Productivity: Eliminate Before You Optimize

I get a daily email from Evolving Excellence, a manufacturing oriented blog. Today's touched upon some subjects near and dear to our hearts, so I thought I would share. I believe he makes a valid point about GTD not necessarily helping you focus on doing the "right things" versus doing "things right". Enjoy:

Evolving Excellence
Productivity: Eliminate Before You Optimize

Posted: 30 May 2008 02:37 AM CDT

I've long been a fan of Tim Ferriss and his best-selling book The Four Hour Work Week. The book describes several methods to minimize and optimize life activities in order to create free time, although sometimes you have to deal with some ego-centric stories to get at the meat. I've implemented some of his ideas to outsource small projects, refrain from checking email constantly, and live simply... and his concept works. At least for me.

Today Tim had a fascinating post on his blog comparing his book with David Allen's Getting Things Done. GTD has become wildly popular in corporate circles as it presumes to improve productivity through better organization, such as with emails. Although Tim supports many concepts of the rival GTD system, he makes the following comment on GTD's overall philosophy:

Though David refers to desk-based inboxes, tickler files, etc. in certain parts of GTD, the broader concepts are frameworks for proper filtering of inputs (“open loops”) and definition of outputs (“next actions”), regardless of technologies used.

GTD is, however, a bottom-up approach to time management that — used in isolation — can lead to becoming very efficient (doing things well) but decreasingly effective (not doing the right things). Readers on this blog have suggested reading 4HWW [Four Hour Work Week] and 7 Habits prior to implementing GTD. The results and approaches are complementary rather than conflicting, but order is important.

He goes on to reiterate how the fundamental premise of The Four Hour Work Week is to reduce wasteful activities in order free up valuable time. His final statement is what hit me:

Eliminate before you optimize.

The Four Hour Work Week eliminates wasteful activities. Getting Things Done optimizes activities. Sound familiar?

This is analogous to the conflict between lean manufacturing and six sigma. Actually it's not a conflict; they are complementary philosophies just as Tim claims GTD is complementary to his 4HWW. But the order of implementation is critical.

Six sigma does a phenomenal job of optimizing processes. All processes. If it is implemented prior to lean, there's a good chance that a lot of time will be spent optimizing... wasteful processes. Which is why lean should be implemented prior to six sigma in order to identify and eliminate wasteful processes. Then use six sigma to optimize what remains with lean providing oversight to ensure changes add value from the perspective of the customer.

Eliminate before you optimize. On the factory floor and in your office.

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I agree

"Eliminate before you optimize. On the factory floor and in your office."

That's so true for me. I found that I was itemising and analysing everything before I'd decided on the things/projects/ideas that I needed to focus upon.

Now I eliminate or merge projects etc first before I start working out what I need to do to get them done