“I’m not stressed out.”

Mark Graban tells the following story about his visit to VIBCO:

The two women who were working at the front desk (answering phone calls and customer requests, among other duties) were describing the impact of Lean on their work – how they standardized many of their activities and applied a Kaizen mindset to making their work easier. There were lots of little Lean improvements in place, stuff they had worked on themselves. They mentioned how they were able to get much more done during their day.

A visiting healthcare executive asked one of the women if she was working harder as a result of those changes. She responded,

It doesn’t feel like I’m working harder. I’m not stressed out. I’m getting more done and there’s a sense of accomplishment.

There’s an important point here, and it’s easy to miss. Generally speaking, the front desk job is incredibly demanding: there’s no time for planning and there’s no predictability to the schedule — when you’re working the phones and tending to the front door, you have no idea what’s coming through the door or when. In a lot of respects, it’s a lot like working in the emergency department at a hospital: you never know what kind of patient will come through the door next.

What’s noteworthy is that even in a position where the worker has to be immediately responsive to the unpredictable incoming work (after all, they can’t just not answer the phones, or lock the front door), they were able to standardize some element of their activities and make those activities easier. And the establishment of standardization resulted in less stress and more work completed. (Not to mention that nice feeling of accomplishment.)

If you’re reading this blog, there’s an excellent chance that you’re not a receptionist, and therefore that your job allows for a more measured response time. For the most part, you don’t have to answer the phone on the first ring, or respond to an email within a minute of its arrival (even if you feel you do). Think about the effect that standardizing — and improving — some of your work could have on your ability to accomplish your work.

Analyze your responsibilities. Break out the recurring, predictable work (ordering supplies, processing email, dictating cases) from the creative, unpredictable work (writing ad copy, choosing a color palette for the product line, choosing a medication protocol). Standardize and kaizen the predictable stuff. Get more work done. With less stress.

If a receptionist can do it, you can too.

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