I began thinking about simplicity this morning when I saw that July 12th is National Simplicity Day, in honor of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was an author, naturalist, philosopher, and historian. One of his works Walden, is a reflection on living simply in natural surroundings.
Let’s be honest, for most of us modern life is anything but simple. It can feel as if we are constantly struggling to balance work, home, and extracurricular demands. Perhaps because we are! While I can’t pretend to know and understand the complexities of your life, I do know this: There is almost always opportunity for simplicity.
As I was poking around the internet (aka researching) I found a fantastic article from DeVry University titled 6 Tips to Simplify Your Workday. It’s a great read and it includes tips such as pre-work routines and taking personal breaks during the day. All excellent advice.
As I was reading, I kept thinking of how the wellbeing features in Microsoft 365 can enhance and facilitate the advice in DeVry’s article, so I decided to create a M365 focused addendum to their list. Then, as is often the case, I had more to say than would fit into a bulleted list, which is why this blog now exists.
Let’s jump in!
Create a Morning Routine
The tips offered by DeVry include activities such as making your bed (pass), meditating, exercising before beginning your workday. I would add to that, once you’ve completed your “personal” routine and are ready to log into work:
- Review your Viva Insights daily briefing email
- Review the tasks on To-Do from the day before and prioritize
Your daily briefing from Viva Insights hits your inbox early with recommendations and insights into emails you may have forgotten about, reminders of emails where you responded saying you’d do something but may not have yet, and tasks that you have coming up on your To-Do list. You can use this to pick up where you left off on the previous day and to keep your To-Dos updated.
Now, I have heard that some folks think it’s not the most useful tool. Sometimes the tasks are old or the information not relevant. I hear you but let me gently remind you that it’s Artificial Intelligence (AI). The more you use and interact with the Viva Insights email the better/smarter it will get. AI must learn and if you don’t provide feedback it can’t learn.
The Insights email also helps you schedule focus time. Yes, do it! Use this time to turn off distractions and notifications and get into work… more on this in a minute.
Set your Main Priority - What’s the Big Thing you must do today?
I LOVE this one!
It is something I struggle with often because everything feels like a priority. This tip reminded me of the saying “If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority.”
I frequently ask clients, “What will make this project a success?”
Let’s ask ourselves, “What will make this day a success?” That is our Must Do Priority for the day. We can use focus time to its fullest extent to accomplish our daily priority.
Schedule meetings in blocks
Don’t schedule over focus time!
Communicate with others that schedule meetings and let them know your (new) schedule
Schedule time for email
Don’t let incoming emails disrupt your work progress
Set expectations when you do respond on when you’ll be able to address new requests
Ok, I said we’d talk more about focus time, so here we go:
Viva Insights will help you book 2 hours of time a day to focus on important tasks. If you notice in your briefing email it will also call out open blocks of time for that day and offer to block that time as well. I love this because, if we’re being brutally honest with ourselves, we’re probably bad at respecting focus time. I know I am. I’ll fudge and let a meeting slip in and leave myself with one hour of focus instead of two.
What can I really get done in an hour? How much is piling up when 5 or 6 hours of my day are in meetings that are generating more work? Book the time. Label it with your Must Do Priority task to remind yourself that it’s important.
Now about the beast we all know and love, email. It can rule the day if we let it. So, let’s not let it. Schedule time (Insights can
help you!) to check and follow up on email. Then shut it down if you’re prone to distraction.
A couple of months ago I closed Outlook and forgot to open it again till after lunch. I was amazed at how much work I got done. And guess what. Not one person was upset that it took about 3 hours to get a response. Why? Because email isn’t for priority communication anymore. At least not for most of us. It’s a queue we work through.
If scheduling time for email is going to be a new routine for you then consider communicating that to your peers. Set expectations and stick to it. Productivity will increase and stress will decrease. Magic.
Meetings and Managing the End of the Day
The DeVry article also recommends reviewing recurring meetings and evaluating the usefulness of them. Would covering the same material asynchronously in Teams make better use of everyone’s time? Possibly. Does it need to be every week, or could we bump it back to every other and just touch base in Teams? There’s a new update feature that could help manage the off-meeting weeks.
When it’s time to wrap it up how do you close the workday and transition mindfully to your real life? I’m a HUGE fan of using the virtual commute. Even if you have a real commute, the Insights process of walking you through the end of the day is phenomenal.
The Virtual Commute steps are as follows:
Review or set reminders for tasks in To-Do
Capture new tasks
This keeps you from stressing about remembering to “do the thing tomorrow”
Reminders and new tasks will surface in the next Insights briefing email and To-Do
Preview the net day’s meetings
Reflect on how you feel at the end of the day
Close out with a short meditation
Don’t roll your eyes if you’re skeptical. It’s helpful!
At the end of the day, the simplest way to simplify is to simply start. Somewhere. If all these ideas are overwhelming, pick one to implement. Live with it until it becomes habit, then pick another. Repeat.
Patterns and habits are hard to change, especially when some of them are based on other people’s actions and expectations. Start where you can. Even if you only make minor changes at the start, those will add up.
If you are new to Microsoft Viva and/or Microsoft 365 and would like to learn more, I hope you'll reach out! We're here to help you succeed with modern work.