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Nothing Prevents You From Asking Questions

Nothing Prevents You From Asking Questions

… so much as thinking that you already have the answer.

For the life of me, I can’t remember where I read that. It sounds like something from the kind of book I used to read about 20 years ago… but truth to tell, I’ve found it to be quite useful advice. I’ve spent over two decades as a university researcher, and this quote has proved its worth over and over again when the research wasn’t making progress—almost inevitably, it turned out that we were asking the wrong questions.

And the reason we were asking the wrong questions is because (you guessed it) we thought we already had the answers for them.

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I currently work in training , and this is a piece of advice that I find myself giving to my clients over and over again. Typically it’s in a context where they’re trying to change something, such as a job, but have hit a roadblock—generally, this is because they’re making assumptions; either about what they know, or about what they can and can’t do.

Now, I’m no great philosophical thinker, and I can’t promise that this sequence of questions will change your life: all I can say is that it’s a sequence of questions I’ve learned to ask myself whenever I hit a dead end—all based upon the idea that nothing stops you asking questions quite so much as having answers for them already.

Where do I want to go?

What I mean by that is that I need to be very clear about what it is I’m trying to achieve. Often it’s not so much the immediate question of “what am I trying to do?”, but “why am I trying to do it?” All too often, I forget about the bigger picture and end up head-butting something to try and make it work when it would be a  lot easier to go around the problem and figure out a different way to achieve the same end.

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For example, I recently spent five minutes trying to get a jammed drawer to open to get to the spare batteries inside it, forgetting that I had spare batteries in another place altogether. Sure I needed to come back and un-jam the drawer at some point, but it didn’t have to be now, when people were waiting for the new batteries. I’d forgotten to ask myself what I was trying to achieve, and concentrated instead on what I was trying to do.

Where am I now?

This is a question that can only be answered in relation to the first. What I’m getting at is asking how far I am from where I want to be. Sometimes we concentrate so much on the things we haven’t done, attained, achieved, etc. that we forget to take stock and look at what we have.

A friend of mine recently spent a long time suffering angst about the growth of his company because he hadn’t quite reached the expansion targets he’d set for himself and the company. Okay, targets are (often) good, but he’d forgotten to ask himself why he set those targets.  As it turns out, he’d set them not because they were important in their own right, but as proxies for what he really wanted—to be able to have a good quality of life for his family. As soon as he thought about it, he realized he already had that.  In fact, worrying about not achieving his expansion targets for his company was the main (almost the only!) reason his family’s quality of life wasn’t what he wanted it to be!

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He’d forgotten to ask himself the questions about why he was doing what he was doing.

What resources do I have?

All too often, we don’t stop to consider what we can do and the friends we can ask for help.  Asking yourself questions in a semi-formal way can bring to mind the staggering resources and support that can often be brought to bear with a problem.

I spent most of yesterday trying to solve a WordPress problem on one of my own blogs when, if I’d stopped to ask myself what resources I really had, I would have remembered that I can email someone who writes WordPress plugins for a living. I’d implicitly begun to assume the resources I saw (me) were the resources I had.

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To quote a certain yellow cartoon character, “D’oh!”

Featured photo credit:  Many raised fingers in class at university via Shutterstock

 

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Last Updated on November 18, 2019

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

Everyone of my team members has a bucketload of tasks that they need to deal with every working day. On top of that, most of their tasks are either creativity tasks or problem solving tasks.

Despite having loads of tasks to handle, our team is able to stay creative and work towards our goals consistently.

How do we manage that?

I’m going to reveal to you how I helped my team get more things done in less time through the power of correct prioritization. A few minutes spent reading this article could literally save you thousands of hours over the long term. So, let’s get started with my method on how to prioritize:

The Scales Method – a productivity method I created several years ago.

How to Prioritize with the Scales Method

    One of our new editors came to me the other day and told me how she was struggling to keep up with the many tasks she needed to handle and the deadlines she constantly needed to stick to.

    At the end of each day, she felt like she had done a lot of things but often failed to come up with creative ideas and to get articles successfully published. From what she told me, it was obvious that she felt overwhelmed and was growing increasingly frustrated about failing to achieve her targets despite putting in extra hours most days.

    After she listened to my advice – and I introduced her to the Scales Method – she immediately experienced a dramatic rise in productivity, which looked like this:

    • She could produce three times more creative ideas for blog articles
    • She could publish all her articles on time
    • And she could finish all her work on time every day (no more overtime!)

