For many professionals, working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t meant more flexibility and productivity but, rather, more hours, more pressure and more burnout. In the chaos of juggling child care and home schooling, competing for workspace with a partner, and living in a time of social and economic upheaval (no biggie!), many people have lost sight of anything resembling work-life balance. Boundaries have been eviscerated, communication expectations have shifted, and the 9-to-5 workday has morphed into something more like a 9-to-oh who am I kidding I’m always at work now-day.

Even though many employees and executives are slowly making their way back to the office as more and more companies reopen their doors, remote work is positioned to remain a significant part of the American workforce moving forward. This may not exactly be welcome news to stressed professionals struggling to find balance in their new remote work reality. Workers who were already feeling overloaded are now overwhelmed. Leaders need to make a change now to address the core issues behind this collective feeling of overwhelm before it becomes worse.

As a remote team leader, you may not be able to solve individual child care or workspace issues, but you can eliminate many extraneous tasks and daily distractions that are sapping your team members’ energy, focus and capacity for high performance. Effectively dealing with feelings of overwhelm and overload to reclaim productivity requires a pivotal mindset shift from additive to reductive.

What Is a Reductive Mindset?

We’ve been conditioned to think about productivity as doing more with less — completing more tasks in less time and adding more complexity. But activity does not equal productivity. We actually need less on our plate to accomplish more with our valuable energy and brain power. On our quest to achieve a constant state of busyness, we lose the most critical ingredient for excellence: WhiteSpace, the strategic pause between activities, taken in tiny sips or larger portions, that allows us to reflect, rejuvenate and innovate.

The goal of a reductive mindset is to reverse the modern norm of accumulation and complication, freeing us to achieve our full potential. By developing a habit of reducing or eliminating what’s unnecessary and celebrating the power of less — less complexity, less waste, fewer interruptions and fewer unnecessary tasks in our workday — we can uncover the valuable WhiteSpace that enhances the performance of individuals, teams and entire organizations.

How do you know if you or your team needs a reductive mindset shift? Here are a few red flags:

    • You commonly invite more people than necessary to meetings “just in case.”
    • You hit the email CC button like it’s Pavlov’s bell.
    • You feel compelled to execute every new idea from customers, board members, investors or donors.
    • You can’t remember when you last spent time on creative thought or unrushed problem-solving.
    • Your reports go beyond what’s tactically necessary because “that’s just how we do it.”

How Do You Make a Reductive Mindset Shift?

First, examine your company, your team and yourself as though you were a curious, objective anthropologist. Be Jane Goodall. Make a list of common business functions or daily tasks that take up the majority of your time, such as email, meetings, slide decks, projects and paperwork. Consider what feels senseless or redundant. What do people hate to do? What corporate ridiculousness drives everyone crazy? Which touchpoints are impeding actual productivity?

Then, ask yourself or your team these four questions:

1. Is There Anything I (or We) Can Let Go of?

As an individual, there may be tasks you can shrink, postpone, creative thought or eliminate completely. As a team, consider low-value paperwork, meetings or procedures that no longer serve a purpose. Are you holding onto tasks because they’re vital or because you’re afraid to let go?

2. When Is “Good Enough” Good Enough?

This question is for people who spend an extra half hour getting that email just right and for teams that can’t move on to the next phase of a project because they’re stuck on one tiny, inconsequential detail. Of course, excellence is always ideal — but in the grand scheme of things, sometimes good enough really is good enough, and it’s time to move on.

3. What Do I (or We) Truly Need to Know?

Charts, graphs, data, reports, research … the pursuit of information can easily become information overload if you’re not careful, which is why frequency of reporting is an ideal candidate for the reductive mindset chopping block. Do you really need daily updates that are overwhelming your team, or are trust and patience a place where you can grow?

4. What Deserves My (or Our) Attention?

Review specific projects or goals to determine which do not deserve your time or energy. Be honest, and get rid of them. This process is all about refocusing your efforts away from waste and toward value.

Used on an individual level to streamline your daily responsibilities and tasks, these four simple questions will guide you on your journey to becoming productively reductive. Anytime the anxiety of quantity rears its ugly head, pull the questions out of your tool box to stop overload in its tracks. On an organizational or group level, they provide a framework and shareable language for creating a reductive mindset that will simplify structure, communication, procedures and initiatives to uncover more WhiteSpace that drives success.

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