Do things your Future Self will thank you for

Every time I have to explain a process to new team member, I search in my Google Drive first. Why?

I’m a documentation and playbook nerd. If I’m repeating the same conversation more than three times, I create documentation—it saves time and energy for all parties involved.

At moments like this when I find my own notes, I say, "Thanks Past Wes! You just saved me an hour."

You might debate whether a certain task is worth your time. If so, the framework of thinking about your Future Self is a useful litmus test.

The Future Self concept is about much more than documentation though. First, let’s take a step back.

Why you can't trust your Present Self

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume you have three selves:

  • Your Past Self

  • Your Present Self (this is you, right now)

  • Your Future Self

I hate to break it to you, but your Present Self can't be trusted. Humans are notoriously bad at estimating time, we are influenced by our immediate surroundings, and we overemphasize the negative.

Your Present Self cares about what's going on in this very moment. How you feel, if you're hungry, what Shauna said to you in the elevator, or Brad's attitude at your meeting.

Your Present Self feels elated when your new campaign is getting lots of engagement. Then an hour later, it feels panicked because the numbers are plateauing.

Based on how you feel from day to day (or even hour to hour), you could feel productive or like a waste of space. These ups and downs are unproductive, obviously. So how do you get out of your own way?

Tee up wins for your Future Self

If you can't trust your Present Self to make good decisions, you need to do things your Future Self would thank you for. Your only job is to tee up success for your Future Self. Make them look good. Make them look back and think, "Thanks Past Self. I'm so glad you did that."

There are responsibilities you're working on today that feel like a slog. Are they worth doing? Is the ROI worth it?

When I was debating whether to document certain processes, I thought about how long it would take. "Ugh. This is going to take 2 hours of my time."

But after considering the cost every time someone asked me a question (task-switching, 1:1 real-time to explain, potentially forgetting crucial information), I realized the 2-hour investment to create clean documentation was well worth it.

Yes, some tasks are a pain to do. Use the framework of "Future Self, Past Self" to decide if it's worth sucking it up and doing anyway. You might find that your Future Self will reap the benefits of the groundwork you lay today.

By doing things your Future Self will thank you for, you're tricking your brain into thinking of what's good for you long-term.

"Will my Future Self thank me for this?"

To bring this concept to life, here are examples of when your Future Self would or won't thank you.

Time management:

"Will my Future Self thank me for spending another hour scrolling through Twitter?"

No. Your Future Self won't benefit from reading more tweets at all–even if you insist you're doing research for your own tweets. Trust me, it's never-ending to scroll and you're not learning that much from it.


"Will my Future Self thank me for feeling like it's too late to get started?"

No. You said it was too late five years ago, and here we are five years later. If you had started five years ago... Don't kick yourself. If you start now, at least you'll be in a better place in five years.


"Will my Future Self thank me for eating this heavy burger for lunch?"

No. Your Future Self will have food coma during the meeting with your boss.

Professional Development:

"Will my Future Self thank me for learning Photoshop and design basics?"

Yes, your Future Self will be excited to handle minor website changes yourself without bugging people for favors.

Daily life:

"Will my Future Self thank me for putting this shirt back in the same drawer?"

Yes, your Future Self will probably be rushing out the door and will need to quickly grab a clean, pressed shirt for your networking event.

Conflict resolution:

"Will my Future Self thank me for learning how to respectfully speak up with my coworker, instead of hoping the situation will improve by itself?"

Yes, your Future Self will deal with more stuff like this. You'll be glad you learned how to deal with conflict when you had a chance to practice.

As you can see, your Future Self is you after lunch today, and it's you five years from now. You can use this concept for micro and macro decisions about how you're spending your time.

Start thanking your Past Self

Recognize when you've made good decisions in the past–and appreciate yourself for it. Too often, we think about all the things we did wrong.

But it's equally important to acknowledge when we did things right, so we feel encouraged to keep trekking forward.

For example,

Life: "Thanks, Past Self, for packing and labeling boxes, so now I can find my plates and clothes without ripping open every box."

Documentation: "Thanks, Past Self, for creating documentation. Now I can read through my own notes without being paranoid of forgetting a step."

Health: "Thanks, Past Self, for working out. I'm really glad I can run for the bus right now without losing my breath."

Relationships: "Thanks, Past Self, for working on my issues after every break up. I'm glad I can treat my new partner with empathy and stay cool."

Writing: "Thanks, Past Self, for creating a note file full of topics for future blog posts. I'm glad I can pick from this list and get on a roll."

Career: "Thanks, Past Self, for learning quantitative skills even when it was hard. I'm glad I can analyze my current work with more rigor."

Every time you thank your Past Self, you're giving a little packet of love to yourself. Bask in the moment and appreciate when your Past Self took the long route to allow your Present Self to enjoy the benefits today.

Thank your Past Self whenever you get a chance. They got you to where you are now, alive and in one piece.

And remember: Do things that your Future Self will thank you for. Ask yourself, "Would my Future Self thank me for what I'm working on right now?"


Subscribe here to get essays like this in your inbox 2x per week.