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Create this list of questions to help you shut down interruptions

These questions can both help you stay focused and help your team solve their own problems.

Create this list of questions to help you shut down interruptions
[Photos: Trung Thanh/Unsplash; Denelson83/Wikimedia Commons]

Ever get asked the same question again and again? Maybe you wished you could have a FAQ page for yourself to avoid interruptions. You can and you should, says Jonathan Denn, author of Drumbeat Business Productivity Playbook: How to Beat Goals and Disorganization. He suggests that leaders create a list of filtering questions with stock answers when appropriate.

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“If someone comes in and hasn’t thought through the first level of thinking it can be frustrating,” says Denn. “Filtering questions are a ‘how to work with me’ document.”

Filtering questions to get team members to think

Create your list of filtering questions by keeping a journal next to your desk or using the note-taking app in your smartphone. Simply record the questions you get asked or the questions you ask yourself, says Denn. Some people will have just a few filtering questions, while others may have many more.

Your filtering questions could include:

  • What’s the best that can happen?
  • What’s the worst?
  • What haven’t you thought of?
  • What’s the next best solution?
  • How does this advance the mission or goals of the business?

“It’s a thinking playbook,” says Denn. “I like to look at things inversely–why not share these questions on the front side?”

Put your filtering questions in a document to share with your entire team. “Now they know how you think so they will not knock on your door until they go through the list,” says Denn. “Your direct reports can do the same thing for their direct reports. It’s a document that shows how they run their department.”


Related: 5 Strategies To Eliminate Constant Interruptions

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Denn recommends taking the concept all the way through the organization, from CEO to first line supervisor. “It’s a cool way to get nice rhythm for your corporate culture and filtering questions can reveal to a CEO where corporate culture breaks down,” he says.

Denn says some leaders are worried that filtering questions will reveal their “mojo.” “These are the questions that you use to make great decisions, and some might worry that sharing them will help someone else get promoted before you,” he says. “Companies want to create a culture where you all grow. You need to work as a team to beat competitors and do something for customers no one else does.”

While it can take time to make and distribute a list, filtering questions saves you time on the other side–time you need to do deep work.

“There’s good neuroscience behind the fact that in an average day you get three hours of quality thinking time, and it’s probably best to do it in two 90-minute sessions,” says Denn. “Interruptions give you a time penalty.”


Related: How can you focus in an open office?


Filtering questions help you focus

In addition to sharing filtering questions with your team, you can also create a list that helps you make decisions on how to use your day or whether or not to move forward on an idea.

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“Keeping score of your decision-making processes will really help you to be supremely productive,” says Denn. For example, ask yourself these filtering questions:

  • Does this require that I have a fixed mind-set to get it done or an open mind-set to find an answer?
  • Is it important, or merely urgent? (Urgent tasks can be delegated, but only you can work on your important items.)
  • Does it have to be done?
  • Does it have to be done by me?
  • Does it have to be done now?
  • What is the preferred outcome?
  • Is that outcome sufficient reward?

You could have dozens of filtering questions for yourself, with lists for different situations. In his book Principles, author Ray Dalio shares principles that he uses to make decisions, which are similar to filtering questions, says Denn.

“He has hundreds of them, not all in the form of a question,” he says. “One of biggest mistakes people make today is that they aren’t asking enough questions. Things are moving so fast, business conditions can change in a week, new products are coming out every day, new solutions are making the way we did things before obsolete. The only way to keep up is to ask questions. Having a list makes it easier.”

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