The 6 questions that dramatically changed how I work

As the year comes to a close I like to reflect what I did or didn’t do well, what’s outstanding and in 12 months’ time what will I want to have happened differently. It then occurred to me what if I extended this thinking broader to the past 10 years and knew then what I know now.

There’s a saying that hindsight is 20/20 vision and it became apparent that the following 6 questions dramatically changed how I work:

  •      What if I got organised?

By nature, I’m a hoarder and always seemed to have lots of papers on my desk, thousands of unfiled emails and so on. I was successful at my job and didn’t see the need to become more organised but I wasted time unnecessarily searching for information.

Once I got organised I noticed 2 things:

  1.  I actually enjoyed being organised and became frustrated when I wasn’t
  2. I didn’t wake-up during the night remembering I hadn’t done something because it was already accounted for on my system

While I’ve reduced the amount of information I keep it’s probably fair to say that I’m still a hoarder but it’s so much easier now that I have a system to store and retrieve information.

  •      What if I prioritised my work?

Despite planning my work I would almost sabotage “the plan” because I basically said yes to everything – from taking on more work to constantly accepting interruptions to help others. The outcome was I’d either miss deadlines or have to work back late to meet them.

The day I learnt the importance of prioritising and it was ok to sometimes say no was the day I got a better balance between actioning my own work and helping others.

  •      What if I procrastinated less?

Unless I have zero interest in a topic, whatever I do I like to do well. While I actioned areas that matched my strengths, I also procrastinated on things I either wasn’t good at or didn’t like doing (expense forms were a classic example).

When I procrastinated less I found I made consistent progress which gathered momentum. There’s still a bunch of things I’m still not good at or don’t like doing but by procrastinating less I now have a way to keep moving forward.

  •      What if I was more effective at planning?

Even though I was once a Production Planner for Spirax (the makers of the spiral bound notebooks) and was good at planning production lines, I was only ok at planning my own work. You see I had a fatal flaw of underestimating how long it would take to perform a task, especially tasks I’d never done before. I was reasonably consistent at being too optimistic in my planning ie. this should only take 2 hours to complete but the reality would often see it would be more like 6 hours. The outcome was I’d work back late to get the planned tasks done.

It eventually got to a stage where I realised I was being too aggressive with my estimates due to a heavy workload and my learning was that I was only compounding the problem. When I became more realistic with what could be done, a pattern emerged seeing a strong alignment between estimates and actual. This was impacted further when combined with prioritising on the stuff that really matters. It was at this point that I was able to achieve outcomes in less time which resulted in not having to work as much after hours.

  •      What if I got better balance?

All I wanted to do in my final years of attending school was get out and join the workforce. Most of my friends were already working and school wasn’t quenching my thirst to make a difference. I always saw work as an opportunity to do this.

I think it was this attitude that enabled me to be quite successful in various roles in my working career. The flipside to this was the more success, opportunity and promotion I got spurred me onto working harder and for longer hours. I then got to a situation where I reached burnout.

Now I still work hard and have busy periods where it’s basically head down and into it. However, I now realise the importance of sustainability and complement the busy periods with quieter periods. This doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard or aren’t effective, it’s just that I now work smarter which helps me be more effective.

  •      What if I did the work I love?

Simon Sinek says: “Working hard for something we don't care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion”

I’ve believed in every company who I’ve worked for, but I’ve preferred some roles or aspects of roles over others. What I found when I decided to do the work I love is it’s more enjoyable but it’s also so much easier to ride the bumps when things go a bit awry. And it’s this combination that helps to make it so much more rewarding.

At the start of my career I didn’t have the luxury to be too selective in the type of work I did (I don’t think I would have known what I liked anyway), however, I’ve been fortunate to be able to work in a field I’m passionate about in during the last 10 years.

The story so far

While I'm sure there will be new additions in the future, these are the 6 questions that dramatically changed how I work. Some are more subtle than others, but all of them had a profound effect in establishing my working rhythm.

What conscious decisions have you made about how you work or do you need to make?