Written by Jessica Militare

It’s easy to rely on the overabundance of tech options to streamline business processes, but digital tools can sometimes bring more distractions. Since the start of the pandemic, Americans have reported increased screen time across all devices, and many express concern about the long-term physical and mental health effects. Luckily, there are ways to simplify without downloading another app or adding more screen time to your plate. Here are five ways to do that so you can focus on what matters most during your workday. 

Shot of a young businesswoman writing in a notebook while working in her home office GETTY

Create Email Boundaries (And Common Canned Responses) 

We’re spending an estimated three hours a day reading and replying to work emails, or up to five hours if you include personal emails (calculate the hours you’ll waste on email over the course of your career here, if you want to torture yourself). To cut down, consider sticking to two windows of time to check and reply to email each day, like morning and afternoon, for example. Set up an auto message that you can be reached by phone, if necessary. Make the tech work for you, too: If you’re sending a lot of similar emails, try creating canned responses on your email platforms for everything from needing more time on a task to sharing instructions to delegating work. These don’t have to sound robotic, and you can always quickly personalize them. 

Eliminate Time-Consuming Meetings

Some estimates suggest that senior managers spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings. A National Bureau of Economic Research paper reports that meetings increased by 13% following pandemic lockdowns last March. Let’s face it: Meetings are often unproductive. To feel less bogged down by them, consider setting a “no meeting day” on your calendar so that time is in your control. And to make meetings more efficient if you’re hosting, experts recommend setting and sharing an agenda, capping meetings at 30 minutes and minimizing attendees to only people who can contribute—ideally, no more than six to eight people.

Outsource Tasks 

Whether it’s hiring an external graphic design team to work on presentations or newsletters, a virtual assistant for administrative work or a freelance HR manager to design policies and collect data, outsourcing tasks outside of your expertise will ensure goals are being met, standardize a process and free up your headspace for work that only you can do. Many freelance gig platforms have built-in screening processes and flexible contract and payment options to find the right talent.   

Curb Your To-Do List Too 

New data shows that people with lengthy to-do lists are more likely to feel like they don’t have enough time to accomplish everything on them than those with a shorter list of essential priorities. Sure, to-do lists can help you stay organized, but an unnecessarily long one can feel daunting and end up overloading your schedule. Ask yourself questions like “Is this item going to help me achieve my main goals for this quarter or year?” or even a basic “Can this wait?” to simplify and take stock. Experts suggest writing out your to-do list the night before and choosing one to three mission-critical, value-adding items to tackle in order. At the end of the week, you can also cut out non-urgent tasks so the following week feels more streamlined and in your control. 

Talk To Your People

To identify where you can simplify, analyzing your current workflow and processes is paramount, but seeking your staff’s feedback is also key. Through candid conversations—or even an anonymous survey, if you prefer that route—you might realize that using several workflow management platforms is actually slowing things down, or that some team members feel like they’re attending too many meetings to complete tasks on time. On the flip side, you can suggest a “workflow town hall” to your manager if you’re not in a senior role. Gathering this data from your team, combined with analyzing where you can make small but impactful changes, could serve as a morale and productivity booster and simplify more than you think.