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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 July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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