Photo: Shutterstock

6 Reasons For Asking Why

Ok, this post is for all you rabid GTD’ers. Consider this a little refresher (or crash course if you haven’t read Getting Things Done) on the value of asking why. It’s critical to almost any decision making, planning or brainstorming activity, not to mention the fact that it makes you sound sooo philosophical.

1. It Defines Success

You have to have a purpose before you can have any success. If you finish something that doesn’t mean anything, is anything really accomplished? For example: if I make a big, steaming vat of award-winning spaghetti sauce and I’m not hungry, my culinary feat won’t mean much to me. It all would have been different had I asked myself “Why are you making spaghetti sauce, you’re not even hungry?!” and realized there wasn’t a need for the sauce, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and done something worthwhile.

You can’t gauge your success unless you know why you’re doing it.

2. It Creates Decision Making Criteria

Really, I see this as more of a prioritizing thing. If you have a purpose, it’ll be much easier to make those decisions that previously were ambigious. Now with a clear definition of why you’re doing something, you’ll know what to spend resources on to get the thing done.

This is HUGE in web development. I used to find myself straying from what was important, and really worrying about stupid details that didn’t matter. Finally, (I’m embarrassed to say how long into the current project) I sat down and asked myself the question “Why are you making this application?”. Once I did, it all seemed clear. I knew what to work on next, what to wait on, and what to throw out completely. Asking why made everything fall into place, whether it wanted to or not.

3. It Aligns Resources

No matter what issue comes up, you’ll know exactly where to spend your resources just by asking the old question of why you’re doing it. If I’m going to buy flowers for my girlfriend to rectify an argument, and I’m trying to figure out how much money I’m going to spend on them, I go back to the initial reason for the purchase. The answer is always the same: “Because not many other girls would put up with you”. I always splurge on flowers now, no hesitation.

4. It Motivates

I used to hate weeding my parents garden. It seemed like no matter how great of a job I did, a week later the same weeds were back, and they had brought a few of their friends. Needless to say, I was never motivated for weeding, so I never really did a good job.
If you don’t have a clear reason for doing something, you’re not going to be motivated to do it.

5. It Clarifies Focus

In order for a project to get done, it must have focus. If you don’t have focus, the project will keep dragging on and on. I love the visualization David Allen uses for this step.

“Just taking two minutes and writing out your primary reason for doing something invariably creates an increased sharpness of vision, much like brining a telescrope into focus. Frequently, projects and situations that have begun to feel scattered and blurred grow clearer when someone brings it back home when someone says “What are we really trying to accomplish here?”

6. It Expands Options

Isn’t it funny how becoming more focused and setting your sights smaller gives you more options? By really sitting down and fleshing out exactly why something needs to be done, you’ll know what has to be done, and you start thinking about the best way to do it.

If anything, asking why sheds truth on a situation. You can’t do something right unless you know why you’re doing it. There’s a huge difference in creativity between thinking of what to do as opposed to how to do it. By already knowing what has to be done, your mind can explore the best option instead of the right option. It’s a very freeing experience in itself.

And the truth shall set you free.