Organisational friction

is caused by things in your working day that you live with or work around but that sap your time, energy or attention and make it harder for you to do good work.

It’s caused by the work equivalents of leaving unwashed plates piled up in the sink at home. You save a bit of time and energy heaping them up instead of getting them through the sink, but for the rest of the day, they slow you down: they’re depressing to look at; they’re get in the way and are awkward to work around; when you’re looking for a clean bowl for breakfast you’ve got to snorkling in the murk to get one; people start to grumble. It’s the death of a thousand cuts.

At work, the same thing happens: we neglect things that need maintenance – relationships, organisation, correspondence; we leave things half finished – policies, sales documents, projects; we keep options open that need to be closed, and closed early, and they drag on, keep popping up at bad times, and leave us with explaining to do.

These things tire us, they make us feel guilty, and they slow us down.

Here are some ideas for dealing with organisational friction – things that will give you an easier tomorrow:

  • Identify the things that keep popping up – decisions that you make over and over because you don’t have a policy, or answers to frequently asked questions that you could copy and paste.
  • Make a list of friction points, then choose your top three, and fix one of them – fix it properly – and only then do something about the second one, and only when that’s done start on the third. The energy you save from reduced friction from the first one will mean that you’ll get the second done faster. And so on.
  • Plan regular times – daily, weekly, monthly, where you’ll maintain things like your petty cash reports or your file system, or a relationship with a colleague. Make it a habit to show up for the important but non-urgent – you’ll find you have less fires to fight as a result.
  • Plan less in your days than you think you can achieve – decide to have time.
  • Say no – take less on. It isn’t that you don’t want to help – it’s that you’re already committed to doing these things well. Know in advance what your thing is, and focus.
  • See what you can procedurise, automate, or outsource. Setting up a good procedure – even one as simple as ‘I’ll scan every receipt and email it to myself before I leave the shop’ – will repay you many times over. Your ducks will all be in a row when the time comes to… administrate them?
  • Put in the hard work early, make some extra miles, and finish easy, rather than the other way round. Build up a frontlog. Do what you can to be running downhill.
  • If it’s not important, and you can let it go… cut off the tail.

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