How to simplify your week to reduce stress

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“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

I’m not one to quote Steve Jobs too much. He was brilliant, no question. But I’m not sure he’s the model to follow for a low-stress life in the workplace.

He seemed to ooze complexity. At least that’s what it looked like from my judg-ey overstuffed reading chair and ottoman.

I think he was onto something here, though, in understanding how we can simplify one of our real stressors at work — our workload.

Simplifying your work helps you do work that matters

If we think about the Apple products we use, they are dead simple.

My iPhone requires almost no instruction. The apps on it reduce complicated processes down to one or two steps I can do while I’m in the bathroom. (Don’t judge me, you do it too. 🙃)

In spite of the challenges the smartphone era has brought us, it’s also made so many things in life easier.

  • Don’t you remember what it was like trying to find answers to life’s big questions on Yahoo using your two-inch-thick Compaq laptop?
  • Remember scribbling tasks in your Monticello-themed, double-binded Franklin Planner?
  • Have you forgotten just how complicated it was to take your own pulse by using two fingers on one hand?

This was the crazy world the iPhone entered back in that dark age.

Apples’ development team started with the simplest version of what they thought could work and built on it from there. I’m sure they had a veritable scroll of features they probably could have included in that first phone (known then sweetly as “iPhone”).

But we’d probably still be waiting for that first iPhone, clumsily walking around with two fingers on our carotids and using hash marks to count our 10,000 steps.

The ensuing versions of the iPhone — all the way to today’s iPhone XR — came about once humans started actually using the phone.

I mean, who knew one day we would rarely even use these things as a phone? Who saw that one coming? 🤷

Use an MVP to simplify your work

You business-minded folks may recognize this process as a principle called “Minimum Viable Product,” or MVP.

(Bear with me. The therapist is using a business principle to make a point here.)

Entrepreneur Eric Ries was the first to toss this definition of MVP around in his book, “The Lean Startup:”

A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

In regular-people speak:

  • Build the simplest version of your product that will let you learn how people use it,
  • Gather feedback from them while they’re using it, then
  • Add new features from what you learned.
  • And so on, and so on….

This can save you time and energy because you’re not trying to build the best product ever by just guessing what might work. That’s so old school.

  • MVP gives you a real-life lab to build a product that helps people solve the annoying problems in their lives.
  • MVP helps you see what really helps people, not just stuff you and your team think is cool.
  • People tend to celebrate and buy stuff that helps them solve problems.

Maybe you don’t build a tangible product per se.

(Actually you do! Your work is your product. Make work your product!)

Apply the MVP principle on this Monday to simplify the rest of this week

This frees you up to do the work that solves real problems and creates forward momentum.

I don’t know about you, but nothing stresses me out more than doing work that doesn’t matter.

Here’s a little MVP roadmap I made for you:

1. Create and plan a wicked simple baseline for what you want to accomplish this week

I’m showing my INFJ skin a bit here, but planning is essential to reduce stress at work. Sorry.

You have to create some buckets, even leaky ones, to capture your important work or you’ll just end up with a messy pile of pointless doo-doo on Friday.

I know that may fly in the face of your possibly more spontaneous nature, but spontaneity and joy are not mutually exclusive.

Don’t go crazy and overplan (see also: procrastination).

But do plan, please.

Give some thought ahead of time about how you want this week to end up.

  • What do you want to hold in your hand on Friday (besides a cold beer)?
  • What MVP product can you produce this week that you can then build on next week?
  • Put everything else on a “next release” list of some kind.

Be honest about what you can really do. This is an area where we create a lot of our own stress.

Our work eyes are sometimes bigger than our work stomachs, if you will. 😋

Create a workable plan that is do-able with the time and resources you have this week and focus the week on that.

2. Protect your plan by establishing boundaries around your work

I know what you’re thinking. That’s great and all, but what about when my boss runs in with a little project on fire, and I’m the one who’s supposed to put it out? 📝🔥

What happens to my well-crafted plan then, sister girlfriend?

