Setting yourself up for productivity sounds good, in theory. Then reality hits. The avalanche of messages and requests stretches on and keeps growing. No one but you seems to notice, or care, that your priorities and goals are getting buried under everyone else’s needs.
To handle the onslaught, it’s best to have some sort of predetermined response system. You need a structure to help you filter out the low-priority requests and highlight the high-priority tasks and needs. A question funnel is a simple way to sort things out so you can stay productive.
Step 1: Set up your inbox
To make a question funnel work, you need one central collection point, or inbox, for all the tasks, ideas, requests, messages, and needs that come your way. Otherwise you’ll miss funneling some of the items that come in and find yourself wrapped up in a low-priority task.
For your primary inbox, designate what works best for you: your email, a paper planner, a digital planner or task manager, your calendar, a notebook. It can be complex or simple, digital or analog. The important thing is that all incoming items end up in your inbox, so you can apply your question funnel before you move forward on anything.
Step 2: Build your funnel
A question funnel is built of, well, questions. That’s simple enough. But not all questions are created equal. Some questions, such as “Is this important?” are too vague; other questions, such as “Is this request directly related to the top three items on my to-do list for the day?” may be so specific that they filter out genuinely important items.
Here are a few criteria and questions you could use:
- Filter by purpose: Is this need related to a current top goal?
Filter by messenger: Is this need coming from a priority person?
Filter by timing: Is this need dependent on a specific time in my schedule? Can it be scheduled for another time?
Filter by capability: Is this need dependent on me?
Filter by possibility: Is this need doable right now? Do I have the needed resources to accomplish it?
Filter by reward: Is this need going to give me a higher return on my time and effort than the tasks I had planned?
Include at least three questions on your question filter. When you ask a question and get a No, you say No to the request. That doesn’t mean you’ll never attend to it; it simply means you won’t drop everything and do it right now. You’ll schedule it for later, ask the person to bring it back up another time, delegate it, delay it, or ask the requestor to come up with the needed resources or information.
When you get a Yes to all of your questions, you’ve probably looking at a high-priority task. Your question funnel, however, may not be perfect upon first use. If you find that too many low or mid-priority tasks are slipping through, it’s time to add more questions or rephrase them so they only let high-priority items through.
Step 3: Use Your Filter
The last step is the most difficult: you’ve got to use your funnel consistently in order to benefit from it. If you have someone filtering requests for you, a secretary or assistant, then this question funnel needs to be part of their required process before a need gets to you.
If you’re the one dealing with all the inflow, then hold yourself accountable. Print the question funnel, post it everywhere, hang it on your door; do whatever you can to continually remind yourself that your time is valuable enough to protect. Use the question funnel to protect it, and you’ll be more productive and more truly helpful to the people around you.