Three words to help you live more efficiently: Why, When and No

9 min read
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Looking for a foolproof way to boost your productivity? Here are three little words that will have the big impact you’re looking for.

Children are the best decision-makers in the world. Ok, we’ll admit it, children aren’t always the best decision-makers. Should little Timmy have scrawled crayon all over your newly painted hallway wall?

To Timmy, it seemed like the right decision.

To you, not so much.

Yet their boundless curiosity means children ask ‘why?’ all the time. Too many adults have lost the curiosity that compels them to ask this simple question. Yet, according to TED Talk star and business consultant Simon Sinek, asking ‘why?’ is the most important decision-making question you can ask, both professionally and personally.

Why is your organization spending money on something that delivers so little value? Why are your staff unhappy? Why does the business you helped create do what it does? Why are you doing what you’re doing?

Road sign stating 'why'

Word number one: WHY

In his 2011 book ‘Start with Why’, Sinek claims to have hit upon an idea that explains – and helps us all access – success.

Sinek’s golden circle explained

The idea focuses on what Sinek calls ‘the golden circle’. It looks like this: the outer-most circle contains ‘what’. Pretty much all of us know what we’re doing. Selling a product, growing vegetables, running a business. Whatever it is, you know about it. The second circle is ‘how’. And again, most of us know how we do something. The third circle, at the center, is ‘why’. Few of us know why we do our jobs.

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But what if your answer to ‘why?’ is ‘for the money’ (and there’s nothing wrong with that)? Under Sinek’s rules, that’s not a ‘why’, it’s a result. In answering the question of ‘why’ you do something, Sinek is looking for a belief, a cause. A purpose. Why are you doing what you do? Is the answer more than just money?

Repeated, mantra-like, throughout Sinek’s famous TED talk video is the phrase, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Here comes the takeaway

From brands to daily personal tasks, asking ‘why?’ can help you make decisions and focus on what’s important: Why would anyone buy your product? Why are you doing a particular task? Why is it required? Maybe it shouldn’t be on your to-do list at all?

When your next task comes along, ask ‘why?’ before you do anything else. 

Graffiti on the side of a train

Word number two: WHEN

You’ve got a list of tasks to do. But how do you decide when to do each of your to-do list items?   

We like Ike

The 34th President of the United states of America has come to your rescue. Dwight D. Eisenhower was no slouch when it came to productivity.

In fact, his whole career was a master class in being productive. He was a five-star general in the US Army, led the Allied forces in the D-Day landings in World War Two, was elected President twice, created NASA, kick-started the building of 41,000km of US interstate highways and signed in the first Civil Rights Act for more than 80 years.

It’s no surprise he’s viewed as one of the best presidents in history. And he still had time to write books, paint, and play golf.

4D diagram

The takeaway: how to use The Eisenhower Box

He also found time to give us this little piece of productivity perfection. Known as ‘The Eisenhower Box’, it helps you choose which tasks to tackle first, and even what to do with them. Ike himself neatly summed it up when he said:

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

‘Important’ means exactly that: jobs that simply must be done. But are they also ‘urgent’? Do they need to be done now or can they happen tomorrow, or next week? 

Once you’ve prioritized tasks according to importance and urgency, you can then apply the magic four Ds: Do, Defer, Delegate, or Delete.

Do: it’s both important and urgent. Hit that deadline and do it now!

Defer: it’s important, so it needs to be done at some point, but it’s not urgent. Schedule it in for another time.

Delegate: needs to be done urgently, but it’s not important. Send it to someone else to complete.

Delete: some tasks are just unnecessary. They’re wasting your time, so stop doing them. Do you need to check social media that frequently?

Red background with the word 'No' in yellow

Word number three: NO

The last of our triumvirate of true productivity is ‘no’. When it comes to productivity, there’s no more powerful word in the English language than ‘no’.

The takeaway: yes – saying ‘no’ is a good thing

Refusing a task because you simply don’t have time won’t cause you to lose your job. The sky won’t fall if you say no.

If you don’t have time, politely say no. If you need to, spend a few moments helping to find a solution and get the job done through other means.

It’s common sense, but the fear of saying no can lead to an overloaded schedule, stress, and missed deadlines. And that’s bad news for everyone.

Time to make these three magic words – why, when and no – an essential part of your daily routine. And if you’re asking ‘why?’, you’ve got the right idea.