At work, I’m difficult to annoy. This is something I tell new team members early so that they know they don’t have to walk on eggshells around me. It also tends to produce a more open work environment and increases productivity as people are free to be themselves. However, asking for help at the wrong time is one of the few things that does annoy me. If a team member asks for help too quickly when performing a simple task that they should be able to figure out, it’s frustrating. And, when a team member blows and entire morning working on a task that should have taken 30 minutes if they had asked for help, it’s costly.
No one wants to be “that guy” that asks for help after 30 seconds of half-trying and nobody wants to take 3 hours on a 30-minute task. So I want to suggest using a rule I have dubbed the “Five, Ten, Twenty Rule.”
- For simple tasks spend five concentrated minutes trying to figure it out before asking for help. These are concentrated minutes of focus, not 30-second increments between other things. This applies to tasks that are usually straight forward where the answer should be self-evident. Some examples are using a new software to accomplish something or trying to get something to print when it doesn’t seem to be working.
- For intermediate tasks spend ten concentrated minutes trying to figure it out before asking for help. This applies to tasks are not as straight forward to most people, but can usually be figured out with a little digging or Googling. Some examples are setting up a new device, building a more complex spreadsheet, repairing a common house problem (YouTube is gold for this).
- For complex tasks spend twenty concentrated minutes trying to figure it out before asking for help. This applies to tasks that are within your realm of expertise where googling the answer may be pointless. Typically at this level when you do ask for help you will need to ask a college who also has advanced skill in the problem you are looking to solve. An example of this is trying to create or debug code when you just can’t see why it’s not working. In our shop, we say that means it’s time for a second set of eyes.
For those of you that don’t like to read a lot, here is a simple recap. Ask for help after:
- 5 minutes for self-evident tasks
- 10 minutes for tasks that a little googling should solve
- 20 minutes for tasks that require particular expertise (googling won’t help)
The Five, Ten Twenty Rule is my recommendation, but I would love your feedback on this. How do you know how quickly to ask for help?