Simplifying at work

Back in January I decided that simplifying should be doing more for me. I was in the midst of some exhaustingfrustrating thing at work and confused about why someone who’d made so much progress simplifying at home could feel so stressed out. Clearly I wasn’t doing my best thinking. But I did start looking for ways to apply what I’d learned about simplifying to my work, and it’s making a difference.

I hope you can find something useful below even if you don’t have a desk job.

1.  Identify one or two things you want to achieve in order to consider the day a success. I used to start my day with a robust to do list to help me achieve maximum productivity. Then I’d open my email and those plans would begin to unravel. Often I felt like my list had been hijacked by unexpected requests, troubleshooting, and tasks that took four times as long as I’d planned as they should have taken. (Notice the passivity?)

Making a commitment to achieve one thing helps me prioritize (what is most important today?) without losing sight of everything else I have to do. And it sets me up for success.

2.  Step back as often as needed (once a week, once a day) to think about how you really want to spend your time at work. For me, this serves a few purposes.

  • It helps me remember to apply the “good enough” principle so that I conserve my limited time and energy for the things that are most important.
  • It reminds me to consider my organization’s goals and whether my work is truly advancing them.
  • It reminds me to consider my own goals and how I can meet them at work.

As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, opportunities for professional advancement increasingly come when people jump in to do something, with that something becoming their job. I can’t jump in to do something worthwhile if I am complacent, feel defeated, or am distracted by bureaucratic busywork.

3.  Give yourself permission to focus. I’ve started blocking time on my calendar to work on things that require me to focus for 15 minutes or more. While I’m working on that one thing, I do not check email or attempt to do “one quick thing” on another project. When I’m able to focus on one task, I feel like I make more progress faster. I don’t feel harried like I often do when I’m trying to have a phone conversation and also skim email or check to see if anyone liked my post on Facebook (<-kidding! of course I don’t check Facebook at work!).

4.  OHIO (only handle it once). About 20 years ago I worked for a corporate lawyer who had a hard time managing the large volume of paper and electronic mail coming to her every day. She took a seminar on time management and learned that she should aim to touch things as few times as possible. It was harder for her than it sounds, and it’s been hard for me, but it works. I’m trying to read and respond to email in between the focused blocks of work time so that I open each message, attend to it, and then delete or file it.

5.  Look for inspiration. I’m energized by learning how other people overcome challenges at work and I’ve found inspiration from friends, professional memoirs, self-help books and webinars, and skill-based professional development.

One online resource that’s widely applicable is an email newsletter published by a friend of mine who works as a life coach. Each week she sends short essays written to inspire and foster personal reflection. You can read archived newsletters and/or join the distribution list for free at Pursue Your Path.

6.  Focus on what’s going well and things that you can make better. A big difference between simplifying at home and simplifying at work is that so many things at work—mainly other people—are out of our control.

Some of the things we can control at work are our assumptions and our reactions. As an example, a coworker said something to me that I interpreted as condescension and one more piece of evidence that we would not be able to communicate and work well together. Then I asked myself if I thought he intended to be condescending and the honest answer was “no.” That simple insight allowed me to move on. It was humbling to accept that my initial reaction was based on a false assumption, and powerful to realize that I could change both my assumption and my reaction.

Other people pick up on our energy. If it’s possible for us to focus on what’s going well, we’ll attract positive energy and more positive outcomes.

What are your strategies for simplifying at work? Have you tried any of the ideas above—and did they work for you?

3 thoughts on “Simplifying at work

  1. I so needed this today. I cried in the car on the way home from work today due to frustration. A definite low point. Thank you for tips and the reminder that I have a choice in how I handle the situation.

    • If you’re like me, that experience of reading or hearing something and thinking “I so needed that” means you’re ready to make a change. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish you the best. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Simplifier le travail | variae lectiones

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