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Let’s Get Simple

Published: Monday, July 7, 2014 11:30 a.m. CDT

Is there a simple solution to all your problems at work?

The simple answer is yes.

Welcome to the new world of workplace simplicity. According to Dennis Nishi in The Wall Street Journal, the latest productivity trend is to produce more by doing less.

It makes sense, really. Instead of trying to accomplish 12 tasks at once — and doing them all poorly — reduce the number of tasks you tackle from 12 to one. You’ll still do that one job poorly, but, at least, that leaves 11 jobs you haven’t screwed up.

Consider Kelly Sortino, a school administrator in Hillsborough, California. As Nishi reports in his recent article, “To Make Yourself More Productive, Simplify,” Sortino “had a tough time recalling what she’d accomplished at the end of each hectic workday.”

Unlike yourself, the reason Sortino couldn’t recall what she’d accomplished isn’t because she didn’t accomplish anything. Instead, she was working double-time, overtime, “putting out fires” and didn’t “have the time to do more of the strategic and visioning work to make those larger changes at the school.”

While your visioning activity is mostly focused on visualizing the free Buffalo hot wings buffet at the Kit Kat Club happy hour, administrator Sortino actually had goals she wanted to accomplish. So she enrolled in a workshop at nearby Stanford University and learned “how to simplify work processes and reduce waste.”

Since it seems unlikely that Stanford will enroll you — they already have a mascot — let me share some simple simplicity tips.

One important element in the new simplicity is to “block out your time more efficiently and minimize distractions.” This should be easy. Instead of floating through the day, blown hither and yon by the winds of management whim, block out a schedule and stick to it. From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. is your organizational block. You ignore all contact with the outside world during these two hours, which you use to acclimatize yourself to the cruel reality of actually being out of bed. At 11 a.m., you leap into action — that’s right, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. is your lunch block. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. is your nap block. And from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. is your socialization block. You interface with your co-workers to learn the latest gossip and decide whom to blame when management gets on your case for getting nothing done.

Another basic building block of the new simplicity is managing all the wonderful, technological productivity tools that make our lives so miserable.

At Stanford, Sortino learned the importance of “clearing her email inbox and workspace on a regular basis.” Taking those empty beer cans out of your desk drawers and the empty pizza boxes out of your file cabinet on a regular basis would be an excellent way to clear your workspace. As for clearing your email box, you can certainly review each email and respond in a timely and professional manner, or you can adopt a breakthrough new technology called “delete all.” One click and your email box is as empty as your brain.

If you can’t completely cut yourself off from electronic communication, simplicity experts suggest that you “schedule specific times to check emails and texts, as opposed to reading email as it is received.” Of course, you will have to train your managers to your new, productive schedule of only reading emails between 4:57 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., assuming that you are at your desk, no unwatched episodes of “Game of Thrones” are on your DVR, and transit Mars is in the first house with natal Jupiter.

Giving up multitasking is another productive way to simplify your work life. Instead of spending your time buying on Etsy, bidding on eBay and binging on Netflix, pick one mission-critical task and focus on it with all the single-minded, simple-minded concentration only you can rally. (And really — don’t those organic, artisan potholders you’re buying from Drusilla in Bend, Oregon, deserve your full attention?)

One aspect of the new simplicity I absolutely cannot endorse is “dropping tools that impede understanding between co-workers. If you can’t explain yourself in a single email, consider calling, texting or meeting in person instead.” This is not sensible, and it is definitely not simple. If you are going to start to have real conversations with real people, there will be real trouble.

Another simplicity blunder is “work with your boss to prioritize important work and eliminate unproductive tasks.”

Poppycock! You’ll impress your boss on how easy it would be to eliminate unproductive tasks by simply eliminating you. That simple, you ain’t.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com. To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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