The Squeaky Wheel Makes Things Better

The Squeaky Wheel Makes Things Better by Laura Stack #productivityGrowing up, I had a friend who used to say, “If it was good enough for Grandpa, it’s good enough for me.” To which I would retort with my Grandpa’s favorite expression, “Sometimes it’s better to get forgiveness than permission.” Which phrase resonates with you more?

Too often in the business world, people just accept how they’ve been taught to do something, rather than considering whether it could be improved. Situations and technology change, and sometimes we fail to change with them. Truly accountable people strive to make things easier for everyone, including themselves. They take on change and try to make processes more efficient, even if they know it might rub some people the wrong way. They know the squeaky wheel gets in the grease—or in this case—makes things better. How can you do that?

Watch Your Language 

Instead of stating, “This won’t work,” accountable people ask, “What needs to happen to make this work?” They’re full of possibility, always asking “why not?” instead of “why?” This positivity makes their efforts more likely to succeed from the beginning. When motivating others, they’re likely to use phrases such as: take a risk; begin with the end in mind; results rule; learn optimism; challenges are temporary; you can fix it; and take initiative. Unfortunately, there are hordes of people who believe it’s more important to blindly follow the rules, letter by letter, than to do what’s best or most effective. As Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” You can’t blindly follow the letter of the law in all circumstances.

Create a Process to Simplify the Task

Quite often, the time traps that drive us crazy stem from something being done inefficiently. If you’re struggling with the same or similar tasks over and over, it’s time to get a system in place; think “process.” Could you make a template for the letter or report you’re now rewriting for the umpteenth time? Are you overwhelmed by your weekly filing? Perhaps you might consider handling paperwork as it comes in, before it piles up? Could you figure out how to print directly on the envelope or use labels if you’re constantly handwriting addresses?

Speed Things Up at Home 

Could your family be more diligent about getting their dirty clothes to the laundry area in an orderly fashion? Dinner…laundry…paying bills… chores…the list goes on and on with tasks that are fraught with inefficiencies. Create a pre-planned, rotating 30-day menu. Use three hampers in each child’s room to automatically separate whites, darks, and colors, and wash one color for the family per day. Automate your bills on line. Assign a weekly chore to a fixed day, so there’s never a question about what should be done. Developing a system can dramatically reduce the frustration caused by everyday tasks. A reusable checklist could keep you moving in the right direction. No thinking, no reprioritizing; just start at the top of your list and cross things off until you get to the bottom. Just as runners finish marathons one stride at a time, you’ll get through your list with diligent perseverance. Just take it one item at a time, until you’re all the way through.

Change the Scope

Projects snowball and to-do items multiply. You have no idea how it happened, but you’re sure the task at hand has gotten much more complicated than when you first started. Maybe a casual office brainstorm turned into a corporate strategy think tank. Or perhaps tidying up the flowerbed became a major landscaping project. Take a deep breath and get back on track by refocusing on your original intentions. Once your work is done, you can take another look at the big picture. Remember to be the squeaky wheel. Even if things don’t change, you’ll feel better for having spoken up and knowing you did all you could.

Accountability action step:

In almost every case, there was once a logical reason for why you do things the way you do. This month, see if that logical reason still applies. Take a step back. Examine your tasks and processes and determine whether you’ve been handling them in the most efficient way. You may discover there’s no longer a reason to perform a particular task in the first place. See how you can accomplish just as much by doing less.