If you’re overwhelmed, intimidated, or frustrated by your to-do list or daily routine, this tiny trick might help. You just need to think a little lazier.
One of the core principles of productivity in Kendra Adachi’s book The Lazy Genius Way is a reminder to always ask yourself the “magic question”: What can I do now to make my life easier later? Adachi developed the “lazy genius” method to help her, “be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t.”
How the magic question can make you more productive
The idea behind the magic question is to motivate you to do the smallest action now, then float on the waves of relief you feel later when an associated annoying task turns out to be so much easier as a result.
“The smaller the something, the easier the solution. When you ask the magic question, you usually get a pretty quick win,” Adachi said in a podcast episode about the concept. “When you get in the habit of asking that question and then noticing how even the simplest answers can positively impact your day and your time and your energy and your attitude, you want to keep asking!”
How the magic question works
I’ve been using this technique lately when I’m short on time, energy, or both. First, I acknowledge I can’t tackle an entire big task right now. Then I ask myself: what’s the smallest thing I can do to make the task easier when I come back to it later? Here are a few personal examples of this practice in action from the last week:
- I don’t have time to register the kids for bike lessons right now, but I can open the browser tab so it’s ready to remind me when I come back to my computer.
- I don’t have time to mend a hole in this dress, but the thread is within reach so I will thread the needle and stick it in my to do list for later.
- I don’t have the time or energy to clean out the car before I pick up the kids from school, but I will carry an empty laundry basket to the car so it’s there to fill when we get home.
When to ask the magic question
Ask yourself the magic question in these scenarios:
What is coming up in my routine that is tiring or frustrating? Adachi said she hacked her family’s after school routine by throwing together a snack plate before she picked up the kids. Try asking the magic question about your morning routine, bedtime routine, laundry process, or weekly meal planning. Where do you find yourself getting stuck or frustrated in those routines? Is there a small thing you can do now to make it easier later?
What did I not finish on my to-do list today? Even if I didn’t complete a task today, I like the idea that I can make the tiniest bit of progress and come back to it later.
What’s a looming task or project I’ve been avoiding? Do you have those projects or tasks that migrate through the months of your calendar because you can never seem to get started? Ask the magic question, and suddenly you’ll find yourself Getting It Done.
You only have a few minutes to spare and can’t complete a whole task. What do you fit into those 10-15 minute gaps in your day (besides well-deserved TikTok breaks)? If I know something will take an hour but I only have 10 minutes, I try to do something tiny to help me out with a future task, like look up a phone number, write a list of questions, or set a reminder alarm.
Adachi compares the magic question to setting up dominoes and toppling the first one. That first step adds momentum to the next, and the next.
(No pressure, but I have noticed that for particularly intimidating tasks, doing one small step cuts the tension so I’m able to tackle the second and third step right away. The magic question can help you accomplish more than you expected, whether that’s now or later. Just doing the small first step is setting you up to crush that task later.
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