4 Questions That Save Time & Make You More Efficient

No complicated techniques needed: with these 4 simple, logical, time-saving questions you’ll be able to tackle tasks and problems faster and better.

A more ethical way of life also involves a more ethical way of working – where’s the sense in treating others ethically and forgetting to recharge your own battery? 

If you’ve been around this place for a while, you’ll remember my post about getting stuff done on weekdays (“I’m a weekend advocate”) rather than gaining some – in my opinion: wrong – sense of pride and accomplishment from working weekends. Now, getting stuff done evolves around time well-invested in planning. Whenever I plan a week, I try to think a few steps ahead, evaluate consequences, pro and cons, battle won vs. war won, time invested now and saved later etc. Because hell, what’s the use of my morning meditation, my fresh green smoothies and that fabulous organic perfume if all things go to hell once I read the first email? Amirite?

But while planning is a very complex issue, for this post I have gathered just four quick questions that help me decide about the urgency and the importance of each given bigger task or project. They take a slightly different direction than for example the famous Eisenhower decision matrix of “urgent” and “important”. And since several readers have discussed time management topics on Twitter and through email after my Weekend Advocate post went up, so I figured this neat trick might help you guys as well.soul-detox-series-time-management

Q1: Why now?

Is somebody making your inbox their to-do list?

In many working environments or study groups that involve team collaboration and have no strict workflows, people tend to send out texts, emails, Skype notes and whatnot with things they have just remembered have to be done. For them, it’s checked off as done, whether subconsciously or consciously. All’s good if the message comes with all needed info and a deadline, but what if not?

Simply the fact that Miller/boss/your mum thought of a thing doesn’t automatically mean that the same thing is actually due just the moment Miller/boss/your mum texted you. Also, sometimes you will work with people who rely on your telepathic abilities 🙂 But back to the situation when you’re left wondering what’s the score:

Asking “how urgent is this?” is no bueno.
Chances are, the answer will be “very”, even if it’s not actually true. Hey, it’s on somebody’s checked-off list, remember? 😉

Instead, make sure you disentangle the info mess with a kind and professional message like this:
“Hi Miller/boss/mum, I’ve received a text (saying “…”) and a message (with the info that …) from you today. Do I gather it right – what you need from me is a [insert a measurable result]? When will you need it? Thank you in advance!”

Q2: Why me?

Use this question wisely, because it has the most toxic potential if handled without care!

“Why me” should be a question that allows you to evaluate if you really are the right person to solve the problem or to deal with a task.

Yes, sometimes people will simply pass the buck – but sometimes the sender would not know who to address, or maybe they know but don’t like the person in charge, maybe they have just thought it is something of interest for you, the list of possible reasons is endless and not ours to estimate.

Also, asking your boss, client or professor if you’re the right person for the job is not a good idea, either 😉

What this question does help you with though, is understanding if a task landed in your inbox by mistake of any kind. You’re not automatically in charge of project A because somebody sent you an email. What’s worse, if a team member is actually in charge of project A, you’re in for some more trouble than just extra hours.

Always take a second to figure out if a decision is in your power, if a problem needs to be reported to a supervisor, whether you’re in charge – or, if you manage a team, if the job needs to be delegated to a team member in charge. 

Q3: Why this way?

Much to learn you still have, young padawan.

Sometimes only experience can help you process a task more efficiently. Maybe all you need is project knowledge, a novel product, a specific contact – and so on.

Be precise rationalising the job description and then take a minute to understand if that new task can be performed in a simpler way; whether a problem can be solved more elegantly; whether a job is done more efficiently under certain circumstances.

Evaluate if the problem can be solved in a simpler way.

Q4: Why at all?

Don’t mistake this for “why bother” – but sometimes the best solution is to decline.

It’s nearly impossible to count all situations when this rule applies, but think of an event that’s very cool but costs time and money while being only vaguely important for you; think of a great project that’s nice to be part of but not helping with any of your business goals. Decline politely (“would love to join, but have deadlines and commitments that don’t allow for”).

Practice the Zen of the gentle, motivated NO that leaves everyone content.
There’s a way to make people appreciate it way more than some half-arsed, uncommitted yes 😉

Other situations can resolve around dreamy life goals like “I want to learn Mandarin”, “I think I’m ready to finish In Search Of Lost Time” and the likes. At some point in life, we all can find ourselves with a tail of such things we keep dragging into yet another New Year, never setting any real goal, ever postponing the deadline and never getting them done. I remember looking at a three year old to-do list and the blissful decision to… rip it to pieces.


And why all of that? Because… Let me wrap up this Soul Detox series with this quote:

May you live every day of your life.”
– Jonathan Swift (Polite Conversation)

I hope this was helpful, Adventurer.

Please feel free to tell me in the comments below if you agree, disagree, and what other time management topics you’d like to discuss.

2 Comments on “4 Questions That Save Time & Make You More Efficient

  1. Great point about inbox being a to do list. I love the work from Graham Allcott, the productivity ninja who zaps these things with GTD orientation but some fun stuff too.

    • It’s GSD! S! 😀

      The key in such guides is to actually pull through not just feel great while reading. Am I right? 🙂