Asking for Help: How a Single Question Can Make You More Productive

Dmitry Davydov
Feb 19, 2015
Last updated: Dec 3, 2018
Many of the biggest barriers to productivity can be overcome with the simple act of asking for help.

Barriers to Productivity
The exact forces that conspire to derail your productivity are unique to you, your workplace, your personality, and what day of the week it is. There are, however, common obstacles to productivity that many of us face.

Distractions are, perhaps, the biggest barrier to productivity . They’ve always been around; now we just face them in digital as well as physical form. Though we handle the many distractions, they cost us ability (we don’t perform as well after a distraction ) and time (up to 25 minutes before we get back to the task at hand after an interruption).

The most common workplace productivity killers include noisy coworkers, impromptu meetings, and group projects. Notice what all of these have in common? That’s right: people.

Digital distractions are certainly to blame sometimes, but people derail our productivity as much as computing power does.

That’s actually good news, because people tend to listen when you ask for help.

How a Question Can Help

Maybe it’s your cubicle neighbors’ annoying tendency to talk under her breath, or your team leaders’ habit of calling impromptu afternoon meetings. Whatever the problem, there are a plethora of strategies and methods for dealing with it.

One simple question might be even more powerful than all those strategies.

For example, let’s say you’re dealing with noisy coworkers. Well, you can wear headphones. You can work different hours. You can learn calming techniques, or turn your own music up louder. Or you can go to the offending coworker(s), and ask them to help you solve the problem.

“Hey, Bruce. Listen. I’ve got a problem that needs your insight.” (A little flattery is not a bad idea.)

“The problem is that I just get so distracted when you and Jane are talking.” (Intimate that the problem is your distractibility, not their talking; carry the blame.)

“I’ve tried headphones, but I can still hear you guys. You’re having such a great time, I hate to interrupt, but I need to stay focused so we can meet these deadlines. I’m kind of at a loss, though.” (Explain how you’ve already tried to solve the problem. Establish friendly tone.)

(Now the magic words.) “Can you help me figure out what to do here, so I can focus on work but you can still talk with Jane when needed?”

Now the last, but all-important step: wait for an answer.

Wait for the Answer

Don’t rush in. Don’t fill in the gaps. Just wait, after you ask, and listen.

Give them time to think about the answer. Don’t rush them. And don’t immediately reject their suggestions if they are different than what you expect.


Who You Should Be Asking for Help

You have three main options:
1. Ask the cause of the problem.
2. Ask the involved parties (team members, coworkers).
3. Ask the authority (your manager, boss, team leader, department head).

It’s almost always better to start by asking the source of the problem for help. Otherwise you risk creating a situation where a coworker feels gossiped about, overlooked, or ignored.

If there is no identifiable single person (or group of people), evaluate who can best help you deal with the issue at hand. It might be coworkers (ideal if you’re overwhelmed with tasks and need help) or it might be the authority (ideal if you’re lacking resources or not sure which project to focus on first).

How to Ask for Help

First, decide who to ask.

Next, rehearse your words. Rehearsing will help you be clear, stay focused, and use the most courteous phrasing.

Finally, remember the three keys to successfully asking for help: 1. Be kind and courteous. 2. Be clear. State exactly what you need help with. Don’t waffle. State the problem exactly. 3. Be willing to repeat yourself. Most likely, you’ll have to. Expect it, and be ready to repeat yourself.

After you’ve asked, of course, listen. Then follow up with the advice, suggestions, or offers for help that you receive. Asking is pointless if you ignore or reject the help that is offered. You may not get exactly what you want or expect, but if you’re open, you might get something even better.

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See also:

- The First Hour: 5 Ways to Start Your Day for Success
- How to Help Your Team Use Social Media Productively
-7 Tips to Stay Productive through the Holiday Season
- How Average Marketing Kills Your Business - Interview with Larry Bailin
- SMART Goals, Stupid Goals: Interview With Michael Podolinsky
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