During a pleasant conversation with a good friend over lunch a couple of years ago, it suddenly occurred to me that not everyone have the same positive associations with the word “structure” as I do.
Of course I occasionally meet people who express their uneasieness with the term, but during this lunch the realization that what is so obvious and self-evident to me, meaning that structure gives you more freedom and inspires creativity, is not necessarily the same associations others get, really dawned on me.
So, allow me to dedicate this edition of Done! to clarifying five things which do not define structure.
Misunderstandings create uneasiness
Structure is not…
… that you make your life so rigid and square that all joy evaporates, and makes your life so explicitly defined that it suffocates you, bores you and rids you of all space for improvisation. Rather, structure serves the purpose of making all the things that simply have to work (and be remembered) in your everyday life work and run smoother and with less effort than before.
… that you have to be structured just for the sake of structure.
You can abuse virtually anything, including structure. If you experience that the structuring in itself requires more time than you are gaining by becoming more structured, your methods are somehow too cumbersome and redundant. Simplify your methods and lower your ambitions so that you only apply intentional structure to the areas where it is necessary and useful.
… that you may never budge an inch from your original plan, no matter what happens.
For most people, several unforeseen events come you way on a daily basis. We cannot predict what will turn up, but we know for certain that something will. Even if we do not know in advance what will come our way, we can create structured working-methods designed to deal with what shows up when it does, and hence avoid getting stressed by the fact that our plan fell to bits. And it is first when we have a plan in the first place that we have something to replan.
… being incredibly disciplined.
If it was just a matter of discipline, there would be no need to be structured. For me structure is a way to make the desired working-method (or routine) into the simplest method possible, so that I will choose to use this method spontaneously rather than by using a harsh, disciplined tone towards myself in order to force me to choose and use it.
… getting as much done as possible.
As I see it, doing a lot is not an end in itself. Structure helps us get what we choose to do done with as little effort and as smoothly as possible.
- Lean back for a minute.
- Think about if there is some part of your structured working-methods which feel difficult, cumbersome, bureaucratic, rigid or even unpleasant in any way.
- Does it concern how you fill something out, how you categorize, how you plan, how you coordinate with others, how you prioritize, how you communicate or how you document things?
- Now think about how you could simplify these processes.
Could you reduce the number of options?
Could you create a template?
Could you remove a step in the process?
Could you clarify something?
Could you hang something on the wall so that you see it precisely when you need to see it?
- Do whatever you came up with immediately or define the first step in this simplification as a to-do-task and add it to your list.
Well done! You have now taken a small step towards a smoother, easier and more strucured way of working. And the concept structure is now hopefully slightly more associated with a good feeling.
The toolbox of your everyday life
If you simplify your structured working methods into being less square, rigid, bureaucratic and limiting your daily life will become easier and run smoother. You gain more time and energy to do the tasks which you really look forward to doing.
What is your trick?
What is your primary indication to that something needs to be improved and refined in your current working-methods? Leave a comment!
By the way, if you want more tips on how to create good structure at work — here are many ways to get just that.