The routine, The One-Off, The Audience.

In many jobs, answering questions people have is a significant part of the day. If you break these questions up into categories, there are three that come to mind:

  • The routine
  • The audience specific
  • The one-off

The routine are the questions that you are asked again and again by all kinds of people.

The audience specific question is something that only matters to a particular group of people. For example, how to replace 1996 Dodge Neon spark plugs only appeals to 1996 Dodge Neon owners. The customers (or coworkers) we serve can probably be divided into several different audiences that are just as specific as that example. While you don’t answer each of these as often as the routine ones, they come up quite a bit.

The one-off. The totally unique, previously undiscovered questions that no one has asked before. These are in the minority most likely unless you are working at a startup.

Thinking about questions this way, something interesting happens, it becomes apparent you should be operating in an entirely different manner than you are. Take the routine questions for example, they come up so often, it doesn’t makes sense to take comfort in the fact you are well-versed in answering them. Instead, it would actually make more sense to work on building a internal database of them with scripts, email templates, videos, diagrams, links, and anything else that would help someone understand these to the maximum extent possible with the least amount of effort on their end. Continuous improvement will pay dividends on these. If you can’t understand why, think about making a water bottle, if you only make one, optimizing material doesn’t make sense, if you make thousands, or millions, the time spent optimizing makes much more sense. If you answer a question thousands of times but don’t have things that make it easier to understand, add more value, or speed up the knowledge sharing, you have a missed opportunity on your hand.

On the other hand, if you have something that is audience specific, it’s worth putting it into the external world, likely via a blog or website. When you know the audience it is for, you can title it appropriately. Those types can find your work and get value from it on-demand. You can recall just by searching even years later after you forgot you produced such a piece of content.

Finally, the one-offs don’t have a system. They need to be answered as they arise, however that is what makes them an opportunity. Once we’ve answered new questions, perhaps we can work to find others who those questions apply to. Eventually, some of these may find an audience, and some may become the routine questions down the line.

People spend decades working careers without building personal systems for these things. Even if a company you work for doesn’t support this, there is nothing stopping you from doing this for yourself, you may just find that you can raise the level of your work by doing so.