Do This Before You Agree to Work on Anything !

Boost your productivity and reduce stress with this simple trick

Sitting at your desk, ear buds in, jamming out to the B-52s, pounding out some code like a key board warrior in the heat of battle and in comes a request to do something and do it NOW!

You know you’re in the middle of something important, a commitment you’ve already made to someone else. This person probably doesn’t know that so you cut them some slack. Maybe the ask even sounds more urgent than what you’re working on. Better get this right, because if you don’t your productivity is shot. How do you decide what to do?

Here’s how you decide.

Ask the requester these questions

  • ⏳ How much time do you estimate it to take?
  • 📅 What’s the deadline?
  • 🔨 What skills are required to do it?
  • 📝 Can you restate the ask back to them in detail? If you can’t, ask for clarifying details.
  • ❗ Is it truly urgent?

You’re not trying to be difficult. These questions are all reasonable (and reasonableness is a great standard for making decisions at work. More on that another time). These questions create a forcing function for the requester to define the ask. Once you have the ask defined then you can make an informed decision to either a) switch tasks, b) agree to schedule it for later or c) say no. Each answer can be appropriate even if sometimes saying “no” sounds like letting an opportunity to impress slip away.

While it may seem noble to just do it, consider that…

  • 🤷‍♂ ️If you just do it without questioning, you may not even know what success looks like for this ask. This makes it harder to meet their expectations and often leads to re-work (yuck!).
  • 🎛️ You give this person control over your time. Worse yet, you establish that your workflow is reactive and subject to the whims of your inbox and the requests that come in. Every night you’ll go to bed not knowing what you’ll be working on the next day because people love to send high stakes emails and requests over night.

In addition to defining the ask, asking these questions before you accept a request does the following…

  • ⚖️ It stabilizes your workflow by creating space in your calendar between now and when the work will happen. This means your days are more predictable (and thus easier to plan). Someone else may even resolve it or volunteer in your stead before you are able to start it.
  • ☝️ It establishes that other people don’t dictate your schedule.
  • 👓 They help you get used to making informed decisions about what to work on & when to work on tasks.
  • 🧠 They demonstrate to people that you are a critical thinking big brain who is deliberate in their work rather than impulsive. Being a go-getter is great, being seen as an impulsive worker who is constantly shifting priorities is not a good thing to be (not to mention that it’s stressful!).

If you found this during your short break during a Pomodoro session, bonus points to you 🍅.

Best of luck to you!

Thanks for reading. ✌️& 💜.

Written while listening 🎧 to the B-52s (of course).

You might like: Should You Ask Questions at Work?

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