root cause In my previous life, I worked in IT on a technical support help desk.  People would call in for help with technical issues with their computer equipment.  Part of problem solving on the help desk is to try to determine the root cause of the issue.

You probably have had situations in the past where you had to call a service providers support center to resolve an issue for you.  Maybe your phone or internet service was not working, so you called for assistance.  The technician will ask questions to try to determine the root cause of the issue. This gives the technician the information to resolve the issue so that it doesn’t happen again.

Determining the root cause doesn’t just apply to fixing computer equipment.  This concept can be applied to issues we come across in many facets of our lives. If you have an issue and you don’t know what caused it, it’s difficult to determine how to fix it.  In this post we will look at how it applies to organizing and productivity.

Like any good investigator, we need to become curious.  Curious as to why this issue occurred.  Asking questions helps us dig into the issue to determine the root cause.  Finding answers to these curious questions can provide the information to determine a solution.

Below is a list of examples of organizing and productivity scenarios, and questions to ask to determine root cause to apply a solution. Solutions are not listed because this is an exercise to get your curiosity juices flowing, however, they may become obvious.

Root Cause Scenarios & Questions


I waste so much time looking for my car keys that I’m late to work every day.

  • Why can’t I find my car keys?
  • Am I running late before I start looking for them?
  • Where do I keep them when I’m not using them?
  • Do I put them back where they belong when not in use?

There is no room in my closet for the new clothes I just bought.

  • Do I wear the clothes that currently live in there?
  • Do they all still fit?
  • Do I even like them?
  • Do I ever donate clothes I no longer want?

I have stacks of magazines that are cluttering up my family room.

  • How many different subscriptions do I have?
  • Do I read all, or at least some of them?
  • Do I get rid of the previous magazine when I get a new one?
  • Do I have a way of corralling the stacks?


I start multiple tasks but never get any of them done.

  • Do I have a to-do list?
  • Do I schedule tasks in a planner, or on my phone?
  • Do I set a timer for each task, then start a new task when the previous task is done?
  • Do I have a plan to get back on track after a distraction?

I am overwhelmed with an overflowing email inbox.

  • Do I check email messages constantly throughout the day but don’t do anything with them?
  • Am I subscribed to a massive number of newsletters?
  • Do I have folders created for topics where I get numerous messages?
  • Do I have rules/filters setup to move/delete messages to folders?