Home Management The Reductive Mindset: Achieving Optimal Results Through the Use of WhiteSpace

The Reductive Mindset: Achieving Optimal Results Through the Use of WhiteSpace

by Guest Writter
Juliet Funt, Founder & Owner, WhiteSpace at Work

My Jewish grandparents lived next door to the K-Street Deli in Brooklyn, where they made a rye bread praised though all the boroughs of New York. Every Friday my grandma sent my grandpa to buy one fresh loaf and all was right with the world. Except for when a certain, sexy Russian sales girl waited on him. Stanley was a timid man—a five foot nothing pharmacist. He would walk into the bakery, the little bell would ding, and he’d say, “I’d like one loaf of ‘dat great rye bread, please.” She would thwap open the bag and toss in the bread. Then she’d turn to him, with just a hint of flour on her cleavage, and sensually say, “Vaddelse” (translation: “What else?”)

My grandfather hated to disappoint her so he’d add something he had not previously intended to buy, anything, “Uhh…a box of apricot cookies, please.” In went the cookies, and back she came, smile beaming. “What else?”

The voice of “Miss What Else,” as my jealous grandmother called her—is not an unfamiliar one in business because our base mindset is always focused on cramming more into the brown bag of our day. We hand our talented and dedicated teams more email, more assignments, more meetings, more processes, more paperwork, and no matter what they achieve in the hurdles we put before them, many lie down at the end of a valiant day and hear a small whisper as their head hits the pillow.

“What else?” “What else could I have gotten done today?”

While there is certainly a value in constant improvement, the relentless push for more tasks and higher levels of activity has its consequences. In last year’s State of the Workplace Productivity Report from Cornerstone OnDemand, 61% of all employees felt they were overloaded at work, regardless of their generation. Information overload alone cost an estimated 900 billion to 1.3 trillion dollars, and that’s not including the extra cost of replacing burnt out employees.

Overloaded populations are used to their discomfort. But upon further investigation, it’s clear that their companies are usually suffering from one or more deficits. We call the categories the QQS factors: issues of Quantity, Quality or Sustainability.

QUANTITY

For some companies, the most prominent concern is around issues of quantity. They can’t get enough headcount. The sheer amount of daily work is overwhelming. Forces have been reduced by layoffs and consolidation. The first half of 2015 alone saw 4,654 M&A deals. While this is great for organizations, it only adds more tasks and less help for employees. About 30% of employees reported feeling “extreme stress” due to unrealistic deadlines and stressed out employees can cost organizations 200-300 billion dollars in lost productivity per year.[1]

In such an organization, you hear hallway comments such as “There’s just too much work to do.” and “If only we could get more people.”

QUALITY

In a quality-compromised organization, the highest value work begins to slip and excellence is replaced by “getting by.” Those with a commitment to elevated standards are forced to choose between deadlines and thoroughness. 20% of employees reporting high overwork levels say they make a lot of mistakes at work versus none (0%) of those who experience low overwork levels.[2] 60% of employees reported losing quality work due to feeling rushed and stressed by deadlines.[3] In a quality-threatened organization, you’ll hear comments such as “I wish I had time to deliver my best work.”

SUSTAINABILITY

Lastly, overload causes the sustainability of these organizations to suffer. They may be holding on by their fingernails to the quantity and the quality of work, but are collectively doubting how much longer this model could last. Top talent may be looking toward the door. In 2005, just 1 in 7 high-potential workers were looking for a new job, but now that number has jumped to 1 in 4. The percentage of U.S. companies that are having difficulty retaining critical-skill employees has risen from 16 percent to 36 percent in two years.  In these sustainability-pained organizations, we hear one thing over and over: “We can’t keep this up for much longer.”

So what’s the solution to the siren’s call of “What Else?” We must adopt a Reductive Mindset. We must take reflective time to look at every element of our company and the tasks of our employees and ask “What deserves our attention?” If a task or protocol cannot pass the test of this powerful inquiry—we need to reduce or eliminate it over time.

Some of the possible cuts may involve schedule habits such as cutting back on meetings and unnecessary email. Some of the possible alterations will be around the issues of corporate complexity. 77 percent of surveyed CEOs noted that the level of complexity in their organizations is higher than it was 3 years ago.[4] More meetings, projects, metrics, and reports—like the forever multiplying tribbles of Star Trek, they just keep on comin’. Sometimes we must review specific clients, markets, or goals and make sure that they truly deserve our time and resources.

After taking a first thoughtful pass at these challenges, invite your talented teams into the discussion. Ask them, “What deserves our attention?” and be open and flexible to their suggestions.

The additive orientation is typical but if you flip it and adopt a reductive lens you will pare back overload and make room to reclaim and effectively make the most of your human capital.

The pot of gold at the end of this rainbow is called WhiteSpace. WhiteSpace is the strategic pause taken between activities. In tiny sips or larger portions, this open time was once woven between the daily activities of all of us — and made the smartest of us even smarter. Using a reductive process you can reclaim that WhiteSpace for you and your employees.

Once this profound goal has been achieved, once there is a little time to think and breathe in the system of the day, pace and pressure becomes regulated and employees begin to thrive at a whole new level.

Learn to be reductive, learn to value unscheduled time and you will see creativity, productivity and engagement blossom. And maybe you’ll find that one slice of perfect bread is all you’ll need today.


[1] Source: American Psychological Association. “Stress in America.” 7 Oct. 2008.

[2] Source: Galinsky, E., Bond, J.T., Kim, S.S., Backon, L., Brownfield, E., & Sakai, K. (2005).  Overwork in America: When the way we work becomes too much.

New York.  Families and Work Institute.

[3] Source: American Psychological Association. “Stress in America.” 7 Oct. 2008.

[4] Source: Catellano, W. G. (2013) Welcome to the New Normal of Talent Management in Practicing for Engaging the 21st Century Workforce: Challenges of Talent Management in a Changing Workplace.


About the Author

Juliet Funt is the owner and founder of WhiteSpace at Work and is a warrior in the battle against reactive busyness. It is her mission and that of her team to unearth the potential of companies by unburdening their talent. With thought-provoking content and immediately-actionable tools, she has become a nationally-recognized expert in coping with the Age of Overload in which we all live and work.

Incredibly intuitive, Juliet successfully blends highly-customized content with a keen understanding of clients’ needs in her programs and consulting work. Yet beneath her powerful assets, she is both authentic and accessible. As a busy corporate speaker and consultant, business owner, wife and mother of three young boys, she practices on a daily basis the WhiteSpace concept she shares with clients.

[Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

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