How asking one simple question can supercharge your productivity

Girl thinking
Keep asking ‘why’ until you get to the root of the problem. ‘University Life 46’ by Francisco Osorio, © 2016, Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Sometimes, in order to solve a tricky problem, you’ve got to dig a little deeper than the surface.

You can address the outward symptoms, but chances are the core issue won’t disappear forever.

Fortunately, peeling back the layers of the problem at hand doesn’t necessarily require years of psychotherapy. In fact, you can jumpstart the process of problem-solving by asking a simple question: “Why?

That’s according to Charles Duhigg, a New York Times journalist and the author of the new book “Smarter Faster Better.” Duhigg recently wrote an article in The New York Times about how he used this strategy to finally stop skipping dinner with his family.

Duhigg says he borrowed the “Five Whys” strategy from the car manufacturer Toyota, which employs the same system throughout the organisation. The process is incredibly straightforward: Ask “why” five times and you’ll find the core issue that needs a resolution.

For Duhigg, that meant first asking why he and his wife weren’t making it home in time for dinner with their kids: They consistently stayed late at work.

Why? Because they had to take care of tasks they had put off during the day.

Why? Because they showed up to work late and didn’t have a chance to deal with those tasks in the morning.

Why? Because the kids took a long time getting ready in the morning.

Suddenly, a solution appeared: Have the kids lay out their outfits the night before and get dressed first thing in the morning. That way, Duhigg and his wife wouldn’t be late for work and set off a negative cycle of staying at the office past dinnertime.

The key to solving the problem was thinking past the superficial manifestation — and learning that the issue was simpler than it seemed.

Presumably, the same strategy might apply to any problem, from oversleeping to overeating to wasting time on Facebook at work. When you start asking why certain troublesome behaviours exist, you get closer to finding a straightforward, effective solution.

As Duhigg writes, productivity “means different things to different people, but at its core, it’s about thinking a little more deeply about the choices we make every day.”

Read the full article at the New York Times »

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