To Make Yourself More Productive, Simplify

To Make Yourself More Productive, Simplify

Small Adjustments in Work Routine Can Vastly Improve Efficiency


June 22, 2014

Kelly Sortino had a tough time recalling what she’d accomplished at the end of each hectic workday. Her job as head of the upper school for the Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, Calif., often required working 12-hour days, including weekends and evenings. She enjoyed the work but worried that she wasn’t accomplishing everything she needed to.

“I felt like I was mostly putting out fires,” says Ms. Sortino. “I felt as if I wasn’t really having the time to do more of the strategic and visioning work to make those larger changes at the school.”

She decided to take a workshop at Stanford University on how to simplify work processes and reduce waste. She learned, for example, to block out her time more efficiently and minimize distractions. She also committed herself to systematically completing, without procrastination, her daily task list and to completely clearing her email inbox and workspace on a regular basis.

The changes produced a marked improvement in her time management. Ms. Sortino gained a better sense of her daily routine, and she’s been able to start long-term projects. She still works on weekends, but only as needed.

It’s a tough time to be productive. Globalization, increased competition and the jarring immediacy of technology have made it difficult for modern employees to stay on top of their growing workloads while maintaining a good work-life balance. Fortunately, experts say small adjustments to how employees think about work can have a big impact on their workplace efficiency.

Learn to prioritize and to commit yourself to working in uninterrupted blocks of time throughout the day. A 2009 Stanford University study found that multitasking is less productive that single-tasking and that many self-proclaimed multitaskers have difficulty filtering out irrelevant information, further diminishing their performance.

Schedule specific times to check email and texts as opposed to reading email as it is received. You can set email to flag important messages from senders like your boss.

Taking your time to respond can reset co-worker expectations. Many people have been conditioned to expect an immediate response to email and texts, which is unrealistic and unproductive, says Daniel Markovitz, a consultant from Corte Madera, Calif., and author of “A Factory of One.”

“And if you don’t respond,” he says, “you’ll get additional email or a call from the co-worker three minutes later asking, ‘hey, did you get my email?’ You then have to deal with two or three frantic emails and a voice mail from that one person.” Dealing with dozens of people who place unreasonable demands on your time can diminish your availability to do other things.

Every workplace has a favored way to communicate, but it isn’t always the most efficient. Be open to dropping tools that impede understanding between co-workers. If you can’t explain yourself in a single email, consider calling, texting or meeting in person instead.

Try to understand what your co-workers do and what their motivations are, because this can be the root of many office conflicts that complicate people’s lives, says Yves Morieux, a senior partner with Boston Consulting Group and author of “Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated.”

It’s especially important to understand what motivates the decisions your boss makes. Most subordinates have an employee-centric view of their managers, which tends not to be accurate. A better understanding of your boss can help you to sell process changes that can benefit the department and company.

Work with your boss to prioritize important work and eliminate unproductive tasks. Employees may think changing job functions is risky, but being proactive can impress your boss.

Get clarification before you start work on new projects and while you have the attention of your manager and co-workers. Many employees launch into projects without fully understanding what’s expected of them because they don’t want to appear critical of their boss, says Ron Ashkenas, senior partner at Schaffer Consulting in Stamford, Conn. “Then they come back and the boss says, ‘that’s not what I meant for you to do.’ Everybody ends up frustrated in that case.”

You needn’t tackle tough problems alone or stew if you can’t handle specific tasks. Enlist co-workers and start a discussion. Make it like a support group and break unproductive patterns that create a culture of complexity, says Mr. Ashkenas. You can cooperate with co-workers to streamline processes.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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