Wednesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
I believe it is part of human nature to complicate things over time. We want to enhance what we are doing, so we tweak the process. In the best results, the tweaks lead to improvements. Most of the time, the tweaks don’t really buy us anything, but we leave them, and after a period of time, the tweaks morph into a burden of extraneous actions.
This is not an un-doable process, though. Just as we complicate, we can simplify as well. And simplifying will make you more productive.
We Complicate Things
We don’t start out looking for ways to make things more difficult. Well, most people don’t, at least. There are always the ornery ones…but I digress.
We don’t start out looking to complicate things. Yet things get complicated. Why?
When we start to add things to a process or item, it is usually for a good reason. We may be looking for an efficiency gain, or perhaps modify something to take into account changing circumstances.
These are good reasons to change. These become part of the process.
The problems arise when we don’t remove those modifications at a later time when they no longer serve our goals. The changes we put in place have become part of the landscape and are part of the unconscious process.
When you take out those changes that no longer serve the goal, you get two results: there are less things to do, and this means less time is spent because you are not doing unnecessary things.
Let’s look at this as an example.
Onceler Industries makes Thneeds. Thneeds are wonderful, and what everyone needs.
Then someone decides that for the holidays, the packaging should change to include a festive ribbon because Onceler Research has determined that sales are up for things in holiday packaging.. So the festive ribbon gets added. It looks pretty, but serves no purpose other than decoration, and it drives up sales. It costs more to have a ribbon on the packaging too – both in materials and labor, but this is offset by the increased sales.
After the holidays, it is determined that the ribbon color needs to change because it is no longer the holidays.
The ribbon has now become part of the unconscious. There is no research to say that once the holidays are over that festive packaging drives up sales. The ribbon isn’t needed, and doesn’t get us anything. It still costs money in materials and labor. But the thought is not to get rid of it; the thought is to change the color of the ribbon.
By removing the ribbon which serves no purpose, the factory saves money in materials and labor. All it takes is re-examining the thought behind the added ribbon.
You’re probably thinking that this doesn’t apply to what you are doing. So let’s bring this a little closer to home.
A Closer Example…Contexts
Getting Things Done recommends classifying tasks by context. This allows you to find the tasks you are able to do at any given moment depending on what equipment you have available. If you have a phone, you can do things in the phone context. If you are at home, you can wash the dishes. If you are at work, you can unpack the office supply order.
But most of us have phones with us all the time. And most people have smart phones. So for most tasks that do not have to be done at a physical location, contexts are meaningless. The phone context is everywhere. So is the computer context. And the email context. Even office tasks are possible with the right software – you can log in to your work computer and work without being in the office.
Yet people still use contexts, because they might have been useful once, or it was promised that contexts would increase your efficiency.
Determining Simplification Paths
It’s not complicated to simplify things. You just have to look at the added bits to your process, assess the value and then decide what to do.
The first step is to ask why you are doing something. Question everything.
In the case of a task list, ask yourself why you write it down. Why do you use the paper or software that you do? What does it get you? Are there frustrations involved with the process that could be done away with by using another method? (this is a good indicator that the process can be simplified).
Next assess what each piece gets you. You may keep all your tasks in your office copy of Outlook, but be unable to access them when you are in the office. Is it really buying you anything to keep things in Outlook, other than the satisfaction of having them on the computer?
For every item that is part of a larger process, ask if it adds value, if it detracts, or if it adds nothing. Unless it adds positive value, it needs to go away.
Keep, Change or Discard
Next you have to decide what you are going to do. Is it adding value? Keep it. Could tweaking it add more value? Change it. Is it taking away value? Discard it.
In our context example above, it was taking time and energy to put every task in a context. By discarding the context, we save time and get rid of unnecessary complication.
Let’s say, as another example, that we are keeping our tasks on paper. But we don’t keep the list up to date because we have to rewrite the list every day. What would happen if we switched to an electronic list? Or started keeping tasks on small sticky notes stuck to paper? Each one gets past that point, and gives us added value.
By consciously examining our processes and removing unnecessary steps, we can simplify what we are doing, and thereby become more productive.
Have you simplified anything? Please share below.
Photo by James Jordan. Licensed under Creative Commons.