Do less, stress less

Jul 19 2010 by Myra White Print This Article

One of the most common complaints of people in the workplace is that they have no time. There are always new deadlines that must be met or crises that need immediate attention.

This lack of time is a key source of stress. People are overwhelmed by the never ending streams of documents arriving at their desks and the email messages pouring into their inboxes. No matter how many hours they log their to-do lists continue to mushroom out of control and there is always one more thing that needs to be done at the end of the day.

At the heart of this lack of time lies technology. We have been brainwashed to believe that technology reduces our workloads and improves the quality of our lives.

Technology has been invaluable in reducing the manual mind-numbing work people have endured since the beginning of time but in many cases it adds to our workloads.

Office workers across the world now spend millions of hours doing tasks that were not possible twenty years ago. Even the workloads of people whose jobs primarily involve manual labor have increased. The UPS delivery person can't leap out of his truck to deliver packages without first scanning them into a computer.

To stress less we need to take command our technological tools and start thinking about ways to minimize their demands on us and do less.

One place to start is to reduce the number of computer documents we generate. Here are three questions to ask before you hit the keyboard or ask someone else to create a new document.

1) Is this document really necessary?

There is something seductive about churning out documents on computers. After all, the documents we produce manifest our workplace value. They show people that we are doing something and are actively engaged workplace players.

The question you need to ask before you create your next document is whether it will really add value to your organization or career?

Does your boss or upper level management want a long report with endless details or do they just need some key information that you could produce in 30 minutes rather than the 4 hours it will take to prepare a formal document?

I recall meeting with a top executive at a large consulting firm who in the course of the conversation related that each month he received a 100 page computer report filled with page after page of data. He had no interest in this information and didn't read it. Instead each month he put it in his briefcase and took it home to his children who used it as scrap paper.

So before you spend time on your next document, ask who, if anyone, will read it? This may sound facetious but think of all the documents you receive that you never read. How many do you send directly to recycling or dump in the trash after you finally admit to yourself that you will never read them? How many email attachments do you let vanish up the queue without opening them?

2) Does this document need to be a masterpiece?

There are innumerable ways with technology to create magnificent documents with color, pictures, video, special formatting and other features that make them publishable masterpieces.

Extra features take time to produce. Ask yourself whether readers will be impressed by these features or whether they will earn you points on the career ladder? Or will the document just end up in a file that no one opens or is only looked at for 30 seconds?

3) Is this information really necessary?

Computers make it easy to collect information from others. As a result the number of surveys and forms that we receive to fill out has skyrocketed and their length has grown.

These information collecting tools not only add work on front end but also on the back end. First, the form or survey has to be developed, designed and produced. It must then be delivered and once returned it must be processed and a document produced reporting the results.

Before you decide to go through this process, stop and think. What is the critical information that you need to know? Do you need a long form or survey? Are there quicker less time-consuming ways to get the information?

These ideas are just a beginning. Start to be smart about how and when you use technology. Stress kills mentally and physically. Doing less could save your both your sanity and life.

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About The Author

Myra White
Myra White

Myra White teaches managing workplace performance and organizational behavior at Harvard University and is a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School. She is the author of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Harvard Psychologist's Guide to Becoming a Superstar", a book based on her research into how over 60 well-known people became superstars.