The Question That Frees Up a Schedule
Raise the chances that when you do whatever you agreed to do, you’ll actually want to do it
Perhaps you’ve faced a dilemma like this. You’re in the middle of a busy week. You’re barely keeping your head above water. You need more hours, yet somehow, on Thursday morning, you see that you’ll be traveling downtown to your local conference center to participate in a panel on a topic that you’ve been moving away from in your career. At this point, canceling would be embarrassing. But you’re kicking yourself on the drive there. What happened?
What happened is that when you said yes to this commitment a year earlier, your schedule seemed completely open. It’s hard to say no, and how were you supposed to know that Future You would be slammed? But asking one simple question before taking on any commitment can raise the chances that when you do whatever you agreed to do, you’ll actually want to do it.
Humans aren’t naturally good at considering our future selves. There’s some research finding that we view our future selves almost as strangers. We’re not sure what our future selves will be thinking, doing, or feeling.
That’s a problem — and not just for questions like whether we’re saving enough for retirement. When we are asked to do things far in the future, it feels like we’re assigning them to an entirely different person. Saying no means experiencing some unpleasantness now, whereas saying yes means passing this obligation onto what feels like someone else. I won’t be busy next February! Next February I’ll have tons of time. And on some absurd level it makes sense. If you look at February on next year’s calendar now, it will be almost completely blank.
But, sadly, come next February, your calendar will no longer look as untouched as the new fallen snow. You will be the same person you are now. You will be just as busy. Only now you will also have this other commitment that you were lukewarm about 11 months before. Extricating yourself will be difficult.
There needs to be a way to make future commitments feel more real. The best way to do that is to ask this simple question: Would I do this tomorrow?