For many of us, the morning is a time for reflection. It’s a time to meditate on what’s been going on over the past few days, what you’re going to do throughout the workday, and where you’re going in the future. It’s easy to go through the motions of the daily routine and miss those key opportunities for self-examination, but if you don’t take the time to ask yourself critical questions about your career, you could end up continuing in a bad direction or get stuck in a rut.
Finding the right questions to ask is also tough, but I’ve found that these five can help you evaluate exactly where you are, exactly where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there:
1. What Did I Learn From Yesterday? No matter how simple or complex your day was, you must have learned something. Did you master a new skill or learn a new process? Did you find something out about your organization that leads you to better understand your position within it? Did you have an experience that will help you in future, similar situations? Find at least one thing that you learned from the previous day and consider it.
On one level, this is going to help you reinforce the new ideas and skills that come to you on a daily basis. On another level, it’s going to help you look for new opportunities to learn. Since you know you’ll be asking yourself this question, you’ll be driven to force yourself to learn something new every day, and you’ll therefore be improving yourself every day.
2. What Is My Goal for Today? You might already have a task list set out, or an inflexible schedule that you’ll no doubt adhere to, but even in cases when you have a solid plan in place, it’s worth setting one main goal to take precedence over all of it. Is your goal to get all the “A”-level priorities on your task list accomplished? Is it to finish your work by 5:30? Is it to complete a report by the end of the day?
Setting a goal helps give you direction, and gives you perspective for all your other tasks; when one goal takes priority over all the others, you’ll be less stressed about the fine details. But this question also has a secondary effect: it forces you to evaluate what’s really important in your position, which serves as the perfect lead-in to the next question.
3. Do I Like Where I Am? This is the biggest question you’ll have to face in the morning, and it’s also the most important. Happiness in a job is dependent on a number of factors, and you’ll have to carefully consider all of them. Do you like your responsibilities? Are you excited to go to work? Do your tasks fit your skillset? Are you paid enough? Do you like the company culture? Do you get along with your boss and your coworkers?
There are many questions that can help you figure this out, but the final answer will come from within. When you separate out your temporary feelings — like feeling frustrated about a current assignment — how do you feel about your position? If you don’t like it, you know all that matters is the next step. If you do like it, think about what could be better.
4. Where Do I Want to Be? The breadth of this question depends on your goals. Where you want to be can refer to what industry you want to work in, what level you’d like to be in your current company, or how much experience you’d like to have before you pull out and start a business on your own.
Visualize where you want to be — whether that’s in 5 years or 20. Think about what it would mean to you, and what strategies you’re going to use in order to get there. It will put your current job into perspective, help you hone in on the important experiences that will lead you to that destination, and keep your goals top-of-mind.
5. What Can I Do Today to Get Closer? If your ultimate goal is a big one, there may already be a long, clear path waiting for you. It could take years of experience and years of education before you can settle into that dream position, but even so, there are actions you can take today that will get you closer to it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiny step or a big one; find something that can get you closer to that destination. It could be making a new contact, refining a core competency, having a conversation with your boss, or signing up for a new class. Establishing one action every day that will get you closer to your goal will eventually lead you in the right direction. It will also keep you focused on your grand vision, eliminating the distractions of your current job.
These questions won’t always be easy to answer, and they won’t always illustrate your situation in black and white. But over time, you’ll get a feel for their rhythm, you’ll learn to evaluate yourself objectively, and you’ll learn to form complex evaluations about your career that will help propel you forward. Stay consistent in your habits, and always push yourself to do more.