Why You Should Be Asking Questions All The Time

“Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question – you have to want to know – in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.”

via 37Signals founder Jason Fried paraphrasing Clayton Christensen.

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Find Inspiration in Travel: Both in Your Own City & Abroad


By Heedae Yun

Traveling is at the top of every ‘How to’ list for finding new ideas and inspiration. However, travel for the sake of travel can quickly become a chore-like task when you’re simply checking off landmarks from a city guidebook. Bonnie Reese, a previous design researcher at Frog, recommends making your own “must-see” list based on personal passions instead of the more general ‘Must-See’ recommendations of travel guides. For Reese, that includes hitting up pools and public bathhouses wherever she travels:

Another less academic passion of mine, is bathing in foreign countries – whether for a swim or a wash. I always bring a swimsuit and read up about where to go for a swim or soak. I dove off the diving platform in the Olympic pool in Berlin with a line of impatient teenagers behind me chattering away in German, watched a Turkish mother battle over combing her toddler’s hair in a local bath in Istanbul, swam laps with older women in the middle of Paris, and sat naked for hours with local women in an outdoor spring in the mountains of Japan. My love of a good swim and a hot bath is the farthest thing from an intellectual pursuit but it always yields unique insights and a pleasurable experience. There’s no better way to contemplate cultures than sitting naked with the locals.

By mixing personal passions with travel, you deepen your experiences and open yourself up to new ones not found in any tour book. On Reese’s trip to Mexico City, she found herself visiting a barn-like structure hidden behind a school on her quest to see as many Diego Rivera’s murals as possible. She never would have discovered this secluded location if it wasn’t for her interest in art.

Visiting textbook locations will still provide an excellent source of inspiration due to the simple change of surroundings; however, more is to be discovered if you commit to a mini mission. For the coffee snob, it could be as simple as finding the best cafe near your work. For the cinephile, it could be exploring your local neighborhoods where movies have been filmed. If you really want to be inspired by your travels, you’re going to have to jump in the water. Nothing inspiring ever happened poolside.


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If You’re Not Learning Something New, It’s Time to Move On

By Tanase Bruno

By Tanase Bruno

If you think you’re going to work at your current job for more than three years, think again. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure of workers between the ages of 25 to 34 is only three years. That’s less than a third of the tenure among people aged 55 to 64 years old. The study, conducted every two years, is slightly down from 2012 when millennials’ average tenure was 3.2 years.

For some of us, the idea of being a “lifer” can be nauseating. You’d much rather do your best work and move on. But the paradox of doing your best work, of being exceptionally good at your job, is that you can be stuck doing it for years longer than you actually should. To avoid developing career intertia, Jayson DeMers, Founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, encourages us to ask ourselves, “What did I learn from yesterday?”

No matter how simple or complex your day was, you must have learned something. Did you master a new skill or learn a new process? Did you find something out about your organization that leads you to better understand your position within it? Did you have an experience that will help you in future, similar situations? Find at least one thing that you learned from the previous day and consider it. On one level, this is going to help you reinforce the new ideas and skills that come to you on a daily basis. On another level, it’s going to help you look for new opportunities to learn. Since you know you’ll be asking yourself this question, you’ll be driven to force yourself to learn something new every day, and you’ll therefore be improving yourself every day.

Millennials value the growth and thrill of professional challenges. Typically in your first year, you learn the ropes. In your second, you hit your stride. And in your third, you make your mark. Beyond that, if you’re not learning, then you’re not growing. Don’t wait for a year-end assessment to determine your next career path. Assess your trajectory every day, or you’ll slip into a pattern of doing the same thing day-in-and-day-out with little or no forward/upward mobility.

If your workplace isn’t fostering innovation, challenging you and providing you opportunities to learn, then don’t feel bad about cutting the cord. Your future self will thank you for it.


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A Better Way to Say “No”

(This is not it.)

By Victoria Bellavia

“No” can be a time saver, a boundary builder, a reputation protector, and a frustration preventer. But how do you say no gracefully, respectfully, and firmly? Email templates are great, but what about if the ask is in person on the spur of the moment — how do you avoid the automatic guilty yes? Memorize this one-line, knee-jerk response:

“Let me check on something and get back to you.”

This answer breaks the time-worn habit of agreeing to projects or tasks before you have time to truly consider if it’s something you can and want to do. It allows you to acknowledge the request while buying time and the mental space to formulate an informed yes or no down the line. You can use it with colleagues, clients, people you meet at conferences, and even your manager. Take control of your time and your to-do list by saying no to saying yes.


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More Important Than Having a High IQ is Having “ICE”

Your IQ (or intelligence quotient) is the abstract capacity at which you are able to process information. While IQ is certainly important for life and work, it turns out that cognitive intelligence isn’t everything when it comes to success.

Just as important as your IQ is your CQ (curiosity, or creativity, quotient) and EQ (emotional quotient). Having exceptional ability in one quotient—like intelligence—is great, but having a good balance between all three areas (ICE) is what helps propel those we call “geniuses” to excel.

Over at the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explains why curiosity and emotional intelligence are just as important as cognitive intelligence:

…People with higher EQ tend to be more entrepreneurial, so they are more proactive at exploiting opportunities, taking risks, and turning creative ideas into actual innovations…

CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time, especially in formal domains of education, such as science and art…. Knowledge and expertise, much like experience, translate complex situations into familiar ones, so CQ is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems.

