Great questions are an underutilized and underrated tool in the workplace. A smart question can make you seem more likeable, persuasive, and emotionally intelligent. Questions are also a simple and effective way to evaluate how you're managing your time and energy at work.
The EAB Daily Briefing team recently reviewed the productivity research in our archives to identify the questions the best bosses ask. Taking a few minutes to ask these questions can help make sure your Monday—and each following day—get off on the right start.
Question 1: What should you work on first?
You probably have one to-do list that collects all the different kinds of things you need to do. However, this approach can lead you to spend all of your attention on urgent tasks that contribute little to your overall mission. Instead, divide your to-do list into things that are:
- Important and urgent;
- Important but not urgent;
- Urgent but not important; and
- Neither important nor urgent.
This way, you can make smarter decisions about how to process each type of task.
Question 2: Can you clear any tasks off your plate?
One way to move a task off your to-do list is to delegate it. Leaders are often reluctant to delegate, and they end up swamped with work as a result. "You say, 'Well, they just can’t do it as well as I can,'" says leadership coach Rory Vaden. "And that may be true once or twice but … if you think longer-term, you realize they’ll be able to master the task just like you did."
If you're the only person who can complete the task, find a way to speed up the process. For instance, reuse and recycle your work when you can. Check your emails, presentations, and trainings to see if there is content you can copy, paste, and edit to fit your current needs.
Advisors want to spend 50% less time on these activities
Question 3: Can you make this email (or meeting) a quick conversation?
Depending on the project, you can potentially save time by sharing your findings in a conversation rather than an elaborate presentation or lengthy email. Similarly, if you have a question for a colleague, stop by her desk instead of starting a back-and-forth email conversation.
Question 4: What's the worst task on your to-do list?
Some tasks linger on our to-do lists because we dread them so much. Instead of putting them off, productivity expert Brian Tracy offers this advice: just eat the frog. Eat a frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day, according to an old adage (often spuriously attributed to Mark Twain). Getting rid of your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning (or early in the week) will give you an extra boost of motivation.
Question 5: How can you support your team?
One way to support your team is to ask them for feedback. Dorie Clark, an adjunct business administration professor at Duke University, recommends this simple question: "How can I be a better manager to you?"
Leaders should ask this question regularly, says Clark. "It shows your employee that you care what they think," she says. "Most managers never bother to ask, so that already sets you apart."
Another quick way to motivate your team is to say, "thank you." Expressing more gratitude at work can help you get more done, build healthy relationships, and keep your team motivated. Recognizing your team doesn't need to be formal. You can send a simple note or walk around the office to thank people for their hard work.