productivity gains

The Little Question That Creates Meaningful Productivity Gains

Can one question really provide you with productivity gains?


Sounds impossible, or at least highly unlikely, but you’ll see for yourself. Not everything in productivity and time management needs to be complicated, or takes weeks of hard work to produce results. This question is the perfect example of something you can apply immediately and start seeing fast results:

What is the most productive question you can ask yourself? What is the question that can revolutionize your productivity?

Here it is: “what is the desired outcome?”

The lack of clarity about the desired outcome of any project or action is one of the biggest roadblocks to productivity.

You are already used to outcome-based thinking in certain areas of your life, but unfortunately productivity and time management is not one of them (at least not for most people).

When you get into your car, you always have a clearly defined outcome – you want to drive to your home, office, the mall, etc. You never just get into the car and just drive off in a random direction. But when you get to the office and you sit at your desk, you immediately start “doing” without having a very clear outcome in mind… and that is a problem.

In order to be successful you need to have a goal and primarily do the things that get you closer to it. If you have no specific outcome, you might just fall into the trap of just being busy and spinning your wheels without making any real progress.

To prevent that, always start with the outcome in mind by asking yourself the most productive question: what is my desired outcome?

Here’s why this will lead to solid productivity gains:

productivity gains

1. It Provides Clarity

Imagine you are going to the groceries store. As soon as you enter you ask yourself “what I am doing here?”. That forces you to think and define a goal. You are here to pick up ketchup, great. Head to the aisle, choose one from the the 600 varieties and get out of there. In and out in 4 minutes flat.

Contrast that situation to you just go to the store without having a goal in mind. You enter and you start browsing. Aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf, sample after sample, you can be in there for hours. Sounds silly, but each one of us has done it at least a few times in our lives.

Starting with the outcome provides clarity.

You are no longer browsing through your emails, you are looking for that specific message from Adrian who you are meeting in 10 minutes. You are no longer just attending that meeting, you need to get the answer to these 3 specific questions.

What is the goal? What is the outcome? Why are doing what you are doing? Answer these questions before you take any action and your focus will completely change and you’ll get the task done in record time.

2. It Prevents Browsing

“Browsing” is the one the biggest time-wasters available to mankind.

Everything in your life is set up to support it. You flip on the TV, there are 100s of channels enticing you to start browsing through them. You go online – underlined links and attention-grabbing pictures galore. They are designed to grab your attention so you can click on them and when you do, you end up on another website that has the same thing. You go on YouTube to see one video, you get suggestions of what to see next. Everything is connected, everything is designed so you can go from one thing to the next one.

That is “browsing” and having a clear goal in mind stops it dead in its tracks.

If you go to Facebook and ask yourself what is your outcome, it is a much different and controlled experience. If your outcome is to see what your friend Yoanna has been up to lately, you can go and check that out in a few minutes. If your outcome is to entertain yourself for the next 15 minutes, fine, do so. But enter Facebook with no outcome in mind and you might “wake up” a few hours later having no idea where the day has went.

Same goes for your email, TV, the quarterly meeting at work and everything in between – defining the outcome will prevent time-wasting browsing, keep you (and everyone else) focused and get the job done.

Note: there is nothing particularly wrong with browsing, if that is your goal. If your goal is not to have a goal, that is perfectly fine, as long as you are making the decision and are not getting sucked into the browsing black hole by shiny pictures, clever headlines and marketing gimmicks

How To Apply All Of This To Your Life

Knowing the theory behind the most productive question and actually making use of it are two very different things. Let’s examine 3 scenarios when you should be asking yourself this question.

1. Ongoing

Get into the habit of defining the outcome before you engage into any of your regular daily tasks.

You get into your inbox, define the outcome. Are you here to process all your emails, or are you here looking for a specific message?

You start writing a blog post, define the outcome. What is the idea that you want to convey with this piece? Who is it for?

You go to the store, define the outcome. What are you picking up? Are you restocking the fridge for the week, or are you just picking up tomatoes for that pasta you are cooking tonight for your spouse?

The more you do it, the easier it gets. At first you need to be conscious and deliberate and you are bound to miss a few times. That is perfectly OK. Just keep on asking yourself and it will eventually start sticking and turn into a habit. This is when you are going to see big improvements in your focus and some serious productivity gains.

2. Project Based

Define your outcome before you start any project or meeting.

You have a team meeting tomorrow. What is the outcome? Are you looking to inform the team about new changes in the company, ask them questions about the progress of particular project or something else?

In that one-on-one meeting you have with Stacy in 1 hour, what do you want to achieve? Sell her on an idea, get feedback from her?

What is the idea you want to convey, what are you trying to do? Define it.

Imagine if I had no idea what this blog post was going to be about. I start writing about outcomes, but continue with habits, jump to morning routines, how to get a better sleep and end up telling you about food supplements. Would you keep on reading? I doubt it.

Having a clear outcome makes every project and/or meeting more productive for you and for everyone involved.

3. Daily

This is a little bit different than everything we’ve discussed so far, but equally powerful – before you start every day, take 5 minutes, and define three (3) outcomes for your day.

What do you want to achieve today? 1. 2. 3.

Write them down.

This will re-focus your day. It will ensure that there are going to be no days when you are just being busy because you had a hectic few days and you were just caught up in the whirlwind of life. It takes only a few minutes to do and it will have a lasting impact, not only on your productivity, but on your energy, happiness and motivation. It makes you feel in control, it makes you powerful, it makes you focused.

Your Turn Now

“What is the desired outcome?” – the most productive question that leads to significant productivity gains. It provides you with clarity and it prevents you from mindlessly browsing and wasting your time.

productivity gains

Get into the habit of asking yourself this vital question throughout the day, before any big project or meeting. Start your mornings with defining 3 major outcomes for your day and see how this changes your mindset and how much you get done.

Try it.

productivity gains