    Curious to find out how she did it? Read on for the step-by-step guide:

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    1. Set Aside 10 Minutes for Planning

    When it comes to tackling productivity issues, it makes sense to plan before taking action. However, don’t become so involved in planning that you become trapped in it and never move beyond first base.

    My recommendation is to give yourself a specific time period for planning – but keep it short. Ideally, 10 or 15 minutes. This should be adequate to think about your plan.

    Use this time to:

    • Look at the big picture.
    • Think about the current goal and target that you need/want to achieve.
    • Lay out all the tasks you need to do.

    2. Align Your Tasks with Your Goal

    This is the core component that makes the Scales Method effective.

    It works like this:

    Take a look at all the tasks you’re doing, and review the importance of each of them. Specifically, measure a task’s importance by its cost and benefit.

    By cost, I am referring to the effort needed per task (including time, money and other resources). The benefit is how closely the task can contribute to your goal.

      To make this easier for you, I’ve listed below four combinations that will enable you to quickly and easily determine the priority of each of your tasks:

      Low Cost + High Benefit

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      Do these tasks first because they’re the simple ones to complete, yet help you get closer to your goal.

      Approving artwork created for a sales brochure would likely fit this category. You could easily decide on whether you liked the artwork/layout, but your decision to approve would trigger the production of the leaflet and the subsequent sales benefits of sending it out to potential customers.

      High Cost + High Benefit

      Break the high cost task down into smaller ones. In other words, break the big task into mini ones that take less than an hour to complete. And then re-evaluate these small tasks and set their correct priority level.

      Imagine if you were asked to write a product launch plan for a new diary-free protein powder supplement. Instead of trying to write the plan in one sitting – aim to write the different sections at different times (e.g., spend 30 minutes writing the introduction, one hour writing the body text, and 30 minutes writing the conclusion).

      Low Cost + Low Benefit

      This combination should be your lowest priority. Either give yourself 10-15 minutes to handle this task, or put these kind of tasks in between valuable tasks as a useful break.

      These are probably necessary tasks (e.g., routine tasks like checking emails) but they don’t contribute much towards reaching your desired goal. Keep them way down your priority list.

      High Cost + Low Benefit

      Review if these tasks are really necessary. Think of ways to reduce the cost if you decide that the completion of the task is required.

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      For instance, can any tools or systems help to speed up doing the task? In this category, you’re likely to find things like checking and updating sales contacts spreadsheets. This can be a fiddly and time-consuming thing to do without making mistakes. However, there are plenty of apps out there they can make this process instant and seamless.

      Now, coming back to the editor who I referred to earlier, let’s take a look at her typical daily task list:

        After listening to my advice, she broke down the High cost+ High benefit task into smaller ones. Her tasks then looked like this (in order of priority):

          And for the task about promoting articles to different platforms, after reviewing its benefits, we decided to focus on the most effective platform only – thereby significantly lowering the associated time cost.

          Bonus Tip: Tackling Tasks with Deadlines

          Once you’ve evaluated your tasks, you’ll know the importance of each of them. This will immediately give you a crystal-clear picture on which tasks would help you to achieve more (in terms of achieving your goals). Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to decide every task’s priority because there’ll be deadlines set by external parties such as managers and agencies.

          What to do in these cases?

          Well, I suggest that after considering the importance and values of your current tasks, align the list with the deadlines and adjust the priorities accordingly.

          For example, let’s dip into the editor’s world again.

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          Some of the articles she edited needed to be published by specific dates. The Scales Method allows for this, and in this case, her amended task list would look something like this:

            Hopefully, you can now see how easy it is to evaluate the importance of tasks and how to order them in lists of priority.

            The Scales Method Is Different from Anything Else You’ve Tried

            By adopting the Scales Method, you’ll begin to correctly prioritize your work, and most importantly – boost your productivity by up to 10 times!

            And unlike other methods that don’t really explain how to decide the importance of a task, my method will help you break down each of your tasks into two parts: cost and benefits. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefits combinations.

            Start right now by spending 10 minutes to evaluate your common daily tasks and how they align with your goal(s). Once you have this information, it’ll be super-easy to put your tasks into a priority list. All that remains, is that you kick off your next working day by following your new list.

            Trust me, once you begin using the Scales Method – you’ll never want to go back to your old ways of working.

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            Featured photo credit: Vector Stock via vectorstock.com

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