Abundant Optimism

Helping people regain and keep an optimistic outlook in challenging circumstances and improve their creativity, mind, and skills.


by Tamara Martfeld

With lay offs and other reductions in staff many of us are being asked to take on additional duties when our co-workers leave. Streamlining, one way to meet the challenge, is easy. I am not an "efficiency expert" and have cut at least 20 hours from every desk I have ever had. I turned one full-time position into a part-time position and cut 130 hours per month off a previous desk. The method used is simple:

1. Identify the individual tasks at your desk. As you do each task, break it down into small steps.

2. Ask "Why?". Why is each step of the task done? Why is the task itself being done? Ask your supervisor. Any good supervisor will be happy to answer the question as it provides better understanding of the job and its customers. Look in any related manuals to find your answer. Donít forget to check the laws or government regulations if any relate to your desk Ė sometimes something is being done because an outside entity requires it to be done. Talk to the people who had your job before you and those who have been around for a long time. Even if a person never worked your desk, they may remember the history behind any changes made in the past.

3. Upon answering "Why?", question the validity of the answer. An answer of "because it has always been done" is not valid and suggests that elimination is possible. A government code or regulation is a valid answer, but ask yourself if it makes sense. If it doesn't, discuss with your management about the possibilities of contacting your government representative and asking for a change. If you do take the step of contacting your government representative be prepared to support your position. There are many laws and regulations on the books which were needed when they were enacted but which make no sense now. Anything can be changed. Eliminate all tasks or steps not affecting the final product.

4. Determine whether there is any duplicated or unnecessary work. Annually ask the recipients of anything distributed whether they still need it. If you are doing a task more than once, try to cut out the extras. The most common duplication I have found is the keying of the same information twice. Be creative. One task at my desk involved keying the same information and manipulations of this information on several spreadsheets. I designed an Excel spreadsheet using formulas to copy and manipulate the data. I now key everything once and do the job in 2 hours instead of 2 days. With another task I was keying the same data as someone else. I now obtain their computer files and copy the information to my spreadsheet which also reduces keying errors.

5. There is usually more than one way to do any given activity -- find the alternate methods. Ask your customers for ideas, especially the internal customers. Many of the tasks in my field of work started before technology was available. Simply automating your task may save hours of time.

6. Make the changes. Some changes are in your authority to make, others require supervisory approval. In any case, keep your supervisor informed. If the change doesn't work, try something else. Experiment until you find the best method. Even a small change can make a big difference. Don't be discouraged by ideas that don't work -- Edison is reported to have found 1,000 ways not to invent the light bulb, and he is a recognized genius.

7. Determine the savings. Does the task take less time? Is accuracy improved? I find that improving a procedure usually does both.

Once you have succeeded in streamlining a task make a record of it for yourself in your success book (record of all your successes). Document what you have done to use for employee reviews or interviews. Saving money while providing excellent service is a goal of many businesses and most will be happy to hire someone with success in this function.