ITKE Community Blog

Aug 21 2009   7:49PM GMT

How do you cut through the crap to get work done?

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

An article on Harvard Business Review tackled a very real problem today: Cutting through the inevitable corporate cruft to simplify your work day and get your job done. But the recipe the article’s author, Ron Ashkenas, has cooked up sounds like one designed to create more conflict than anything else:

How many times have you gone to a meeting that lacked an agenda or a clear set of objects — and didn’t do anything about it? How often have you received unnecessary email or reports — but didn’t let the senders know that they were clogging up your inbox? How often have you sat through a presentation with too many slides, unclear points, and too much data — but didn’t provide any feedback to the presenter? And how often have you been the perpetrator of these complexity-causing behaviors without anyone pushing back on you?

We all allow these things to happen. Often, we’re guilty of doing them. But since most people dislike confrontation, we let things slide. It’s an unspoken conspiracy: “I won’t challenge you if you won’t challenge me.” The net result is that we unwittingly create a culture of complexity.

Ok, boring presentations are a waste of time, but isn’t finger pointing and clique building (The second piece of advice: Build an informal “simplicity support group” of like-minded peers) what wastes the most corporate time in the first place? Tell your boss he’s clogging up your inbox or berate a subordinate for making “unclear points” and using “too much data,” and you’re pretty much guaranteed to violate the No Asshole Rule, and employees will spend more time grumbling than getting things done.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of solid productivity advice out there, and ITKnowledgeExchange and its sister TechTarget sites have a number of tips to give you a Conan the Barbarian-like focus on the task at hand. I’ve culled through the archives plus some reader suggestions to get you started:

  1. Trust your subordinates. As Yusuf Salwati reminds us, just because you can do everything doesn’t mean you should. He advises executives hire a skilled personal assistant to screen e-mails and phone calls, make travel arrangements and keep you organized. But even if you don’t have the money or position for a personal assistant, it’s important to trust others to do their job, even if they’re doing it differently than you would.
  2. Collaborate smarter. Karen Guglielmo noted that not finding information costs companies $3,300 per year per employee! The problem isn’t too much data, it’s not having the right data in the right place at the right time. And if you don’t believe IDC’s data, Eric Golden, CEO of Equipios, said his company has saved $65,000 savings in recurring costs by better tapping into collaborative tools.
  3. Results first. Don’t forget what you, or your company, are there for. As Caroline Hunter reported, last year’s Usenix conference attendees were in an uproar over shoddily thought-out “productivity” tools. One worker complained he “had to take five hours to complete a report, then include those five hours in the report,” Hunter wrote.
  4. It’s about time. Peter Radizeski suggested a timer, a simple tool Google uses to keep meetings on track. Jonathan Lieberman and Yaw Etse had similar thoughts, suggesting reading The Four-Hour Work Week for advice on cutting out pointless meetings and mindless distractions while pursuing your goals — without annoying the rest of your company. Julie Geng had similar thoughts, suggesting users unplug from the Internet to stay focused. Meanwhile, Eric Anderson suggests shifting your work to the most productive hours (in his case, the evening).

So, workaday warrior, what are your tips for hacking through red tape and, against your company’s best efforts, being truly productive? Share in the ITKE forums or e-mail me your productivity horror stories and triumphs. I’d love to hear and share them.

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