Simplify Your Work


“Gee, that looks complicated.”

This was what I said when I looked through a friend’s project proposal, which included a mind map of madness.

She replied, “It has to be, if I want it to look professional.”

As a fan of living a clutter-free life, I had to disagree. With web workers being more prone to information overload and cluttered inboxes, it’s even more important for us to simplify our work.

So how do we keep things as simple as possible?

Avoid “feature creep”. When a program has more features than is necessary, that’s what programmers often refer to as “feature creep”. If you’re using more productivity tools than you should, or if you’re adding too many unnecessary stages in a project, then you’re also letting “feature creep” get in the way of your work. Your intentions might have been good, but in most cases, “less is more” applies.

So how do you go about avoiding feature creep in your work life? Have the smallest number of steps possible. This is especially important for large projects. Streamline your work processes in such a way that the steps are limited to what’s necessary.

For example, if there are several people working on a project, doing a communal progress report via a meeting or an e-mail mailing list contains less steps than sending individualized updates to each team member. That way, there are no unnecessary e-mails along the lines of “What are you working on? What are my deliverables?”

It also helps to keep the minimum requirements for each project in mind. Focus on accomplishing those first, and on ensuring that a design/application/or copy does what it should. Unnecessary add-ons just complicate the project for everyone involved.

Automate. As much as possible, find ways to automate things. From optimizing your computer memory to saving custom searches in Gmail, if there’s a way to automate something, do it. It makes no sense to spend minutes of your day doing something that a piece of software can do by itself.

Delegate. If there are certain tasks that you can’t automate but you don’t have to do them yourself, delegate them to other people. This could be an assistant, contractor, or an apprentice. You can instruct and train them to handle tasks such as customer support, Doing this will allow you to practice your leadership skills and also let you focus on the more important aspects of your web work. Plus, it’ll allow you to become the client for a change. Of course, you’ll need to invest a bit of time to set things up and give it a trial run. But once your delegation system works, it’ll mostly be smooth sailing from there.

Be careful, though. As Mike Gunderloy mentioned in a previous article, don’t delegate too early in your web working career. You first need to set up your own streamlined process and become very experienced in your field – or else you run the risk of wasting your money, as well as both you and your contractor’s time.

Don’t do everything perfectly. It’s alright to spend hours proofreading and nitpicking the website copy your client requested, but it’s probably not worth it to spend hours making sure that your office file folders are color-coordinated and that the labels are perfectly aligned. Perfection is important for major work tasks, but not for minor tasks that are for your eyes only.

Now, keeping it simple might not work for everybody. Other personalities thrive on complexity and busy-ness. However, I meet the occasional web worker who doesn’t want to do or worry more than he has to – and in these cases, simplifying work is the best way to start.

How simple do you like your work? Do you make things more complicated than they have to be?


Barbara Saunders

This may be heresy – one of the things I’ve done to simplify is keep my expense records on paper. I combine freelance work, remote assignments to an agency, and a job. My 1099 clients pay by check, and my expenses are minimal. 12 sheets of paper captures it all!

AM Retrow

In general simplicity and clarity is best, especially in competitive situations. It is said that Einstein could explain relativity to lay people and even kids, so even the complex and difficult can be simplified. In research grant proposal writing, 2 years of work and preliminary data is included with plans for 5 years of new scientific investigation in 25 pages (now being shortened to 15). If scientific reviewers don’t “get it” in the first pass – often a 15-20 minute read on the airplane – it does not even come up for discussion. It gets trashed. On the other hand if you have a particular client with low self esteem and who is impressed by stuff he/she has difficulty understanding, maybe larding it up with complexity will work. Balance is everything.

Jorge Camoes

Sorry, Celine, this is a good post but I think you either missed the point or started with the wrong example.

What your friend says is “if I want it to look professional”. This is about perception from the client’s side. Unfortunately the perceived value of your work often depends upon the level of apparent complexity you add.

So, the cynical approach is: simplify your work and then add layers of perceived complexity if that adds value from the client’s point of view.

Now, let me see, how can I follow my own advice?

Dwayne Phillips

Perhaps I am just getting old and tired, but I find myself often giving the “simplify things” advice to people. Building the kinds of things we build where I work is not easy. We invent things on every project. There are plenty of technical, managerial, and personnel challenges. I feel that most people want to add even more most of the time. Please, back off. Get something built that works. Then move on to another iteration to put more into it.

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