.)

If you’re in the habit of burning the midnight oil or pushing yourself too far, or wondering where your day went, this simple question, along with elaboration, can get you back on track.  I use it at the start of my day, as a midway check, and throughout the day as needed.  Simply reminding myself either that I only have so much time, or whether I’m exploiting my best energy, helps me improve my effectiveness in simple, but cumulative ways.

Photo by liza31337.


  1. Even one know what is the MUST, he still delay it. Worse, some just don’t know what are the MUSTS, in terms of short and long effects. The bigger question is How to Plan. Not everyone has the ability or familarity to have a long term plan(or, even the short one). Any thoughts or resources on this?

  2. Hey JD – my favourite part was quantifying how many hours we really do have. Once we minus the time for showers, food, and stuff like that, we really don’t have that much time – but a lot of people just don’t recognise that.

  3. Hey JD,

    I like the question. I know a lot of people start their day either thinking about what they must do, they don’t want to do or they wish they had. None of which is very productive. A question like yours can get you focused and put you on the right track.


  4. Hi JD,

    What I like about this method is that everyday it makes you estimate how much you can do given the number of hours and energy you have. Over a period of time, this makes one better at planning.

  5. This somewhat leaves out the question of sacrifice though. Some people may sacrifice having a meal or getting enough sleep because of what they want to do that trumps what I’d think most of us consider to be rather primal needs. While I like the question, maybe I’m just looking at this from a quirky angle. There is something about the time-boxing of this, that it is today and not a week or longer where it is easy to get derailed with any plan, that seems like a good idea so I’ll try it and see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen? I discover something that doesn’t work for me, which I can accept as part of growing and learning.

  6. Hi JD!
    Great post. I always bite off more than I can chew when it comes to planning my day–but what always steers me back to sanity is exactly what you wrote about here. It is so important to align our wants and musts with the energy and actual hours available to us. Thanks for the reminder. This makes so much sense!

  7. Short, sweet post. I’m having a little holiday from my working life and exploring the family side more. My kids are young and on holiday, my mum is visiting us from the UK and the temperatures are soaring. It’s a great time to do nothing and hang out. I think it’s interesting that my plans are still progressing even though I’m no longer forcing them. Sometimes you really need to do nothing then suddenly the urge comes to do something…

  8. @ Jim

    I like to use a few things, especially time frames:
    1. Identify 3 results you want for the year.
    2. Identify the top things you regret not doing, and prioritize those.
    3. Test out Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 … ask yourself if this will matter in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years.

    If you’re looking for some deeper stuff, check out John Maxwell’s book, Your Roadmap for Success, and find my post on How To Figure Out What You Really want.

    Hope that helps.

    @ Eduard

    It’s really about balancing and making a thoughful trade-off. Sometimes just the right question really makes it pop.

    @ Avani-Mehta

    Well put — it does give you the chance to get better at estimating, and you get a new chance each day.

    @ JB King

    Really good point. I used to push past my boundaries too much, thinking I was trading up for results. What I found is that it’s better to keep some of my basic patterns in place (eating, sleeping, and working out) and work around those.

    I still sacrifice now and zen, when needed, but it’s a conscious choice, and more often than not, I go for a fresh start on a new day, than push the previous day past it’s breaking point.

    @ Jodi

    Thank you. I used to fill my plate too much. Now, I think of it like a buffet and I take more trips, with less stuff.

    It’s a simple metaphor but it reminds me to travel light, and I can always get more, and keep a buffer for the unexpected.

    @ Daphne

    The art of time budgeting is a key to life.

    I too love deciding to do nothing today and it balanced out my uptime.

    @ Annabel

    Thank you. It’s great that you’re plan has a glide-path. I’m a fan of riding waves over pushing rocks up hill when you can.

  9. Hi J.D.,

    This is perfect timing as I’m concentrating on better time management for the new year. I usually put a lot on my plate but forget to segregate it into musts and shoulds and at the end of the day I’m left asking “what exactly did I accomplish?”

    I like the idea of figuring out our time budget, too. Although I’m up for 16+ hours, I have to remind myself each hour/minute can’t be counted as “productive” if I want to “have a life” 🙂

  10. Well that will certainly explain why my boat took on water. Tho the azure blue of my main mast was beginning to look so so beautiful, I perhaps could’ve been more mindful of the shoals approaching!

    This post reminds me that if we are constantly running out of time to get things done, constantly not happy and thinking time the culprit, it may well be one’s overall life wants and goals that need revamping. Inner balance knows what heart seeks most.

  11. Thank you – this simple question along with MUST’s metaphor helped me change my focus. I used to first time-box and then fill it with significant things in it. Now, i am changing it the other way around.
    I like it

  12. @ Albert

    Somehow I missed you on my pass. Thanks for stopping by.

    You really put a fine point on it. It’s all about getting mindful and realistic about the time we really have.

  13. @ Barbara

    Time management is an art and science. I’ll be sharing more posts on time and productivity this year.

    Peter Drucker has a lot of very interesting insights on time management.

    @ Jannie

    I think you truly have the makings of a song.

    Revamping goals and finding inner balance is the way to make your heart sing.

    @ Alik

    Good move. Very good move.

  14. Hi JD .. the qualification question of “what do you want to accomplish today” is important. Today I feel great and I know I’ll have a catch up session, write lots of letters (still to do re my Ma, thank you letters, queries re things), comment on blogs, visit my mother twice etc and deal with things happening at the Nursing Centre. Recently I’ve had ups and downs – not helped by a neighbour needing my help, but which I find unnecessary & upsets my applecart day! If I can hit the day running then I achieve loads, if the day gets muddied – then I never catch that energy again. I don’t like saying No to people – but I have to!

    Some days we just don’t feel like doing some things we should do .. and I’ve had a few of those too .. normally I’m fine – perhaps it’s the cold, snow and ice??!!

    So today – I’m in accomplishment mode and no doubt will achieve lots and work late into the evening. Fortunately life is clearing its way for me – I just have my own loose ends to tie up – then moving forward is the only way and on to a successful 2010.

    Good to read your posts – they always offer such ‘insightful’ thoughts – glad I’m here – thank you ..
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  15. I want to accomplish my ability to relax with frustrating work. It’s an oxymoron because if I wasn’t frustrated then the work would be enjoyable. I think it’s one of the keys to working happy. If we can guide our emotions through tough times without getting thrown off center then we have solved 99% of our problems.

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