Ask Better Questions

Ask better questions

Things that make me want to scream:

  • Bending my fingernail backwards
  • Having a customer ask me for advice, then attempt to tell me how I should fix the problem.

This week, yet again, I had a customer ask me to look at a technical problem. She’s paying my hourly consulting fee, mind you, because I’m on site for a consult. She explains the problem and the proceeds to Google for an answer (using the very worst Google syntax ever), with the onsite tech guy sitting next to her pointing at results. I lean against the credenza in her office, meanwhile, waiting for them to give up and ask the expert they’re paying.

There are two parts of the problem: 1) Email has gotten mangled coming into her inbox and needs to be restored. 2) We need to keep this from happening in the future. We quickly discover the solution to #2 and fix it. The fix for #1 is a longer, more tedious procedure. We’ve exhausted the rabbit hole of Google results, and yet they just. keep. searching. In desperation and confusion I ask the question that seems obvious, but no one has asked yet:

What is the best possible outcome you could have?

She looks at me as if I have a third eye, or a horn sticking out of my forehead. After a minute it’s obvious she doesn’t have an answer to my question. Does she want the email restored? Does she want to step through the tedious procedure to fix the mangled emails? Does she want to skip it altogether, because it’s only a handful of emails? She’s had her head buried so deeply in the situation that she’s never stopped to consider what she wants to happen.

What is the Best Possible Outcome?

This is one of those questions as a consultant and troubleshooter that I have to ask over and over, because many people don’t really know what they want, or have lost sight of what they want, or keep changing their minds. They keep encountering the same situations over and over because they haven’t identified where they want to go.

Obviously, the question extends to the personal:

  • What is the best possible outcome of this relationship?
  • What is the best possible outcome of buying this car?
  • What is the best possible outcome of this conflict with my kid?
  • What is the best possible outcome of taking this job?

Take, for example, “What is the best possible outcome of this relationship?” Because you don’t know what you want, you can’t identify what the result of being in a life-long relationship with someone will be. Do you want to have kids?  What kind of values do you want those kids to have? Is your wife going to demand a certain standard of living? Will she remain faithful? Will you remain faithful to her? Once you identify what you want you know where to start looking for a wife. And, just as important, you know when to cut and run. This question will keep you from wasting time on people or things that aren’t taking you in the direction you want to go.

“What is the best possible outcome of this conflict with my kid?” It may be that you and your son or daughter won’t see eye to eye, but that the best possible outcome is that you model disagreeing well, and model grace in accepting a different opinion. Not knowing the best possible outcome will see you on the defensive, insisting on your way, even when it really doesn’t matter. The result being a broken, resentful relationship with your son.

  • What is the best possible outcome of talking to my ex on Snapchat?
  • What is the best possible outcome of tutoring a kid?
  • What is the best possible outcome of eating healthier?

Conclusion

This question, along with “What is the wise thing for me to do?“, can help you weed out the helpful from the destructive. The wise from the foolish. The wasteful from the resourceful. Take some time to sit down and identify some areas in your life that are vague right now. Are you looking at a major financial decision? Are you in a relationship that doesn’t have an end-game. What will your career look like 20 years from now? Have you set any longevity goals? Pick one and ask the question, “What is the best possible outcome?” and begin to shape your decision(s) based on what you see.

 

 

 

My Morning Routine: How I Set Myself Up for Success

Set Yourself Up To Win

I want to crush the day. I’m a husband, dad, small business owner, service technician, consultant, coach, mentor, and more. I have a lot of roles, which means I have a lot of people relying on me to be my productive best. I also have expectations of myself: I need to be fit. I want to be present with the people I love.  When my work day is over, I don’t want to be haunted by “open loops” of work left unfinished. I need a good night’s sleep.

It’s taken me a while, but I have nailed down a morning routine that launches me into the day and sets me up for the greatest possibility of success (possibility, because even though I set the day up well, I can still blow it).

Here’s a breakdown of my morning. Note: I have a home office. My kids are home-schooled. My wife works outside the home. These are all variables of my morning equation. Thus, your morning will probably look different than mine.

