By Jeff Jahn, founder of DynamiX.
We're taught from an early age to do whatever has been put in front of us, whether that's homework or chores. It's no wonder why many of us go through life accomplishing tasks without asking why it should be done in the first place. Over time, this leads us down paths that are fundamentally misaligned with where we want to be in life.
Almost all the high achievers I've known over the years are adept at asking themselves and their team "why" on a regular basis. Asking that saves time, helps us control the outcome of situations, lets us see deeper, and uncovers root causes that are missed if we simply dive in and try to solve the problem. Here are five real-world examples that illustrate how asking "why" can be transformative:
Your Daily Routine
Look at what you do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, and determine why you're doing it. Is it a sense of obligation? Does it contribute to the bottom line? Does it improve your life in some way? Or, are you just doing it because you've always done it?
For me, I found that many of the touchpoints I had throughout the day were non-essential: they were simply remnants of a time when we had fewer people in the organization who could handle them. Once I recognized the misalignment, I was able to reassign those, freeing more than an hour each day while ensuring a faster response -- a win-win.
Your Customer Requests
Focusing on the "problem" instead of the reason behind it leads to unhappy customers and unsolved issues. Stop treating the symptom and instead ask why it's happening: it could be that the real reason the client asked you to make their website contact form neon yellow is because his or her overall conversion rate has declined.
By asking the "why," you can identify how to improve the messaging, instead of blindly making a terrible design decision or dismissing the client's request as being poorly conceived.
Sometimes you'll step on a toe or two, or forget to handle that important thing you promised to do last week. Whatever the confrontation, the trick is asking why it happened and considering what, if anything, you can do to prevent the issue from happening in the future. The ones who go far in life learn to minimize making the same mistakes over and over again.
As an example, I found that I regularly failed to follow up on calls that came to my cell phone when I was in meetings. Since there was no way to flag the voicemail on my phone, it was often just forgotten. Once I recognized the issue, I remedied it by using IFTTT to automatically forward a copy of my voicemails to email as soon as they came in, and creating a mail rule that flagged them for follow up.
Your Job or Business
Are you doing what you do because you love it, or because you fell into it? Why are you actually there? If you can't answer the question with conviction, it's time to consider ways to move toward what you want to do. Don't spend your time doing something that doesn't make you happy.
This "why" led me to re-evaluate the customers with whom we interact on a daily basis, and gave me the mental freedom to let several of them go. There's no reason to allow toxic relationships to continue, no matter the dollars involved.
Your Home Life
For most, the overarching reason for having a job is to generate the resources (both time and money) to provide for a happy family life. The question is, are you applying the growth you've seen professionally to your personal goals or simply doubling down on the professional ones? Don't forget why you work all those hours.
Personally, I made the decision two years ago to no longer work on the weekends, no matter what deadlines loomed on Monday. The laptop stays off and in my bag from Friday evening to Monday morning, and my family appreciates that I'm "all in" for them. Once asking "why" becomes a part of your routine, there's no going back.
Jeff Jahn is the founder of DynamiX, a website development agency.