The tiny tasks that can take you off track

How much work can you create with one sentence?

Turns out, quite a lot!

It all started when a client got in touch. I ran several Productivity Ninja workshops for her and her team last year, and she was now exploring some training around mindfulness. She thought she had seen something on my website, and so got in touch.

As it happens, I don’t run mindfulness training (I do offer a Distraction Detox Day, but that’s not quite what she was after) so I offered to ask around for her.

In the course of my work I meet lots of trainers and coaches, who all have their own specialisms. When it came to recalling who specialised in mindfulness, my mind drew a blank, so I decided to put it out there on Facebook: Who do I know who specialises in mindfulness training?

This one question, posted in two different places, generated 34 comments, 3 private messages, and several invitations to have a chat.

Now I love a good conversation, probably more than the next person, but here’s the thing: this is not my work. My work over the next few days already involves writing two articles, prepping and delivering a talk, designing a workshop, briefing calls, proposals, enquiries, writing website copy and two photo shoots!

This was just a ‘quick favour’ I wanted to do, to hopefully help two people out by connecting them. But it was fast turning into a mini project of its own.

It’s amazing how quickly a small task can grow legs and take you off in all sorts of directions, without you really noticing. Large distractions are easy to spot, but the little peripheral tasks, the small favours and quick questions can be far more unassuming and yet just as distracting.

Let me be clear, I love being helpful. If I can connect two people together and add value to my client at the same time, I welcome the opportunity. But in order to preserve the space I need to do my work, I need to keep the peripheral in proportion.

And this is the one question that helped me to do that:

What do you need?

If you’re the one being asked for your opinion, help or involvement, asking this one question will cut through the back story, debate and chatter, and get straight to the point of what they are asking of you. In fact, a workshop delegate was recently inspired by The West Wing to ask this question far more often!

If you’re the one putting the question out there, being clear on what you need will clarify and focus the kind of answer you get back. For me, what I needed was a web link to pass on, not a conversation to discuss details that weren’t mine to discuss. And once I asked for that, my job became much easier.

And as several clients mentioned this week, sometimes it’s not our own work that’s too much, but when we have a little bit of everyone else’s work on our radar as well, it all becomes a bit overcrowded.

Over to you. How’s your work looking this week: how much is actually your work, and what’s the peripheral stuff that you need to keep contained?

Where could you use this question to give you more clarity: What do you need?

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