50+ Better Questions To Ask Than How To Be More Productive

50+ Better Questions to Ask Than How to Be More Productive

“How can I be more productive?”

It’s a question that many of us ask ourselves without realizing that the question, as stated, is impossible to answer. Just as I prefer achievable goals, I prefer answerable questions.

Here are 50+ better questions to ask than “how to be more productive.” (Click to share – thanks!) Some are different ways of saying the same things, but that’s a good thing.

  1. What specific kinds of activities (writing, coding, painting, speaking) would you like to do more of?
  2. What specific outcomes do you want more of?
  3. Are you working at the right time for the right projects? (Read this piece on working at the right time.)
  4. Are you working too long or too short of a time for certain tasks? (Read this piece on work zones.)
  5. What’s the next step that needs to happen to move a key project forward?
  6. Are you trying to be more effective (i.e., doing the right things) or more efficient (i.e., doing things right)? Note: it makes no sense to get better at doing the wrong things.
  7. What 1–3 things would you like to have done (today, this week, this month, this quarter, this year)?
  8. What project, if completed, would likely have the most impact?
  9. What project, if completed, would bring in more cashflow? (Read more on the 3 goals of any business activity.)
  10. What could you do to get momentum on your oldest active project?
  11. Does the project actually need to be done or is it something you committed to in the past?
  12. Is it a project that’s really worth doing or is it another bright, shiny object? (What’s the difference?)
  13. Have you tried working on this project in a different environment?
  14. Is there someone who can help you with this project or who might enjoy doing pieces of it with you?
  15. Are you sleeping, eating, and exercising enough?
  16. What frogs are on your list and which would feel the best to have done? (Frogs are those dreaded tasks we don’t want to do; read more about the power of handling frogs here.)
  17. Are you confusing something’s being simple with its being easy?
  18. What’s the most effective thing you can do with two focused hours of creative work?
  19. What are the specific obstacles keeping you from completing the work you have in front of you?
  20. Are you beginning your action items with verbs? (Read more on writing effective action lists.)
  21. What’s on the list that you don’t care about and that others don’t care about that you can stop doing? (Hat tip to Michael Bungay Stanier and Do More Great Work)
  22. What item on the list feels the least like work?
  23. Is there a different approach to the work that might make it easier to do?
  24. Why is each item on the list important and relevant for some significant project you’re working on?
  25. If you’re being interrupted, is there something you can do to prevent the interruptions?
  26. If you’re allowing yourself to be distracted, what can you do to minimize the opportunity for distraction?
  27. Is there something you can do today to prepare yourself for a more productive work session in the future?
  28. Have you taken a real break?
  29. Are you using S.M.A.R.T. goals?
  30. Are you clear on what the priority of the work is?
  31. Which items have an external and relevant deadline?
  32. Which item, if undone, would have the biggest ripple effect on the key projects you’re working on?
  33. What’s nagging at you and is there any way to actually address it?
  34. What specific tool, information, support, or motivation do you need to do the work?
  35. Are you acknowledging that it’s time to roll up your sleeves and just get it done?
  36. What are you wanting to do with the time you gain? Is the juice worth the squeeze?
  37. Is the project sunk, and if so, what’s keeping you from letting it go?
  38. Have you celebrated what you have done?
  39. How much is it costing you to not do an item on the list, and are you willing to accept that cost?
  40. What have you done lately that was fun or play?
  41. Have you tried planning out what needs to be done? (Our planners help.)
  42. Would chunking your project down into smaller parts help?
  43. Do you actually believe that you can complete the projects you’ve committed to?
  44. Have you confused No with Not Now?
  45. Are your eyes forward?
  46. If you had your way, what would you work on right now?
  47. What completed project would move you closer to a promotion or the next level in your profession?
  48. Is there a project that only needs a little bit of your time, energy, and attention before you can hand it off to somebody else?
  49. What could you get done in the next 30 minutes that would either check an important block or make headway towards doing so?
  50. Have you grabbed a pen and paper and gotten out of your office for an hour or so to spend some time purposefully thinking rather than mindlessly doing?
  51. Have you determined what “enough for today” looks like?
  52. What matters now?

That’s 52 that I can think of off the top of my head and I’m sure I’ll think of some more.

