There are large numbers of books and resources available to help you be more productive, manage your time better, and achieve more. And I believe that many of them are great. But to really see improvement in any area of your life you have to know what the bigger picture looks like.
I had a professor in college who encouraged us to ask questions to everything he taught. His belief was that asking questions was far more powerful than making statements.
It is in questions that we are forced to look for new solutions. Questions require you to come up with an answer that matters to you, rather than just accepting what you are told.
It was in his class that I learned that asking questions was the key to getting to know the bigger picture in my life. You just have to ask the right questions.
In elementary school we all learned the “5 w’s” – Who, What, When, Where, & Why.
There is a big difference between the frequency of each of those w’s that we use as adults, compared to what we used as kids. Can you guess which ones adults use the most? The first four. Many times each of the first four are the basis of great questions. But without asking “why” first, the other four will never give you the answer you truly want and need.
Ask “Why” Like a Child
No matter how well you do something, there is no point in doing it well unless it is something that matters to you.
There is a difference between effectiveness and efficiency. Efficiency is doing something well. Effectiveness is doing something that matters.
So how do you know if you are being effective, or just efficient? You need to get in the habit of asking yourself why you are doing whatever you are doing!
Children do this all the time. Anytime you tell them to do something, what is the first thing they say? They always want to know why they need to anything before they even begin.
Start acting more like a child!
Ask yourself “why” anytime you get they chance. Why do you do the type of work that you do? Why do you sell the product that you sell?
Asking “why” helps you to discover what matters to you. Until you know what matters, you can work as hard as you want but you won’t be able to move from efficiency to effectiveness.
Asking yourself “why” allows you to focus on the bigger picture in 3 ways:
- Focus on the right tasks. Not all tasks are created equal. Some are critical to the completion of a project, and some aren’t. Focusing on the critical tasks will help you become more effective with your time. Effective use of time leads to results that matter.
- Focus on the right results. If you sell a a product or a service, ask yourself why you do so? Here is the hard part, your answer cannot be money. What’s the real reason? Think back to when you began, what drove you to choose that product or service? Maybe it provides others with happiness, or helps others to achieve success. Whatever it is, this is what you need to focus on.
- Focus on what really matters. The question “why” highlights the intention behind our actions. If your answer from #2 was that your product or service makes people happy, then spend more time working on providing more happiness. Here is where the other w’s come in. What can you do to make your customers happier? Who else would love to learn about your product? If your “why” results in something like happiness, don’t focus on making money. Focus on making people happy. The money will follow.
How often do you question the things that you do, or the way that you do them? If you are like most people I am guessing it is not very often. It is human nature to not want to disrupt the status quo. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is a common belief for many people.
Just because it isn’t broke doesn’t mean that it is working for you. If your desired results are different than someone else’s, doing what they do may not appear to be a “broken” way of doing things but it will never get you to the results that you desire. You can get as efficient at doing it as possible, but it won’t matter.
It’s easy to get caught up trying to be efficient, when what really matters is being effective. Know you “why” and take actions everyday to support it!