A Simpler Approach To Work

6 simple practices for a time of change, chaos and information overload

Nuel Edeh's avatar
Nuel Edeh

July 27, 2022

4 mins


App and information overload increase work complexity in this hybrid/remote period. Tips on how to create a simpler, more maintainable work day.

  • Create less mental noise, focus on quality signals
  • Accept the complexity, and be kind
  • Choose what to ignore, you can’t do it all
  • Create quiet moments during the day to increase the quality of your output.
  • Simplicity has grown central to our vision of happiness - both in our work and in our personal lives.

    This article explores the inherent craving for simplicity most of us have. At the end, I pose a short guide to a simpler, more maintainable work day.

    Evolution of Apple logo from the not-so-smooth to a sleek, simpler design

    Evolution of Apple logo from the not-so-smooth to a sleek, simpler design

    Once Upon A Time 💭

    Once upon a time, we worked 5 days-a-week from physical offices. We spent most of our waking hours in grid cubicles facing our colleagues. We personalized these spaces with all sorts of items. An inspirational photo hanging on the wall. A photo from your child’s recent graduation and yellow legal pads.

    On some desks, it was common to see some stationery and a phone for communication. This cubicle-style arrangement made it easy to connect with co-workers. And for managers to keep a watchful eye on their underlings.

    Hey, did you know that toasters were the first form of pop-up notifications?

    Hey, did you know that toasters were the first form of pop-up notifications?

    Today, as we work from home, most work elements are now virtual. This includes meetings, actual work, scheduling, to-do lists, planning, research, monitoring and even brainstorming.

    A Strange Feature 🐛

    For the past decade, a cult has been spreading in the workplace. With millions of adherents, including the most successful individuals in the tech space, this non-religious and non-political dogma devotes to a simple, yet striking ideal: busyness.

    The cult of busyness asserts that great work, worthy of a capable and intelligent person is one filled with constant activity and reactivity. We must strive to respond to every email, notification and read every blog. And to fill every hour of the workday with intense activity.

    A strange feature of humans is that most times, we have a clear sense that what we’re doing is counterproductive. Yet we do not stop. We even do more of it in an unconscious loop.

    How Did We Get Here?

    The mixture of remote teams, web-apps, and individual situation creates a perfect storm. Fast software shipping has made millions of apps available to almost everyone. We are surrounded with options and drowned with too much information. All containing competing ideas that demand mental effort to sort through.

    For many, the good news is that this complexity fuels our desire for more simplicity. The case for simplicity is evident in the UI/UX design for most web apps. For example: Twitter’s 280 char limit, Notion’s clean workspaces, and GitHub’s platform. These tools simplify writing, documentation and code collaboration respectively.

    Simplicity drives 83% of our actions at Neat.

    Adapted from Neat’s Notion Page.

    Adapted from Neat’s Notion Page.

    Finding Simplicity At Work 🪴

    Simplifying things might mean breaking some existing but inefficient processes. This is not always easy. It isn’t a case for cleaner desks, prettier UI, nor trimmed schedules. True simplicity requires that we understand the root of the problem. And develop an earned respect for the painful reasons why things grow complex.

    Simplicity must spring from the recognition of the inherent complexity of this task: to produce high quality outputs in an environment of information overload. And where others’ actions lead to reactive work on our end. The desire for simplicity is often experienced as troubling and tedious since no one likes to rock the boat, and processes make sense at the time of implementation. But in reality, this desire is a sane and widespread aspiration that we should listen to and nurture.

    What follows is an undecorated and easy manual for the simpler work that we all hanker for.

    The Path To Simpler Work 🛤️

    1. Acceptance of the inherent complexity that exists and pervades our current workspaces. All successful behaviour changes begin with awareness and acceptance.

    2. Create less mental noise. Noise from what we see, hear, think, and feel keeps us busy. Reduce external and internal stimulus that comes from social media, notifications, overthinking, overloaded calendars, anxiety of the future or guilt from the past.

    3. Be kinder to yourself. Accept the fragility of the mind - the brain in action. The mind has a really big task of doing the unthinkable. It plans, manages and responds to all internal and external events. Give it a break sometimes.

    4. Simpler communications. Reflect before you communicate by asking these simple questions.

  • Does this need an email?
  • Is a virtual/in-person meeting needed?
  • Does leaving a comment/tag with necessary information suffice?
  • Will a voice note or video message be better?
  • These questions open simpler ways to communicate across teams without creating unnecessary work.

    5. Choose what to ignore. You can’t do it all. Deciding what not to do may well be the most strategic time management decision. Don’t get in the trap of being busy all the time.

    6. Create quiet moments during the day. Cultivate the mental clarity for work by listening to silence. A state of flow during the work day will be the outcome. Silence is one pathway to compassion, empathy and insights at work.

    It is possible to work in simple conditions, free from excess noise and reactive fear. Your time, energy and attention are valuable and finite. The journey to a simpler work begins with your daily actions. Will you join the revolution?

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