Go/NoGo Questions are the ones we use to ask about the process of our thinking rather than the content. When we are constantly bombarded by IM, email, text messages, and social media feeds, on top of our typical day full of work, a new type of Go/NoGo Question jumps to the forefront: we call it the Mental Ecology Go/NoGo. The Go/NoGo category of questions is one of the most underutilized categories, because we become prisoners of our habitual reactions rather than active managers of our own time and participation. Add them to your repertoire today.
Do you remember the moment in your Precision Q+A workshop when everyone chuckled at the idea of asking at their next meeting: “Do I need to be here?” The idea of questioning our attendance at a meeting sounds funny at first, but a central purpose of Go/NoGo Questions is to carefully consider participation in meetings and discussions, in order to make sure we use our time as wisely as possible.
But Go/NoGo Questions are useful far beyond meetings. Anytime we find ourselves focused on the process of our thinking, rather than the content of the issue itself, we are in the land of the Go/NoGo Question. Learning to ask several precise types of Go/NoGo Questions may save time and allow us to control our energy and effort with even more care.
MENTAL ECOLOGY: THE MISSING TYPE OF PRECISE GO/NOGO QUESTION
When we are constantly surrounded by distractions, a new type of Go/NoGo Question jumps to the forefront of our work: we call it the Mental Ecology type of Go/NoGo. You won’t find it on your Precision Q+A Toolkit, but it will land there in the next revision! This “missing” type of precise Go/NoGo Question is gaining in prominence at the same rate that technology is offering us more and more choices for how to spend our “screen time.”
Mental ecology refers to the state of our thinking. We might conceive of this as the amount of mental energy we have, the extent of our clear-headedness, or the capacity we have to make judgments about what is important. When we are distracted, the state of our thinking declines, almost invisibly. Attempting to multitask, we cannot remember well, reason clearly, or exercise sound judgment. In fact, some research shows that multitaskers exhibit about the same clear-headedness as those who are drunk!
Am I clear-headed enough to think about this now?
We would do well to ask ourselves Mental Ecology Go/NoGo Questions much more often than we do, because they will help us shift our habitual patterns. For example, when tempted to answer an email in the midst of a meeting, we might ask ourselves: “Am I clear-headed enough to think about this right now?” When we get a request for something via IM at the same time that we are on the phone and looking at a document on the screen, we ought to be asking ourselves: “Is my judgment sharp enough to respond via IM, given everything else going on right now?”
We can ask Mental Ecology Go/NoGo Questions with a group as well. When members of a discussion seem distracted, we can ask: “Is everyone attentive enough to participate fully right now?” You might get some chuckles if you start asking that question out loud (just as “Do I need to be here?” generates some laughs!), but they are likely to be chuckles of appreciation. Our acknowledgement of the distractions that keep us from paying full attention helps everyone manage their attention better.
Am I still clear-headed enough to think about this now?
Go/NoGo Questions about our mental ecology are not limited to usefulness at the beginning of work tasks or discussions. As our level of tiredness or overwhelm increases, our capacity for full attention decreases. As we take in more information, our memories become full. We will find a point at which it no longer makes sense to continue working on an issue without taking a break. Set a timer when you sit down to work on a tough problem. When the timer goes off, ask yourself: “Am I still clear-headed enough to think about this now?”
FOCUS: AN UNDERUTILIZED TYPE OF PRECISE GO/NOGO QUESTION
As distractions grow, control of our focus becomes ever more challenging. Distractions, by definition, take us off of our focus. One underutilized precise type of Go/NoGo Question is the one that brings us back to focus on the key elements of the work. It sounds like this when we talk to ourselves about our work: “What is the big picture here?” “Am I focused on the most important issues?”
Teams also need focus-oriented Go/NoGo Questions. Even with the meeting basics covered, a discussion can wander off track or veer away from top priorities and objectives, without anyone correcting the lack of focus. We can help a meeting immensely by articulating a precise Go/NoGo Question. Imagine the off-track meeting where someone asks: “Are we focusing on the right things in this meeting?” What a relief!
Adopting these Go/NoGo Questions is like doing ourselves a favor, because we will streamline our effort, spend our time more wisely, and work with a clearer mind. We can also use these specific types of Go/NoGo Questions to the benefit of our colleagues and our organization. By having the courage to ask Mental Ecology and Focus Go/NoGo Questions in meetings, we help ensure that the team is spending its time and energy in the most useful manner.
THIS MONTH’S PRACTICE
Go/NoGo Questions help us examine the process of our thinking rather than the content of an issue, enabling us to better control our time, energy, and effort. Now more than ever, we need to learn to use questions as a means to manage our focus and our mental ecology.
Introduce the term “mental ecology” into your conversations this month. As you find yourself engaged in mental multitasking, articulate this new type of Go/NoGo Question to yourself: “Am I clear-headed enough to think about this issue now?” When the answer is no, stop. Do something to change your mental state. For instance: Take a short walk; close the extra windows on your screen; shut down your email while working on a mentally challenging problem; or close your eyes and breathe deeply for 30 seconds. Then ask again: “Am I clear-headed enough to think about this issue now?” Don’t start until the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Next time you sit down for a significant work session, set a timer that will interrupt you about half way through your work time. When the timer goes off, ask yourself: “Am I still clear-headed enough to think about this now?” Notice how your efficiency goes down, almost imperceptibly. Direct your attention to the quality of your attention and energy, and if you are not working efficiently, take a break that clears your head. Begin again, and use the second half of your work session more effectively.
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