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Low friction working

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As humans, whatever we do during a day will be supported by tools. From the alarm clock that wakes us in the morning to the pen we use to take notes, to the computer or phone we use for hours on end. It is virtually impossible to achieve anything during a day without the use of tools. However, how often do we take a moment to judge the tools we use?

The problem with not reflecting on the tools themselves is that they may be a source of friction during our activities. Friction, as we may remember from physics courses, if a phenomenon that manifests when we want to do work and it ends up wasting our energy, transforming it to heat. If during a normal day we need to interact with a high-friction tool, a lot of our energy will be dissipated and we won't be able to achieve much.

In any case, these forms are completely out of our control and they are not our tools but the tools of the tax authorities or an online merchant.

I started paying attention not just the small rituals to be more productive. and how can I improve them not only to be more productive, but find joy in the things I do. After thinking and trying several methods, I cam up with a framework I like to call low friction working. It is not a about a fixed set of tools but it is a way of thinking about the tools we use daily and how to tune them into our favor.

It took me long to understand that the best way of working is by having tools that adapt to the way our mind works.

The first thing I noticed was my approach at keeping track of progress. I was using Trello, a software that allows you to drag notes from a column to another. It is great, collaborative. But I quickly realized it was not meeting my goals. I couldn't draw arrows linking thoughts, if I wanted to reference a meeting, had to come up with crazy ways of understanding what I meant.

An Ode to Paper

Even if Trello is a great tool, it was not the tool I wanted to use on a daily basis, it was creating me more stress than support. However, what was limiting about it, was that the developers envisioned a way of working that simply did not reflect my own style. But I could learn from it, and make it better. Building software can be fun but it is also very time consuming, especially for something that can be easily achieved on paper.

I bought a notebook and started laying out what I needed to support my own way of working. Using different colors was a matter of getting new pens. Changing the style of bullets, making a table. Keeping track of meetings on one page and tasks on another. Referencing each other became as easy as writing down the page number of each of them.

The closest there is to paper is a tablet, but it will not be the same. You can't flip through pages, nor you can spread several notebooks one next to another unless you own several tablets. I think it could still be a good compromise between the digital and the analog world, but you must be mindful of achieving exactly the workflow you want, and not the other way around.

Letting the mind rumble

Another thing that came to mind when started paying attention to my working habits is that sometimes my mind got lost in thoughts not related to what I was actually doing. In the past, I fought them and tried to re-gain concentration. Now I believe that switching contexts has a cost, and therefore once my mind went to a different place, it is better to leverage it than to force it to come back.

Not all distractions are worth pursuing, but sometimes a random thought may be of value. What I started doing was always having a notebook at hand, and whenever there's a thought that crosses my mind and that may distract me, I just write it down. Knowing it is on paper somewhere guarantees that I won't have to remember it, and therefore my mind is free to resume the work I had to do.

The thoughts that block my workflow can be of any nature, such as forgetting to reply someone's e-mail, asking myself how much money Facebook makes in a year. Instead of letting all my energy shift to that new focus, I just let it flow, knowing it will be properly taken care of in the future. Some of the things that interrupt my thoughts are work related, some are not. In any case, I write them down all together using different colors.

Develop your own tools and methods

The most powerful thing I've learned is that the best we can do is become the owners of the processes. On the one hand, when we have enough power, we can design the workflow to suit our own needs. We can decide to use paper instead of an online tool. But if you work on a larger organization you may have to comply with rules that come from far in time and responsibility chain.

Managers can empower this behavior in the people they lead. Sometimes we push down rules and methods without actively thinking why we are doing it. Hearing what people have to say is the simplest way of improving the working environment. Perhaps the tools we chose are not the tools people

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