A Good Question is Like a Machete

The same company that makes my trusty office scissors (Fiskars) also happens to make heavy-duty gardening equipment such as axes, mauls and machetes.

It makes sense: if you can make one thing that cuts, you can make many things that cut.

According to their blog, “Machetes are ubiquitous, all-purpose tools: they have been used to carve trails through tropical forests, to slash out clearings for crops, to crack open coconuts and slice papayas, and, of course, as imposing weapons.”

Have you ever wanted to use a machete (real or proverbial) to cut through all the mental and physical clutter in your life?  Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by projects, people or stuff.

This is where a good clarifying question can help.

A clarifying question can be used to eliminate confusion or ambiguity by reminding you of what’s important and forcing you to make a decision.

Here’s an example: let’s say you’ve set a particular weight loss goal and intend to head to the gym every morning at 5:30.   But when your alarm goes off, you just don’t feel like it.  After all, getting sleep is important too, right?

Therefore, you have to decide: go back to bed or go to the gym?  A clarifying question can be: “Does going back to sleep take me closer to or further away from my goal?”

Similarly, when reviewing your list of to-dos and deciding what to work on next, you can ask, “Which of these tasks will have the biggest impact on achieving my goals at work?”

In his book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller shares his version of a clarifying question: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

I often ask advisors to consider: “Does this action take you closer to or further away from your vision for the practice?”

Here’s another type of clarifying question: “Given my time, resources and opportunities, what is the best action for me to take right now?”

What about you? Do you have a clarifying question that guides your decisions?  If not, try using one of ones listed above or create one of your own.

There’s an old Russian proverb that states: “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”  Sometimes you need to cut through the clutter and decide.  And a great question can be the path to a great answer.

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