Knowledge work is very different from manual work. Manual work has a beginning and an end. Knowledge work has a beginning but is never ending. The more knowledge work you produce the more it creates. The fact is most of our jobs, in the modern world of work, has some element of knowledge work, but we approach it as manual work. The result is stress and low productivity.
If we wish to reduce stress and increase our productivity, we must learn the rules of managing knowledge work. There are many elements and tools for managing knowledge work. In this article I will deal with handling the matters that cross your desk. I will refer to these matters as open items until they are processed. When an item comes across your desk, it may be a paper document, a phone call, an email, a message or a colleague raising a point with you, it immediately creates an open item. The more open items you hold in your head, the more stress it creates, and the less productive you become. The ideal situation is to leave your desk each evening with no open items.
I could almost hear the chorus of laughter as you read this, each person insisting that you have far too many open items, to ever leave your desk with no open items. Think of it like your mobile phone, each open item, is an open app, the more apps you have open, working in the background, the slower your phone, the idea is to stop and close some apps. Once you close an app, you don’t lose any information, but your phone processing power is freed up. So it is with your brain. The key to knowledge work productivity is closing the open apps running on your mind.
To do this efficiently I have created the infographic below:
I will call the set of open items, stuff. As an open Item is created, we first ask ourselves: ‘Is this actionable’ that is, do I need to take an action. If not, trash it immediately, or file it away if you strongly believe you will one day need this information. By doing this immediately you will close all open items that cannot be actioned.
For actionable items, they can either be one step or multi-step. One Step open items can be divided into ‘less than 5 mins and more than 5 mins’. Less than 5 minutes, open items should be handled immediately. More than 5 mins one step items should be calendarized to be done on a date and time specified.
For multi-step open items, these should be treated as projects, create a project, and calendarize it to be done on a date and time specified. A note on calendarizing: use a good desktop calendar, either with Outlook or Chrome. Calendarizing is an important element in knowledge work.
If you follow these steps you should leave the office every day with no open items, stress free and with increased productivity.