What questions do you ask yourself that really help you get going?

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  1. says

    Beautiful set of questions, Charlie.

    I remember I wrote an article for Larina Kase’s blog a while ago and I touched on this issue and marketing. We say things like “I have to do more marketing.” The statement is vague, and the vagueness of it makes it feel overwhelming, which leads us to pause for a second…and then move on, instead of trying to figure it out. So we stay stuck a while longer until the next time we make the same vague statement or ask the same vague question and the cycle repeats itself.

    Specific questions like the ones on your list make the process of trying to find solutions more palpable – I love how so often it’s simple things that are the most powerful in helping us get unstuck.

    I’ll be going back to these for sure.


    • says

      You’re absolutely right, David. We often forget that much of our productivity-related questions are really means-ends discussions. Higher productivity isn’t an end – it’s a means.

  2. says

    I always get frustrated with the way I work. Sometimes it’s my self-talk and resentment for not doing better that distracts me. It’s like an obsession. this is my struggle so I try to keep my inner self quiet and sometimes use music to occupy my thoughts when doing a bit of routine work like creating charts.

    • says

      You’re right, Rob – it’s the inner game that’s often such an impediment. That’s why some of these questions address that directly. No matter how many widgets you crank, if you’re going to be frustrated with how much you crank, then you’re never really going to be any better off.

  3. says

    Admittedly I didn’t make it through the whole list, but perhaps that’s the point. Your first few got me energized so I’m ready to get back to it.


  4. says

    Awesome Questions Charlie.

    I ask myself 4 major questions at the end of every week. They are:
    1. What didn’t get done? Why didn’t it get done?

    2. What were you successful at? Why were you successful?

    These have been immensely powerful for me. They have become behavior drivers for me. I am amazed by how much answers I get simply by really sitting with and addressing these questions. For example, there was a short stint in time I was struggling to complete my writing tasks for the day.

    After really sitting with what lead me to success in previous weeks the answer became obvious. I had been waking up later and it was impacting my whole routine. Where I normally would expect to be done at 10am I was waking up a little later so I wasn’t getting stuff done until 12pm. But I was so caught off gaurd by the time difference I found myself quitting early.

    There is so much power in asking the right questions and then taking the time to answer them.

  5. Abdallah says

    Really great list which admittedly I couldn’t go completely through it. It does re-emphasize the importance of planning and strategy when planning to something new. Asking yourself – what is the end goal of this project? – is a good reminder to re-focus

  6. says

    I really like #15. It takes other aspects of your life that may be suffering if you are spending your whole time trying to accomplish tasks online.

    If you’re physically or mentally tired, there’s not way you’re going to be productive.

    I really like many of the questions on this list since most of them make you really narrow your focus and get things done.

  7. says

    What a great list of questions! I’ve just written a blog post: Questions Are the Answer, because to get to the root of almost anything, including being more productive, ask yourself and others more, better questions. Ascertaining more answers from as many sources can be a great way to research almost anything. In fact, many times when I don’t understand what a person is saying, I use one of my favorite questions: “Could you please say that differently?” And I usually will finally comprehend what the person was trying to say. Again, great list of questions!

    • says

      “because to get to the root of almost anything, including being more productive, ask yourself and others more, better questions.”

      This is so true, Sue, and that’s a great technique. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. Ivan says

    Oh man… Are you sure that somebody ask all this questions EVER?!
    They are similar to eachother, not clear and there is no reason for me to come to this blog again when this is written in a such a way.. Even article title is not clear.. :S I don’t care about it so try to take this as friendly advice.. If u want more people to read blog can not be written like this ..Sorry

    • says

      Thanks for the comment, Ivan.

      This one wasn’t for you, but plenty of other people dig it. Sometimes having slightly differently-worded questions generate different and better answers.

      Have a great day!

  9. says

    So happy to have a chance to “hear” Charlie Gilkey’s voice again after going to one of his workshops which had an immense impact on me. Number # 33 is the doozy for me, What’s nagging at you and is there any way to actually address it? A big question. I thinking all the wheel spinning we do is just a way to avoid the deeper issues sometimes. Yikes! Way to call us on our stuff, Charlie.

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