Work Simplification: Overcoming Overload

Time and Workload Management - © Performance Management Consultants

We send 100 billion emails every day. Only one in seven may be important, but each of them lands in somebody’s in-box. The average employee now spends over one-quarter of the workday reading and answering emails. And many people check their mobile phones 150 times a day. Or more.

As our jobs demand more training, more focus, more time – more from us – we may find ourselves overwhelmed. We try to do more, and end up accomplishing less. We lose ourselves in fruitless activity.

Balancing the requirements of work and life is getting harder. One study found that nearly half of workers don’t think it’s possible to make a good living and still have time for family and community.

As work becomes more complex, it’s becoming less and less distinct from the rest of our lives. The technologies that threaten to overwhelm us at work follow us home, to dinner, on vacation. Fewer and fewer of us can ever claim to be truly off work. Here’s the test: Have you ever answered the phone in your dentist’s chair? Texted during appetizers? Checked your email in a kayak?

It’s a boundary issue. Boundaries must be set and respected. Sadly, for most of us those boundaries are just lines in the sand. But even if we succeed in limiting work to the workday and the workplace, the complexity is often overwhelming. And more information may not lead to better decisions. In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell says that providing unnecessary information undermines the quality of decision-making. People “feed the extra information into the already-overcrowded equations they are building in their heads, and they get even more muddled.”

Graham Birkenhead facilitates PMC’s workshop, Work Simplification. He says, “your brain is very good at short bursts of activity – and the fewer distractions you give it, the more intensely it can focus.” But this requires that you give your brain down-time, to make sense of and embed the learning. That you take Richard Branson’s advice and make time for quiet contemplation.

The antidote to unnecessary complexity is obvious, and it’s taking hold in more workplaces every day: simplicity. Do the things that matter. Find ways to accomplish more with less effort. Slow down to go faster.

Organizations must give people goals, tools and direction, and then get out of the way. To free employees from the tyranny of the overflowing in-basket so they can focus on the really valuable parts of their jobs.

And it’s happening. More organizations are simplifying work environments and practices to cope with information overload. They are reviewing complex processes and time-wasting practices to create simpler, more productive organizations. Employees are happier and healthier.

Who wins? We all do.

Further Reading:

As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify
In this TED Talk, Yves Morieux discusses the problem of work complexity and offers six simple rules for smart simplicity

This is the year to simplify the workplace
Huffington Post columnist Josh Bersin suggests four steps toward a more liveable workplace.

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