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Keep Things Simple for Focused, Better Results

Written by Bonnie Van Epps, Director of Talent Development

A few years back, I was out to eat with my kids and my youngest got a kid’s menu that had puzzles and activities on it to keep him entertained while we waited for our food to arrive. He started diligently working on these activities, and after a few minutes when I caught a glimpse of his work, I laughed out loud. He completed a maze by connecting Start to Finish with a straight line, completely ignoring the mess of lines he was supposed to navigate through to get from one place to the other. Brilliant! To his 4 year-old mind, the solution to this puzzle was obvious. Keep it simple, silly! bonnie_candid

This got me wondering what types of things I could simplify if I took a different approach to them. Here’s what I’ve found:

• Keep it simple by breaking things down into bite-size blocks of time. As a working mom of three school-aged kids, I don’t get a lot of time to read for fun. Books I’d like to read sit on my nightstand for weeks untouched. One of my goals this year was to read for 15 minutes a day and I’ve started to do this in the morning before anyone else in my household is up. That 15 minutes a day has gotten me through three books in the last month.

• Keep it simple by….. well, keeping it simple! A tip I picked up from a close friend of mine was to identify a Top Five. She encouraged me each week to identify my top five work priorities and my top five life priorities. This has been seriously life changing! While a multitude of unexpected meetings and demands will inevitably pop up, those top five lists help me clear through clutter of to-do’s and maintain focus on the most important things at work and in life. This practice has also helped me to acknowledge the progress made along the way.

• Keep it simple by streamlining the decisions made in a day. The average person makes thousands of decisions a day, and research shows that the more decisions you make in a day, the less sound those decisions will be as your mental energy depletes. (Anyone else partake in the occasional late night snack binge?!) I realized there were a few decisions that I could easily eliminate in my day and week. As a result, I eat the same breakfast every day, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, determine a meal plan for family dinners weekly, and schedule recurring time on my calendar for things like regular work responsibilities and workouts. Each of these are now simply habits that I don’t even need to think about — I just do them.

In my role as Director of Talent Development, I apply the “keep it simple” approach to my work, too. I advise our teams to keep performance conversations simple (and more relevant!). At First Business, we’ve made the transition from the dreaded Annual Performance review to regular 1:1 meetings between managers and employees. Managers and employees are supported by a system that allows them to easily set and track goals, add 1:1 agenda topics, and capture all notes electronically. Everything relating to an employee’s successes, challenges, and development is in one place and real-time conversations happen around real-time feedback and results!

We aim to keep employee development simple. Our employees experience development in a variety of ways from on-the-job learning, to development assignments, to webinars and conferences. One way we’ve simplified this for our employees is through access to on-demand LinkedIn Learning content. If employees want to build their skills in holding a productive meeting, improving their business writing, having a tough conversation with someone, or identifying strategies for better decision-making – all of this learning and more is available at their fingertips anytime they need and want it.

Sometimes I find there are still too many decisions to make in a day or the to-do list is longer than what is possible to complete. When I’m in that situation, I try to tap into the wisdom and humor of that completed maze and ask myself, how can I simplify this to achieve more focused, better results? Have you discovered any clever ways to simplify for better results? I’d love to hear from you.

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