Increase Your Productivity By Asking the Right Questions

Question mark signThis article is short and sweet. You may consider printing it to post–in several places in your office (and carry one with you). Some of these are questions to ask of yourself and others are to be asked of others.

When someone makes a request of you AND when you think of taking on different projects, ask the “asker” one or more of these questions:

  1. Does this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment) fit with my goals? (Note: This one is difficult to answer if you don’t know what your goals are).
  1. Does this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment) draw on my strengths? (I highly recommend taking the Gallup Organization’s Strengthsfinder Profile; it will give you an amazing sense of your strengths and why you need to work within them as much as possible).
  1. Does this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment) energize me? (You know the answer to this right away, although you may or may not know why something does or doesn’t energize you; that is worth figuring out, by the way).
  1. Does this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment) make a contribution to my department, college, university, community, life, the world (or whatever the right scope is)?
  1. Am I the only person who can do this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment)? My mantra is to do “only what only I can do.” Think about it.
  1. Why are you asking me to take on this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment)? Listen carefully to the answer and that will help you make your decision.
  1. Do I care about the person who is asking me to do this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment)? This comes into play with close family members, in particular.
  1. Do I have the time to do this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment)? If you are working toward promotion and tenure, then right now may not be the time for you to take on some huge additional responsibility on campus.
  1. Do I have the skills (or am I interested in acquiring the skills) to do this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment)? People who are multi-talented, e.g., higher ed faculty members, often are asked to do tasks outside their normal scope because they are perceived as being able to accomplish anything. So ask yourself this question before saying yes.
  1. If I do this _______ (activity, task, job, responsibility, commitment) what will I not be doing or what will it take the place of? Time is a zero-sum game. There are only 24 hours each day, so if you’re chairing a committee, you aren’t in your office writing. If you are hosting a candidate for a position in your department at a dinner, you aren’t at your son’s baseball game that starts at 6. Carefully ask and answer this question.

Overall, the world would be a better place if we took a “big pie” view, i.e., the sense that we need to think about how to make the pie bigger for everyone vs. worrying that if someone else gets a slice of the pie, then there will be less for me.
On the other hand, in terms of hours in a week, weeks in a year, and years in your life, it is a zero-sum game. If you’re doing X, then you’re not doing Y or Z. Be thoughtful, strategic, and prudent about what you say yes to.

Use these questions for yourself, and also ask them of yourself before giving a task or responsibility to someone else. Share the list and the wisdom.

thievesFor more time saving tips feel free to check out the Get a Plan! Guide® to Thwarting the Thieves of Your Time, Energy, & Attention part of the Get a Plan! Guides® series designed so that you can accomplish your goals more smoothly, i.e., peacefully, productively, and predictably.

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