simplifyHave you set up a fantastic productivity system to manage your workload, get yourself into good routines, prioritise your tasks and make sure you’re not putting out fires all day? Does it also help make sure you’re spending adequate time on your important but not urgent tasks and your continuous development/study tasks? Is it sustainable over long periods through the waves of intensity in your project based work? If the answer to the third question is ‘no’ you may have fallen into the same situation as me and made your system a bit too complicated. This post explores simplification, the benefits of having simple systems for productivity and some ideas to help you create a simple system to enhance your productivity.

HansHoffmanQuoteWhy should you care?

Having a simple task management system for productivity will do the following for you:

  1. Saves decision making willpower for your creative work rather than exhausting it on managing your systems; and,
  2. Reduced time required to manage and maintain your systems which gives you more time to spend on your creative work; and,
  3. Less administrative overhead means you’re not spending time on non value adding activity; and,
  4. Less likely to become overwhelmed with a massive backlog that stretches back months; and,
  5. Of course, you maintain the benefit of having structure and planning that ensures you are focussed on your most important tasks and not fiddling around figuring out where to start

Analyse your current state – What could be complicating your systems?

I recently read an excellent newsletter from AE that described the concept of component conflict which explains how your systems become more complicated and less effective over time. For example over time we pick up different tools and methods of managing our time, such as getting up early being a good idea and socialising with colleagues after work being good for networking. Separately these are both great ideas. However when you mash these together along with other separate tips you’ve picked up, the result is continuous frustration as you’ll be staying out late for networking drinks and then trying to get up early 3 hours later. This is component conflict!

Another newsletter from the same crew described a problem that may be impacting you if you use technology to manage your tasks – Choosing apps that don’t fit your system. For example, you heard about a great app, installed it and started using it but there were a few quirks that didn’t quite suit you. So you start working around those quirks because you really like the app. Soon your system becomes inefficient because you’re a slave to the tool rather than using the tool to help you. It’s better to have a mediocre app that suits a great system than have a world class app that doesn’t fit your system.

There are also some quite complicated time management systems out there that were put together by time management enthusiasts that really enjoy tinkering with systems. Something like this may seem ground breaking at the start and then end up requiring constant time and energy to operate the system. The time spent managing your time management system is not changing the end products you produce as a worker, and so it can be considered a non value adding activity. I.e. this activity is a waste. You don’t want to be spending too much time and energy operating your productivity systems!

Define your future State – What is simple and what are simplification concepts?

This interesting read from iTexico reveals that a software programming perspective is especially relevant for creating a simple productivity system. The article introduces 3 programming concepts – KISS, YAGNI, DRY.

KISS – Keep it Simple and Stupid. This reminds us to aim for creating something simple. Anybody who needs to work with the results of your labour down the line, including yourself, will thank you for it. Simple designs are also more adaptable to change. I also came across a quote from Leonardo Da Vinci who must have discovered the same truth – Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

YAGNI – You Aren’t Going to Need It. This reminds us not to spend too much time on future proofing the work that we do. This goes for any of the work you do as a project professional, including your productivity systems. In a world where the pace of change is increasing, we don’t want to spend time on things that we are 90% likely to never use. A related topic is the MLL – minimalist luxury lifestyle, which is a good thing to read up on as it relates to simplifying your life to give you more energy for your value added activities.

DRY – Don’t Repeat Yourself. This is more for programming but the general idea of creating re-usable components and not redoing everything from scratch each time you need it, might be applicable to somebody’s productivity system.

Lean Manufacturing and Lean Six Sigma is a methodology and set of principles aimed at creating efficient business processes. These disciplines identify 8 wastes that detract from value added activity and are things you can consider when simplifying your productivity systems. The key concept for me was value added activity. If an activity does not change the end product you are creating for your customer, then it is a waste. Granted there are some activities that you need to do, e.g. for legislative purposes, that don’t add value to your customers, however it’s a very important concept to keep in mind when you have a goal of creating a simplified productivity systems by simplifying your systems.

How to get there – Creating a simplified productivity system

Here’s where you need to take some time to think about the single, unified goal for your productivity system, remove conflicting components and work on a simplified system.

My system for managing tasks previously consisted of a task list similar to the Autofocus system for time management, along with many facets that lead into that list including project plans, actions registers, personal goals, and many other sources of tasks including emails, post-it notes and Scrum board. During peak periods of my projects where the volume of tasks became overwhelming I was forced to simplify the system as it wasn’t working for me anymore. I started using a single page of tasks that I would create the night before and create a brand new single page at the end of each day. I also started ignoring the other sources of tasks. This one page list morphed into my 1-3-5 list which prioritised the tasks and because I only had a single page, I wasn’t spending a lot of time managing my system.

Now I’m creating a simple system for 2016. As I’ve done last year, I’m creating a productivity blueprint to sit alongside my list of goals for 2016 and provide a framework for focussing my productivity. I’ll have a 1-3-5 list in a bubble at the centre, with 7 other bubbles on spokes radiating out from the 1-3-5 list. The 7 other bubbles represent my lenses that lead into the 1-3-5 list: 1. Paper Cleanse and MLL; 2. Email Cleanse; 3. RAIDS and Registers; 4. Creative Work (Most Important Tasks); 5. Goals; 6. Study; 7. Planning. I’ll make sure the goals are specific, because in 2015 I achieved all of the specific goals that I set but I didn’t really feel like I achieved the vague/fluffy goals. I’ll create the 1-3-5 list, maybe in the form of a few post-it notes, at the end of each day and ensure it takes the 7 lenses into account. Without going deeper than this for the framework, I’ll ensure that it’s following the concept of minimalism, not introducing waste, remains simple and adaptable.

Of course, maybe another year or two from now I’ll have adapted to something new. We always need to remain flexible and continuously improve ourselves.

Do you have any tips on how to simplify your systems?

simplicitySome great links to help you explore this topic further