Cut Out the Clutter in Your Workflow

Working for a company that practically defines the term “Corporate America” for over 5 years, I’ve seen my fair share of ridiculous moments. I’m rarely surprised when I come across a person who appears to go out of their way to work harder, rather than smarter. This, of course, is bad for the company, and even worse for the employee.

Remember back to grade school when we learned, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line? This ideology applies to work flows and processes inside the cubicle as well. I’d like to present you with a few actual examples of unnecessary or non-efficient work flow processes that should help you realize the small things you may do daily that can really add up to a lot of wasted time.

Exhibit A: Work Smarter, Not Harder

I was recently tasked to evaluate the workflows of a few individuals. In doing so, I came across an employee that, for this article, I’ll refer to as Jane Doe. Now Jane has been working for Company X for a little over 3 years, and has a reputation for being an outstanding employee (for very good reason). She knows the ins and outs of her position, she’s very knowledgeable, and always gets her job done on time with minimal errors. The problem with Jane was her lack of experience working on a device that she spends most of her day on, her computer.

One of Jane’s responsibilities was to open documents from a client’s database, and save them to the network. She would navigate through the client’s database like a champ, locating the correct document in minimal time. Sitting with her for the day, she showed me that she would click a link and it would open the document (PDF) in her browser. It never occurred to Jane that this document was opening through Adobe Acrobat in the browser. She immediately sent the file to the printer. I had no reason to question any of this just yet.  She asked me to follow her over to the printer, where she immediately took said document, moved it into the scanner, and pushed the large red button.  She directs the network scanner to email her the document (once again a PDF). We returned to her desk, she opened Outlook, and then saved the attached document to a folder on the network.

Right there was the pivotal moment. She had no idea she could save directly from Acrobat in her browser. She had no idea she could just choose to save the original PDF from the link rather than opening it to begin with. I asked her why she did the process this way, and it turns out she had been trained this way 3 years earlier by a much more computer experienced employee. The second I explained to her the two things she could do to prevent having to print, then scan, then email, then save, she had a revelation. You see, this process makes up about 1 – 2 hours of Jane’s day and this small increase in software understanding dropped that timeframe down to about 25 minutes each day.

Exhibit B: That D’oh Moment


* This is an actual scan of an instructional document currently in place!

Now I hope I don’t have to explain to you where the D’oh moment lies in the document above. I’ll give you a moment to take a second look at it now…see it? To be fair, this isn’t the largest mistake in the world. But it’s posted in the shipping department. People are trained and refer to this process for 100% of shipments going out every day. When you add the up the extra seconds spent first visiting Google to search for FedEx’s website, across 4 people, it builds up. Since this article is geared towards eliminating unnecessary steps in your process, I feel like it’s a perfect fit.

Google is a search tool, in place to help you find either information, or other websites that contain information. Not to be confused with the address bar that was used to navigate to Google in the first place. Please people, when you need to visit a website, just type the web address into the address bar!

Exhibit C: This Also Applies to Management

This third example hits a little closer to home for me. It cites a situation I personally dealt with on a regular basis. Managers, from time to time, can be responsible for lowered efficiency. It could be because they micro-manage, or just because of a sheer lack of understanding of their own position (let alone your position).

In one of my earliest jobs, I had the privilege to work with a Class A horrible manager. In this position, I had to submit weekly reports. There was more than one occasion, where a word was misspelled, or it needed very minimal correction. Rather than fixing the word, sending it out, and talking to me later about checking my work, I would receive a phone call, followed by a request to come in there. He would then explain to me that he found an error, and send me back to my desk, make me open the file and look for it.

I can’t even begin to describe the frustration I felt knowing that this process should have taken 15 seconds, and I would be more careful next time, turned into a 30 minute thing that required me to walk back and forth to his office 3 times. I’m not a lazy person – a simple heads up for next time would have sufficed and the issue would have never happened again. This just happened to be his management style and he was proud of it. Most of this man’s day was filled with him instructing people to do things similar to this. I quickly realized that this company would implode, and got out of Dodge… fast!

The purpose of these specific events was to make you think. If you could do your job with much less effort, why wouldn’t you? Something you need to challenge every day is your process. You need to analyze every single thing you do on a regular basis and come up with ways to make each step slightly better, slightly faster. In turn, you will become slightly more efficient with each small gain of time, however microscopic some adjustments may seem. When you reach the end of your work flow evaluation, start back at the beginning.


  1. twe4ked on the 28th October

    Great article, thanks.

    I thought for a second there that the d’oh moment in Exhibit B was step 1: open Internet Explorer 😛

  2. Daniel Groves on the 28th October

    @twe4ked It is. SHould day

    1: Open Firefox 😉

  3. Dave Yankowiak on the 28th October

    Best quote in this post: “Something you need to challenge every day is your process.” That is SO true. Process should always have a target on its back.

  4. Karsten Rowe on the 28th October

    @DanielGroves agreed

  5. Jad Graphics on the 28th October

    That’s funny. I also just wrote an entire article about working smarter and not harder.

    Anyways, good post!

  6. Tanja on the 28th October

    I once had a similar experience as described in Exhibit A: From a partner company we recieved a certain file once a month. It was a scanned overview of upcoming events. The scan was of bad quality and nevertheless a huge file. After we recieved it like that for a few times, I called them and asked where the original document comes from – being sure that it was from a third party by snail mail or so. The guy I talked to said: My colleague makes it. Wot???
    Well, here is what happened: The colleague updated the document once a month, then printed it and gave the print to the guy. He scanned it to send it to us. Of course I asked them to just send us the original file per email. They were both pretty astonished that this was possible, because they were somehow able to send from the scanner directly to a mail (because someone showed them once), but did not know how to attach a file from a network folder.

    I never forgot this little episode and since then I check my own workflows every now and then to see if they could be changed for the better. A good indicator for me always is a feeling of “argh, this must be possible in shorter time” or “why the heck is that so complicated”.

  7. Erwin Roosjen on the 10th March

    I love this post! 🙂 I’m rather surprised Vodafone refers to it in a brand new news letter, but I guess this kind of stuff is ageless…

    I remember receiving newsletters from a sports organization by e-mail. This was when html-based newsletters were rather uncommon and as such, I received a monthly Word document.

    The document, basically just text in standard Arial 11, was ungainly in its sheer volume, reaching over 3 megabytes, and always took ages to open.

    It was not until I noticed how all Word documents from said organization opened so slowly, that I discovered their common denominator: the organization’s logo. It turned out to be a huge jpg, shrunk to appropriate size in Word – thus retaining its original size.

    I think someone at the organization experienced a d’oh moment when I told them about this, because their documents soon became a lot less bulky.

    Regardless of this small personal succes, my own workflow needs constant attention, and I always read articles such as this with gusto. Thanks!

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