A Productivity Tip: 5 Whys and a What

How I'm going to get the kids to school on time.

Every problem has a solution. I firmly believe that. But not every solution is easy to find.  Here's a productivity tip I learned last week that helps us to uncover the answers to some of life's peskier productivity questions. Questions close to my heart like, 'Why can't I get the kids to school on time? Ever?' 

Charles Duhigg is the author of Faster, Smarter, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive. I heard him interviewed last week and he talked about a problem solving technique called 'The 5 Whys (or 'root cause analysis' but that's not nearly as catchy is it?).' It was invented by Toyota in their production facilities, decades ago.

It goes something like this...

Step 1: Identify your problem

Step 2: Ask 'why' 5 times to uncover the cause.

Here's my example.

The Problem: We get to school just in time (or maybe a fraction after) every day. This is stressful. The kids and I would all rather be there a little earlier but we can't seem to manage it.

1. Why can't we get to school on time?

Because we don't get into the car on time. I'm always shouting at the kids to get into the car, right at the last possible minute. They comply (slowly) and I'm generally the last one there.

2. Why are we always getting into the car at the last minute?

Because I don't tell them to get into the car any earlier.

3. Why don't I tell them to get moving earlier?

Because I know I won't be ready.

4. Why am I not ready?

Because I don't leave enough time to get ready.

5. Why don't I leave enough time to get ready?

Either because I went to bed too late, didn't get enough sleep and got up too late or I got up on time (set my alarm) but then felt like I had heaps of time which I promptly used on things that weren't getting us ready to get to school on time. D'Oh!

But wait there's more...

The Toyota approach gets to you to the root cause of the problem but I'm going to take it a step further. As a coach my goal is always to get you to do something. Sure it's important to know the cause of the problem but what good is that if you don't know what to do next?

So Step Three is... Ask yourself what you are going to do about it?

Me? I'm going to set myself mini milestones for each school morning. If we need to leave by 8.40am we need to be getting into the car at 8.35am (to allow for all of the last minute 'I can't find...' issues). To be in the car by 8.35am I need to be out of the shower by 8.15am. To do that I need to be in the shower by 8am. To do that.... you get the idea.

Complex problems

The 5 Whys (and a What) is a great process for straightforward problems. If your problems seem more complex or you try the 5 Whys and get yourself into a muddle it may be because you have an ill defined problem. This article I wrote for Flying Solo might help with that.

Charles Duhigg answers his family question 'Why can't we manage family dinners?' using the 5 Whys in this blog post for the NY Times

He also says, 'At the center of the Five Whys – and the reason it’s so effective – is a basic insight: “Productivity” means different things to different people, but at its core, it’s about thinking a little more deeply about the choices we make every day.'

Have I got you thinking about your daily choices?

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