Wake-Up

The alarm goes off at 6 am. That doesn’t mean I get up at 6. I like to hit the snooze a couple of times.  “Feet on the floor” is determined by the time my wife leaves for work (7:30) and the time my #2 son leaves for school (8:00). They both need coffee, and neither are ambitious enough to make it for themselves. I am the Coffee God. I prepare and supply coffee for those whom I love. (In fact, this is the way I tell my wife every morning that I love her. No kidding.) 6:20, two snoozes, is “feet on the floor”.

Me Time

I grab my phone from the bedside (it also serves as my alarm clock) and turn off “airplane mode”. Although emails and notifications come flooding in from overnight, I ignore them. As I travel from my bedroom down the hall to the kitchen, my podcatcher (“DoggCatcher“) updates all my morning news programs. As I prepare coffee, I drink one glass of water and listen to the NPR News Now podcast to see if the world came to an end overnight. Once the coffee’s finished brewing, I deliver a cup to my wife (with steamed, foamed milk), pour myself a cup, and seat myself in the den.

It’s 6:30, and it’s quiet. Even though my wife is awake, she won’t be up for quite a while. None of my five kids are stirring yet.  I sit on the couch next to my leg lamp and read something for my personal development (not professional, though the better I am as a person, the better work I’ll perform). I’m currently reading “How God Became  King“, by N.T. Wright, my favorite theologian, and I have just started “The Five Minute Journal“, to help cultivate more gratitude in my life.

I only allot thirty minutes for this. I find that my mind starts racing toward the rest of the day’s activities if I spend more time. Thirty minutes isn’t much, but thirty minutes over 5 days is 2 1/2 hours. Ten hours a month. 130 hours over the course of a year. Compounded interest. I hate to be clichéd, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Get To Work!

At 7 am I move from the couch across the room to my desk, or I head to the kitchen to my standing desk. I pull my phone out and crank up the podcasts once again. I have a large list of work-related podcasts I listen to each day (if you want to know the list, let me know). As the podcasts play, I tear into my email, both personal and professional. My personal load is generally very low in the morning. My business account, however, is packed. My work as a geek relies on monitoring computers, servers and networks for problems. Overnight I get a steady stream of alerts from my customers: “Backup succeeded!” “Backup failed!” “Disk full!” “An intrusion was detected!”. I also get news alerts from various technical news sources. I don’t read many of them, but they all get scanned for relevance.

Once email is done, I begin connecting to all the different networks I’m responsible for to look for any issues that might have occurred overnight. This takes a while. The whole process of reading email and checking networks takes close to two hours, if no one interrupts me. During this time my two oldest kids have left for work and my wife has gone as well. Invariably one of them gives me an item for my “to do” list, so interruptions are common. Also, if it’s during the school year, I take a break at 8 am to wake up my high schoolers and get them rolling.

Breakfast

It’s now 9 am. These days I don’t usually eat breakfast until 9 am. Why? Just recently I’ve been playing with the practice of intermittent fasting. Nothing extreme, except I’ve seen some research that says a short feeding window to fasting window has some benefits. Right now I’m trying to hold to at least a 12/12 window, though I’d like it to be 10/14 window. I’m having trouble with the 10/14 window for two reasons. First, because we cook real meals, we generally don’t eat dinner until about 7 pm. Second, I’m a snacker. 9 to 10 pm I start craving something salty. I used to crave sweets, and so you’d find me with a big bowl of ice cream around 10 pm. Thankfully, that habit’s broken. But I still keep stuffing nuts or corn chips in my face late at night, pushing my window further and further back.

Breakfast – at least first breakfast – is a protein shake loaded with all kinds of stuff. I take a second breakfast around 10 am, something a little more substantial with a good load of complex carbs and protein to set me up for my workout later in the day.

What’s Next?

That’s my morning. I usually don’t take appointments before 9 am, so that I can keep this routine. Of course, emergencies happen, phone calls come in, but on average this works. Being on the job by 7 am means I don’t feel guilty when I call the day at 3 or 4 to hit the gym or head to rugby practice. If I’m hitting it hard for a solid 8 hours, then I’ve done a good day’s work.

What’s your morning routine? What works for you? Where are your time leaks? Share it with me in the comments, below.