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Cut the Complexity—and Do More Valuable Work

Lisa Bodell

Meetings, overflowing email inboxes, procedures and policies are all adding complexity to our jobs, hurting our productivity and, most importantly, blocking us from doing the work that has meaning to us.

“Typically, we’re not [even] doing our best thinking at work because we’re so busy doing stuff,” says Lisa Bodell, founder and CEO of futurethink and author of Why Simple Wins.

Here are five ways Bodell suggests simplifying work:

#1. Change your habits

You may think that the complexity at your company is organizational–and out of your control. But a lot of it actually stems from our desire to be organized. Bodell recommends trying to do at least two of these at work:

    • Eliminate redundancies and unnecessary work.
    • Avoid creating false urgency.
    • Use clear, jargon-free language when you communicate.
    • Keep emails, documents, meetings, everything—short.
    • Limit the amount of information you need to make a decision.
    • Empower others to make decision without you.
    • Make information available to others (that’s allowed by the law).
    • Say no (so you can focus on what matters).

#2. Identify what is and isn’t meaningful work

Bodell recommends creating a “T” chart, where you:

    • Write down on the left side, 20 specific things you do in a day. Then circle the things that are valuable. Chances are you won’t have many, if any, circles, Bodell says.
    • Write on the right side the meaningful work that you want to do. This may be challenging as “we’re all good at complaining about what we don’t want to do, but have a hard time articulating what we want to do,” Bodell explains.
    • Once you’ve filled the column, Bodell suggests figuring out what you can get rid of in the left column in order to do what’s on the right.

#3. Kill stupid rules

The problem with rules is that we don’t question them. We just accept them to the point that what we assume are rules are actually only ways of doing things that have been handed down over time. That was the case for a widely loathed monthly order report at Sprint: during one of Bodell’s workshops, it was discovered that the report that everyone thought was mandatory had been initiated only to help people, and was not required.

When searching for stupid rules to destroy, aim “for things that have to do with your group and not the mothership,” Bodell adds, and steer clear, of course, of any government or industry regulations.

#4. Become your own Simplification Chief Officer

Ask yourself and others, if you could eliminate 25 percent of what we do right now, what would it be?

Email, of course, is a big time-drain, especially group emails where everyone feels compelled to send their thanks to all. Bodell recommends this trick she picked up from a client: When sending out an email that requires no reply, write “NNTR” (no need to respond) in the subject line.

#5. Create a cut-the-crap committee

Once a month, designate two people in your group to look for unnecessary things that people do. Then have team vote on what can be cut. “You’ll probably have to do this under the radar,” Bodell notes, “because if you wait for permission, you may not get it.”

This article is based on 2018 TX Conference for Women breakout session Why Simple Wins: Escaping the Complexity Trap to Get to The Work That Matters.” Listen to it here.

More from the March 2019 Newsletter >>

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