In many cases, you can give your boss some options on how you put that fire out.

“Sorry this project is on fire, Susie. Take a deep breath. Here are a couple of things we could do. Which one do you like?”

  1. Use the fire extinguisher. This will put the fire out immediately but it will also trash everything around us. It will resolve the problem immediately but we’ll spend two days cleaning up. This will delay all our other projects.
  2. Use the sweater slung over the back of my office chair to put out the fire. This will suffocate the fire and ruin my sweater, but it will most likely resolve the problem and preserve the working environment. We’ll need a minute to regroup, and I’ll need a long lunch to go buy another sweater. But we can get back on track today.

(Fire people are going to kill me on this one. It’s an analogy. If there’s an actual fire in your office, please be safe and follow your company’s fire safety plan.)

Of course there are plenty of unexpected things that pop up in the work week. But they don’t have to completely derail your work.

Unless they truly have to.

The best part about having a plan is how you can adjust it to meet changing needs.

But you can also protect it by offering other options besides you always having to set everything else aside.

And you still have a shot at maintaining momentum with your plan while getting credit for helping put out a fire, too.

3. Capture feedback to build your next version

In building an MVP, capturing feedback is what drives the best new version of the product.

Thoughtful and engaging feedback makes your work better.

If you work in a team format, you absolutely should be open to feedback. Unless you’re freakin’ Leonardo da Vinci, you need other perspectives to do great work.

Here’s the dealio with feedback, though.

You’re not necessarily required to convert that feedback into action items. And certainly not this week.

If the feedback is a game changer for where your work is headed right now, then be for real and change your plan.

But don’t feel like it’s always required. Put the feedback on your “next version” list and see how it may fit in later.

Put a little fence around your work and be your own gatekeeper.

This serves to focus your best cognitive energy on the feedback you can use now to do your best work this week.

4. Make it your task to understand how your work ties in to a larger goal

Why do you do the work at your job? I don’t mean to start you on an existential quest here, but really … why are you doing this work?

Part of an MVP is knowing that your work is accomplishing a specific outcome. You can touch it, define it and explain it.

Apple’s slogan for the first iPhone was “Apple reinvents the phone.”

Apple reinvents the phone - 2007 Macworld Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone

“Apple reinvents the phone” by Nobuyuki Hayashi is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Did the developers working then understand that? I hope so because they did reinvent the phone. They absolutely did.

This is where Steve Jobs’ focus on simplicity comes to bear. He was obviously great at painting a vision, not just for customers but for the people doing the work.

And it made all the difference.

Many leadership teams lack the skills to communicate business goals in simple ways.

How does Allison in accounting understand how her weekly report contributes to the company’s quarterly success? To her, it may be just a thing she does on Monday before lunch.

Yes, the burden of that understanding should really fall on Allison’s company.

But remember, the power to reduce stress is in our hands, not waiting for someone else to figure it out for us.

So Allison may have to ask that question of her boss or someone else at her company who’s in the know.

This is an excellent way to make sure the work you’re doing is needed.

If not, you can apply your efforts toward something that will.

Now what?

Companies who use the MVP approach have seen enormous, even overwhelming success. It allows them to put great work out there and let others help them refine it.

You can do the same in your workweek if you resolve to keep your stuff simple and workable.

  • Be honest with yourself and others about what you can do.
  • Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around your work.
  • Let others use their perspective and knowledge to inform your work and make it better.
  • Seek out the larger picture for yourself, and bring it back to your desk every day.

 


Check out my new Alexa Skill – Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller

You’re busy at work and at home, and you take care of everyone else. You’re allowed to have a few minutes in each day to set your focus, regroup and feel a little more in control.

Join me every day as I bring you simple and practical tips you can use right now to gain a little more control over your life.

Visit my Amazon page for more information.

Amazon Alexa skill - Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller


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