A few weeks ago, I wrote “8 Secrets Smart People Know About Time Management.” Among other things, I explained that there are five effective ways to deal with having too much to do and one of those is to accomplish more faster. People try to do this all the time. They buckle down. They shut out distractions. And then they beat themselves up for failing.
Why do they fail? Because they aren’t really doing anything differently. You know the old adage about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. By that definition, most people are nuts. Every week, every day, they do essentially the same things and hope that somehow they will get caught up.
On top of that, people are faced with endless advice ranging from little tips to vast programs like Lean. Most people do not have time to digest all that they read or invest heavily in a process like lean. So here’s a simple way to reconsider your work and find a shorter, faster path. No new vocabulary or special tools are required. You can get as fancy as you like – but do that later. To get started immediately, embrace these staggeringly simple steps to accomplishing more:
- Eliminate unnecessary work
- Eliminate unnecessary decisions
- Support necessary decisions
Let’s look at those one at a time.
1. Eliminate Unnecessary Work
As you walk through each activity of your day, ask yourself whether you would be proud to turn to a customer and say, “Isn’t this great? This is what you are paying for!” Imagine saying this while digging through your inbox or sitting in endless meetings. Imagine proudly demonstrating your fire-fighting skills. Imagine explaining why you are still waiting for approval or feedback or any other information. Imagine defending the employee who has never been worth the trouble and should have been let go long ago. Picture that customer watching you reorganize and shuffle offices. Again. Or arguing at length about the wording of your mission statement, laboring over HR forms, or developing and attending internally focused programs so far removed from value creation that they are nothing more than chest-thumping pepfests. It’s hard to stop listing examples because there are so many, but I recommend you take a walk through your own day as an imaginary tour guide to a customer.
Every example that makes you cringe with embarrassment at the thought of a watching customer is an indication that you are doing work that should be eliminated.
You want improvement? The first rule is to eliminate unnecessary work.
Identify it and take action. Everything you do should add value for which customers will gladly pay. There are a finite number of actions that move anything from an initial state to value for which customers are willing to pay. Any activity that isn’t on the shortest path between those two points deserves scrutiny.
2. Eliminate Unnecessary Decisions.
Want to save time? Eliminate unnecessary decisions. Want to prevent mistakes? Eliminate unnecessary decisions? Want to reduce stress and friction? Eliminate unnecessary decisions. We make thousands of decisions each day. Each one is an opportunity for delay, mistakes, disagreement, and aggravation. Thus, rule #2 for better, faster results is to eliminate unnecessary decisions.
How do you eliminate decisions? You make them once and reuse them! You standardize your work. Wherever possible, you establish routines, templates, checklists, procedures, standard operating practices – anything that captures best practices, or even good-enough-for-now practices. When you standardize, you capture decisions so they don’t have to be made over and over again. And you free up your brain and time for more important things.
3. Support Necessary Decisions.
You can’t eliminate all decisions, obviously. But you want necessary decisions to be made quickly and effectively. By everyone in the organization! You want people to have the right competencies, inputs, decision guidelines, access to experts, tools, equipment, and authority to make smart decisions quickly. This is true whether employees are working individually or in groups.
How do you do this? First and foremost, you start paying more attention to decisions. Ferret out necessary decisions, understand the context in which they are being made, and then create a context that supports those decisions effectively and efficiently. Where do they occur in the standardized work? Who needs to make them? What inputs, rules, and guidance do those people need? What authority do they need? What structure and accountability systems will ensure they don’t get bogged down.
I write frequently about the need for process clarity, especiallyshared process clarity and shared cognitive process clarity. My goal is to bring greater attention to process. Process clarity replaces willy-nilly physical and mental action with focus and sequence. It standardizes some aspect of the work. Here my goal is to bring greater attention to decisions. Decisions are the forks in the road that can stymie forward progress of any process, whether on the assembly line, when working with others, or sitting alone at your desk.
Eliminate unnecessary work, eliminate unnecessary decisions, and support necessary decisions. Those are the three simple steps to accomplishing more, faster.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on November 22nd, 2015.