In other words: IQ is about managing a lot of information in the short term, while CQ deals with overall knowledge and risk-taking, and EQ entails the ability to perceive and control emotions. Having a high IQ allows you to process rich, complex information better, but the ability to adapt to uncertainty and produce simple solutions for complex situations are all due to high levels of EQ and CQ .

Having the right blend of all three areas—intelligence, curiosity, and empathy—means being able to understand problems, generate novel solutions, and execute on ideas. If you’re lacking in any one area, you can increase your likelihood of having a successful career by making up for it in one of the other areas.

This is greats news for those of us who may have less-than-ideal IQs; since IQ is something research shows we can’t always improve throughout life, while empathy and curiosity can be developed.

To develop your CQ you can’t take things for granted. You must use the feeling of boredom as a flag to explore and learn, and most importantly, to never stop asking questions. To quote Albert Einstein, “The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”

To develop your EQ is a little tougher, but still do-able: when people are talking to you, listen intently, try to imagine what those around you are thinking and feeling, and focus on outrospection whenever you find yourself stuck on a problem or situation.

Intelligence certainly matters, but without curiosity and empathy it’s just not as powerful. Focus on building all three areas in order to really thrive and succeed.


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2 Emails That Can Shrink Your Workload By 20%

By Denis Lelic

By Denis Lelic

Parkinson’s Law states that work “expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This could likely explain why you sometimes work more than 60 hours per week, when in fact you could easily shave off 20 or so hours by managing expectations with your boss/client. Instead of flinging yourself into the workweek with unrealistic expectations of clearing everything off of your to-do list, let the people who depend on you know what you plan to accomplish. Robbie Amed, author of Fire Me I Beg You, suggests writing two emails every week to manage your workload:

Email #1: What you plan on getting done this week
Email #2: What you actually got done this week

Here’s what Email #1 looks like:

Subject: My plan for the week


After reviewing my activities here is my plan for the week in order of priority. Let me know if you think I should re-prioritize:

Planned Major Activities for the week

  1. Complete project charter for X Project
  2. Finish the financial analysis report that was started last week
  3. Kick off Project X – requires planning and prep documentation creation. Scheduled for Thursday.

Open items that I will look into, but won’t get finished this week

  1. Coordinate activities for year-end financial close
  2. Research Y product for our shared service team

Let me know if you have any comments. Thank you!

— Robbie

And here’s what Email #2 looks like:

Completed this week

  • Completed X Report
  • Started the planning for the big project
  • Finished the month-end analysis and sent to financial controller for review
  • Created a first draft of the project charter, which is currently being reviewed by Project Manager Z

Open items

  • I have some questions about the start date of Y Project, but should get confirmation by Tuesday morning
  • We need X Report signed off by EOD next Wednesday. Can you follow up with Jane to get this signed off?

That is all for now. Have a great weekend.

— Robbie

This model works even if you’re part of a team that has weekly progress meetings. By managing expectations, you no longer need to work 60+ hours (even if it’s just for the optics). Under-promise and over-deliver.

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Is This Meeting Necessary?

Illustration by Dean Falsify Cook

Illustration by Dean Falsify Cook

Incredible things can happen when great minds meet. Unfortunately, most meetings are anything but great. Organizations are generally reckless about how they use their scarcest resource: people’s time. Research reveals that half the time spent in your nearly 62 meetings every month is wasted – that’s nearly 31 hours of your life. With 73% of workers choosing to do other tasks during meetings, and 91% of workers simply daydreaming through them, the annual salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses is approximately $3.7 billion!

It’s obvious that bad meetings need to stop. But justifying if a meeting is necessary is easier said than done. To help us confidently arrive at the conclusion that a meeting is required, Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Moneyproposes four easy questions:

“Have I thought through this situation?”
If not: Set aside some time with yourself to do some strategic thinking. During that time you can evaluate the scope of the project, the current status, the potential milestones, and lay out a plan of action for making meaningful progress.

“Do I need outside input to make progress?” 
If you find yourself in this place, don’t schedule a meeting; update your to-do list and take action instead.

“Does moving forward require a real-time conversation?”
It’s much more efficient for everyone involved if you send over items that they can look at on their own (while you’re not awkwardly watching them read during an in-person meeting) and then shoot you back feedback.

“Does this necessitate a face-to-face meeting?”
An online chat can help you answer questions quickly, or for more in-depth conversations, scheduling a phone call or video conference can work well. 
By the end of this sequence if you decide that you still need face-to-face, in-person communication, then go right ahead and schedule that meeting. It’s worth noting, however, that the responsibility for protecting people’s time doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of the one calling the meeting. The onus of asking “is this meeting necessary” should also be on the attendee. The questions posed by Saunders can be flipped as follows:
  1. “Have you fully thought through this situation without me?
  2. “Do you need my specific input to move this forward?”
  3. “Do we need to have this conversation in real-time?”
  4. “Do we need to meet face-to-face, or can we do this this online?”
Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, once wrote, “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment, you shouldn’t let anyone walk away with [your] time.” With the right decision-making process, you can dramatically reduce the number of meetings you attend. And when you do eventually have your meetings, they be the necessary types of meetings: ones that promote alignment, unlock creativity, and help you and your team reach the epiphany moment (and get back to work) faster.
Further Reading: Think through in advance how you can make meetings as efficient and effective as possible.

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