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Ask This One Question to Improve Your Life

When something is not going right – the underlying factors might not be readily obvious. To find solution, some of the same tools your organization uses for process improvement can also be used to improve your outcomes and personal performance. One methodology to get to the root of the problem is part of the Six Sigma tool kit called 5 Why. It is literally asking “Why?” five (or more) times to get to the root cause of a problem. At the risk of sounding like a three-year-old, you can peel back the layers to find what is really going on.

I recently had a conversation with a friend that has a ton of time-critical projects to work on but was struggling to get any work done during business hours due to a constant stream of interruptions. As a result, she was spending her personal time on nights and weekends to catch up. It's a common problem - and we had a good discussion on trying to find a solution.

Using 5 Why, we were able to get to the heart of the matter:

Problem: Too many interruptions during the day.

Me: Why can’t you get work done?

Friend: Because my day is filled with meetings, calls and interruptions, not leaving enough time to do it during working hours.

Me: Why is your calendar so full?

Friend: Because anyone can add me to meetings and calls.

Me: Why can’t you block out time on your calendar to work on these projects?

Friend: Then they will just come into my office to get their questions answered.

Me: Why don’t you just close your door?

Friend: Then they will just peek in the window next to the door, or send me an IM, or an email…It’s a huge frustration.

Me: Why don’t they respect your time when you are in the middle of a project?

The root cause of the problem was really having no control over her calendar and being too accessible. We then talked about strategies to re-train her colleagues to respect her work-flow time. I’ve had the same issues, so I had some tricks I was able to share that have worked for me. (If you want to hear them, let me know and I’ll write up another blog post.)

You can also use root cause analysis to find out why things are going right, not just for the things that are going wrong. If you can figure out why things are working, you can try to create the conditions for repeated success.

Have you had things in your life you have you gotten to the root cause of? We are always looking for life hacks and strategies to be better. Let us know! Leave a comment or shoot us a note.

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