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8 ways to simplify your working day

From cutting unnecessary meetings to streamlining your email, an expert guide to simplify your working day

 

Is it ever possible to simplify your working day? Lisa Bodell, CEO of futurethink and author of Why Simple Wins: Escape the Complexity Trap and Get to Work That Matters thinks our current approach to working life, with its constant email trails and endless meetings about meetings is wasting precious time and energy. The secret? Simplicity. And here’s her guide on how to get it.

‘How do we get rid of complexity and make simplicity our new operating system at work? That is the question I am asked most often,’ says Bodell. ‘Everybody possess the ability to simplify so why aren’t we using it to our advantage, why aren’t bosses leveraging it and why aren’t we embracing it? When researching my book, I spoke to 100,000 people in a year to find out how they’re spending their working day and everybody answered the same: meetings and emails. We are drowning in these and there are very simple things we can do to streamline our day.’

We need to change our behaviour – risk, fear, power, control and trust are the reasons we have so many meetings – they help us to make decisions and avoid risks. But do we need these meetings to take up 70% of our day as experts believe they do? Getting back to meaningful work and ditching organisational habits is the only way to move forward.’

Cut the crap meetings

‘This is what Google call bureaucracy buster meetings. It is about making it part of somebody’s job to identify the unnecessary elements and assess whether a meeting is worth taking time out for. Google employees use an online tool to share incidents perceived as impeding innovation, rate them and allocate time accordingly. It is useful for teaching employees how to streamline their own time and changing behaviour in the long term. Maybe that hour-long meeting needs a 30-minute limit.’

No scroll email

‘This is a technique whereby you practice saying everything you need to say in just the subject line of your email. Or if you do use the body of the email, stick to two lines. If I correspond with anyone I generally use only the subject line to communicate what I want to say. “Hi, are you able to make this meeting?” or “Hi, do you have those reports?” is often enough. Keep it brief.’

Use NNTR

‘NNTR stands for “no need to reply” and is a good shortcut to use in the subject line of your emails. It basically says, no need to ask any questions, no need to thank me, no need to keep this conversation going, because all the information you need is here. So let’s not clog each others’ inboxes up. It’s a nice shortcut that is more definitive than FYI.’

Embrace airplane mode

‘You can do this emotionally or literally. Switch your phone to airplane mode so that you cannot be distracted by emails, it’s like a digital ‘do not disturb’. Other people in offices use a physical device that acts as yellow tape around them to cordon them off from distractions.’

Question the frequency of your actions

‘We need meetings, but do we need this many, and do they really need to last this long? HBO challenged the frequency in need for manager meetings to streamline their employees’ time and break down daily, weekly and monthly meetings. Some monthly meetings that easily descended into naval gazing were switched to much more succinct bi-monthly meetings. It sets the standard that shorter is better.’

Decline invites

‘People need to know that it is an option to turn down meeting invites. If it’s not relevant for you, then don’t go. It is a behaviour that needs to start from bosses but if you have a genuine reason for why your time would be better spent not attending this meeting, say it.’

Kill a stupid rule

‘You can do it yourself or as a team but it is a case of stepping back and looking at cultural norms and habits that might not be the most productive. If your company doesn’t employ people who worked there before, why not? It would save a lot of time on training a newcomer. If you delegate work to another team member, would it be quicker doing it yourself? If you have individual contracts for contributors, would it be easier to have one cover-all? It’s about challenging a perceived norm and killing the things that aren’t working.’

No email Fridays

‘This wouldn’t work for all companies but for many, having a day where there are no disruptions to workflow is hugely productive. Pilot it. You don’t have to implement it permanently, just give it a go.’

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