Demands on a professional woman can be intense; with a career in law, I understand completely. We may all have different work circumstances, but whatever your position is, I’m guessing that like mine, it isn’t easy.
But just as I’m creating systems and processes at home to help me simplify, streamline, and manage everything better, I’m doing the same thing at work. In correlating the home and the workplace, a few of these quick tips will help relieve some of the pressure.
Ask yourself good questions
In creating systems at work, I start out by asking myself high-quality questions. It sounds trite, but I strongly believe in the whole “Ask a better question, get a better answer” mantra. When I approach work, I try to ask myself good questions to help me prioritize my work and create the best possible outcomes for myself and my organization.
Here are a few starter questions when facing an avalanche on your desk: (Note from Miranda – these should be bullets)
What has to be done now?
- What can wait?
- What can I delegate and to whom?
- Who can help me with this?
- Should this be done by me or someone else?
- Why are we doing it this way?
- What other ways could we approach this?
- What paper/process/red tape could we eliminate to make things simpler and more streamlined? (Can I get an “amen” on that one!?)
Create radically simple solutions.
Right now, I am amassing resources on creating radically simple solutions for workplace problems. First, I need to learn as much as I can about the challenge I’m facing — again, applying the “ask good questions rule.”(Note from Miranda – these should be bullets)
- What is the history?
- What has been tried before?
- Who are the stakeholders?
- What are their interests?
- What are their concerns?
Next, I need to figure out how to provide better service or outcomes with leveraged energies. I want to strip down each challenge to its core and construct a solution that uses less money and energy. The solution should also improve outcomes and generally make life better and easier for myself and others. That’s a winning solution! It does, of course, take an initial investment of time when creating solutions this way because the most elegant and radically simple solution is rarely obvious. Keep excavating, digging deep until you can get to the very core of what needs to happen and the simplest way to make it happen. Then, garnish support from key people who will be impacted by the change or whom you need to help you champion the change. Make your case for why you believe this is the best solution, based on your research and strategic thought. Be prepared to course-correct as you go, but don’t wait for a perfect solution before you start making things simpler.
Build healthy boundaries
This is a hard one for me! I always want to help everyone, all the time. However, if I do that, I won’t get the big work or the big tasks done. I’m working on time blocking within my schedule so that I am intentionally creating time for the projects that require more deep thinking. I try to schedule meetings only on two days of the week and then block three days for projects. This is far, far from absolute. Meetings always sneak in on my non-meeting days; it’s just the nature of my work. I will also schedule a lunch meeting on any day because I need to eat and so does the person who needs to meet with me, so we might as well eat together. I’ll keep you posted on my progress on this, but I know that I can’t move forward on any big ideas and projects in 15-minute increments between meetings. So while my schedule is sometimes at the mercy of others, for the large part, it isn’t. If I’m really honest, I am responsible for creating the chaos in my calendar by not being more thoughtful and purposeful with my own time. I am the one who has allowed or scheduled back-to-back meetings, rather than simply saying “Could we meet later this week? I’m already booked up on Tuesday.” Even though there are sometimes situations you need to deal with immediately, for the most part people are very understanding and flexible if you need to wait a few days. It is as simple as asking yourself what you need and what time you need. We don’t need to be at everyone’s “beck and call” all the time. This is a potential area for growth (and a concept that I need to remind myself of daily) so be grace-filled with yourself as you make changes in boundaries.
Leave work at work (as much as possible)
This is a hard one and I know it’s not possible for many people to do this 100%. In fact, I think it works better for some people to bring some work home to do after the kids go to bed or first thing in the morning when your mind is most sharp. This provides a little bit of relief because you can be more flexible with other commitments (like being at a kid’s after-school event). That being said, the idea that I also try to calm the mental clutter spinning in my head and allow myself to focus on work at work and home at home is proving to be very helpful. It’s hard to stayed tuned in to everything all the time, almost as if your mind is a web browser that has far, far too many windows open. Focusing and being present is actually much more efficient. (We will unpack the myth of multitasking another time.) It’s been said that tasks expand to fill the time allotted. So, to the extent I can, I allot time during the day for tasks and give myself hard-stops at the end of the work day and consequently, I find myself to be more efficient. If my whole 24-hour day feels like a possible work day, I will let projects and tasks linger because there is always a “later.” If I tell myself I must turn off the computer by a certain time (end of work day, like 5:00 or 5:30 p.m.), then I push myself a little harder to get through the workday to-do list.
Take mini-breaks during the day
This is also a productivity hack that takes intention and discipline. Studies have shown that we are much more productive when we take mini-breaks throughout the day to let our mind rest and reset a bit. While taking too much time away during the day can be challenging, mini-breaks will ultimately make you more productive. I don’t know about you, but there are days where I’m so laser-focused on my email inbox, crossing things off my to-do list, or running from meeting to meeting that I barely take time to use the restroom much less take a five-minute breathing break. I’m working on actually calendaring small breaks into my day or setting the timer on my phone to remind me to walk to get a glass of water, stop and say hello to a colleague, or do anything to let my mind take a breather. These mini-breaks make us more efficient in the bigger scheme of things by not asking more of our brains than they can provide. Some people build in time ratios like, working for 50 minutes and then taking a 10 minute break. Do what works best for you, but let your brain reset a bit throughout the day. This may also look different for extroverts than it does for introverts. Extroverts get their energy from interactions with others, so a trip to the water cooler or a coffee run with a colleague will recharge them. Introverts, on the other hand, recharge by having time alone, so a mini-break is more likely to be shutting the door and having a bit of alone time or taking a walk around the block alone. It’s important to honor your own style because the mini-break should fill you up, not deplete you.
There are lots of ways we can improve our work habits that ultimately support us in creating better outcomes in our jobs while also fostering more clarity, focus, intention, and simplicity in our minds and lives. I’ll be sharing more of these hacks as I find them, but these are five that are foundational and a great place to start bringing simplicity into the professional side of life.