The past year has upended many assumptions about work in America. As it turns out, video-conferencing and remote work can stand in for a physical office. Teams are entirely capable of collaborating virtually and delivering on schedule. As we reflect on the learning lessons — as well as the chaos — of 2020, I believe there’s value in establishing personal goals around how we want to spend the year ahead.
As CEO of an accelerated learning company with a focus on simplifying, I’ve helped people around the world streamline their work lives for better productivity. Among the techniques that my teams have tested and perfected with Novartis, Google, Accenture and more are a set of simplification questions and tactics. While these populate the better part of a chapter in my simplification book, the five below are particularly relevant to our current WFH reality.
5 tips on focusing your energy at work
1. What task or work habit should I stop doing in 2021?
Do you contribute an hour or more to a pointless report every month? Attend remote stand-ups with dozens of attendees and no agenda? Do you struggle to keep up with replies to internal emails with tons of recipients? Each of these areas can provide immediate opportunities to save time, so if you’re empowered to step away from any of these low-value tasks, do it today. If you need buy-in from someone higher up, then make your case to them and frame your ask around wanting to demonstrate better daily ROI.
2. Of my recurring tasks, which should become a time-saving template?
When a team at Merck Canada reviewed its recurring processes, it identified a bottleneck between sales and marketing. By automating the process for sharing customer feedback between departments, it freed up several hours a month and reduced internal friction. When you look over your ongoing projects, look for opportunities like this that will deliver measurable quick wins.
3. Of my weekly tasks — including calls, meetings, and emails — which ones benefit my customers/clients and which don’t?
Even though I’m CEO, employees often request my input or approval on minutiae. To avoid getting stuck in a cycle of busywork, I designate 2.5 hours every morning for high-level work that fills me with a sense of accomplishment. Objectively reviewing how you spend your workday — vs. how you should be spending it — can give you the determination to carve out time for big-picture goals and stick to it daily.
4. If I could eliminate 25% of what I do every day, what would I eliminate and why?
After reviewing a year’s worth of meetings — from standing and weekly status meetings to events, off-sites and team gatherings — Sprint eliminated 30% percent of them. Conduct your own 2020 meeting audit and say no to meetings that don’t add value or have outlived their original objective. (If you’re nervous about declining invitations, use this criteria to separate time-sucks from worthy investments.)
5. Which of the above tasks could be eliminated or outsourced to make space for tasks that do benefit my clients/customers?
When a division at HBO pondered this question, it decreased the frequency of its weekly touchpoint calls for senior leaders. This change led to an increase in the quality of information on the call while giving participants more time for customer-centric work.
Spoiler: Simplification isn’t a one-and-done project. To make it part of your 2021 approach, you’ll need to guard yourself against complexity every day. Before you take on any new work this year, ask yourself if the task benefits your clients or customers? If not, can it be automated or outsourced? From here, you can make decisions about which of your tasks should be delegated or deleted so you can spend more time in 2021 on projects that actually matter.