The other evening, I heard a groan from the other side of the kitchen.
“Was there something wrong, my sweetness and light?” I asked my wife (for it was she).
“It’s infuriating when you do that!” she said.
Now, as far as I was concerned, at this point, the only thing I was doing was breathing, so things were definitely taking a turn for the worse in this conversation and we’d only just started.
“Um, do what, my angel?”
“Put things near the dishwasher! It’s maddening. That mug is clearly meant to go in the dishwasher, but you have this habit of stacking things – often quite impressively – on top of the dishwasher rather than putting them inside. It’s a teeny tiny bit of additional effort, so I simply don’t understand why you don’t do it. What’s more, when you put things beside the dishwasher, rather than in it, you create an extra job of stacking the dishwasher that needn’t have existed. Besides that you are a complete and utter delight to live with.”
I’m pretty sure I have that last sentence correct – I’m going from memory.
Instinctively, I sought to explain my behaviour in rational, clear-sighted terms. The thing she had overlooked; the very excellent reason why I put things near the dishwasher rather than in it, is because… Is because… Is… Oh. That’s weird. I usually have a fantastic reason for doing things. But I had to admit that she was absolutely right.* I’m not ashamed to admit, it was something of a revelation – I obviously wasn’t deliberately trying to be a bad housemate but I had fallen into a mildly lazy habit of putting things near the dishwasher rather than in it.
I thought about this a lot over the following days (whilst diligently placing my used coffee mugs directly onto the upper shelf). It was so surprising because it was such an unintentional habit. And it got me thinking about other areas where I created large, unnecessary jobs for myself because I hadn’t bothered with a small uplift in effort at a particular point in a process.
I quickly realised that I had fallen into the same trap with my accounts. Again, labouring under the belief that I actually had quite a good system, I noticed that when I got a business receipt I would put it in an envelope in my filing cabinet, in a file marked ‘Receipts for processing’. Then, once a year, when the time came to do the company accounts, I would enter the amounts on each receipt into a spreadsheet which I would send to my accountant so that he could calculate my tax. And every year, I would put off and put off and put off the evening where I had to sit down to process the receipts into the spreadsheet, filing it all with my accountant at the last possible minute and – no doubt – making his job harder too. If I just processed each receipt as I got it (or the next day, say), then I would not have the ‘Processing receipts’ task that takes up a whole evening.
I then realised that this logic applies to any process or habit you have in your life that amounts to ‘wait here for processing’. Even now, I am looking at the in-tray in my office – full of paper which mostly just needs to be filed and thinking that I have done it again. I am on a mission to find the ‘holding patterns’ around me and eliminate them. I can’t even begin to think about my email inbox, but my instincts are screaming that there is big work to be done there.
But it’s a big prize. It will absolutely make me more efficient if I can identify – and fix – these ‘wait here for processing’ spots. I will get – indeed, I have got – whole evenings back. All because I stopped putting things near the dishwasher.
Are you putting things near your dishwasher? I’d be fascinated and delighted to hear in the comments what holding patterns you discover – and eliminate!
*On this occasion.
To receive these blogs, project management tips and video tutorials straight to your inbox click here to sign up to our newsletter.