golden_ruleIt’s a golden rule of system design, can be applied to many areas of life, and can also help you take great strides with your personal productivity. This post will explore how you can apply the golden rule to improve your personal productivity.

The golden rule is:


–Keep it simple


1. Keeping it simple in your work projects and designs

When you are implementing a new system in an IT project, or you are introducing a new business process, simple design is a key factor to the success of your implementation.

There are so many facets that are affected.

For example consider a complex new system requirement. If you start with an obscure, complex design, it will be difficult to build, more likely to have bugs, difficult to train users, you’ll have an increased learning curve for every new user, more resistance to change from your stakeholders leading to a difficult implementation. Then there are the maintenance problems!

Now imagine you design a simple underlying data model, on top of that your user interface will be simpler and this will shine through in the overall user experience. It will be easier for people to connect with the system, easier to train your users, less resistance when rolling it out. Not to mention more efficient maintenance and it’ll be easier to develop brand new features for the system.

2. Keeping it simple when collaborating on problem solving

Drowning in a sea of details with one of your stakeholders while trying to solve a problem in a group? Sometimes you can have a very detail oriented person in the group diving deep into the detail on a particular aspect of each idea that’s proposed, and the group as a whole becomes confused. The confusion results in more talking with no conclusion, and then another meeting needs to be organised.

Keep it simple -> Clarify the problem.

Take a step back and clarify the problem you are trying to solve. Take a helicopter view and take the group back to the big picture, write down the problem and draw a diagram on a whiteboard. Draw a diagram of the proposed solution. Then confirm that the solution satisfies the most common use cases.

Now when your stakeholder goes into detail, the group can still focus on the diagram and the clear statement of the problem. The introduction of a detail on a tangent for a use case that occurs only a tiny fraction of the time can be put into perspective. It’s much less likely to cause the group to descend into confusion and result in analysis paralysis, as they are aligned and have the simple solution in front of them covering the most common use cases.

3. Keeping it simple when learning new concepts

I find that when starting work in a new area or a new topic or system I’m not familiar with, starting by looking at details and talking to people about complex edge cases is a very inefficient way of learning. You do catch-up eventually and make the connections, joining the pieces of the puzzle; however there is a much more efficient way of learning new concepts by keeping it simple.

I knew that thinking of the big picture first, thinking in concepts and abstractions helps you understand something. This helps you with any discussion on particular details. So I looked for more information on abstractions and found the Better Explained site.

The article describes the ADEPT method for learning:

Analogy – Tell me what it’s like

Diagram – Help me visualise it

Example – Allow me to experience it

Plain English – Describe it with everyday words

Technical Definition – Discuss the formal details

This method also uses the golden rule by keeping it simple with an analogy, a diagram, an example, and explanation in plain words. With each step you’re getting more detailed after having built up a framework of understanding.

4. Keeping it simple in your personal productivity systems

In the same way that simple system design and simple process design help you implement projects at work, simple productivity systems increase your personal productivity.

When you keep it simple with your productivity systems, you help yourself by creating things that are easier to stick to and internalise, require less time to administer and give you more time to take action.

The simple email workflow from Asian Efficiency is a great example of keeping it simple. Simple email workflow diagram. Full article. This version of the simple email workflow diagram includes the path of email to Trash. It’s from this full article.

Notice how there’s a reference folder, and an Archive folder but nothing else? Anything that’s not important but you may need goes to Archive so you don’t need to worry about deleting it and needing it later. Every month, you can delete everything in the Archive folder that’s older than a month.

The most simple task management can also be very effective.

Each day when you finish work and before you go home, plan the next day by creating a fresh list of tasks you want to work on that day. Rate them using 1-3-5 ratings. One number 1 (your most important task, MIT, for the next day), three number 3s (you’ll tackles these after having worked on your MIT) and up to five number 5s (things you’ll work on if you have time left over).

If you have a mountain of things people have asked you to do, apply the lean lens and think of what would your customer’s pay for. If they wouldn’t pay anything for some of those items, then those items aren’t adding any value for your customers, so remove them from your list.

This has to work in conjunction with your goals and medium term plans, as of course you don’t want to be only planning for one day at a time. Your 1-3-5 tasks should contribute to your goals and medium term plans.

5. Keeping it simple (and specific) with your goals

Remember the new year’s goals you made at the start of the year? Have you spent the time on these that you intended to when you wrote them out at the start of the year? If not, keep it simple with your goals.

Pick one of them that you haven’t started. Just one. Then create a plan for the next 12 weeks. Work out what you will achieve at the end of each of those 12 weeks that forms a specific and measurable step towards that goal.

Then within each of the 12 weeks, work out what you will do each day that will result in you having achieved the step necessary at the end of the week. This task goes onto your 1-3-5 list for that day.

Track your progress on your desk calendar and make sure you tick off each day after doing that task.

At the end of the 12 weeks you’ll have achieved that one goal.

A much better outcome than having a bunch of goals remaining un-touched as you get exhausted each day from normal work and never put the necessary time into any of the goals.

6. Keeping it simple with your lifestyle

Implementing a morning and an evening routine will increase your productivity. These routines will simplify these parts of your life by making them consistent, efficient and preparing you to be productive each day.

This consistency is a key factor to ensure you work on your most important tasks that contribute to your goals.

How does the golden rule work for you? Or do you have another golden rule? Let us know in the comments.