Unfortunately, making things complicated is easy to do. Take something pretty straightforward, like weight loss. I don’t know about you, but if you gave me a donut for every time someone said, “All you have to do to lose weight is eat less and exercise more,” I’d be up to my eyeballs in powdered sugar. I’d also hate to admit that something so challenging has a pretty simple solution, particularly after spending time and money galore on diet books, systems, programs, powders, shakes, and nutritionists.

Sound familiar? You may not be dishing out cash to Jenny Craig, but take a look at what you’re trying to achieve on a professional level, whether it’s in your own career, for your team, or within your own organization. Now, ask yourself: Do I keep spending time or money looking for a solution when I already know the solution? Am I looking for answers when the (probably very obvious) answer already exists?

There isn’t anything wrong with looking for answers to tough problems, and finding smart solutions is a good thing. But if we aren’t making progress, if we keep dropping the ball, missing deadlines, or gaining weight instead of losing, it’s time to ask ourselves if we’re making things harder than they need to be:

• Simple, clear messages keep priorities at the top of the list and your team focused. Whether this is for your own professional success or the growth of your team or business, focus on three dominant goals, objectives, priorities for your team – call these goals the “Vital Three.”

Write these down everywhere, make sure everyone on the team knows what they are and can recite them back to you. Do this at an enterprise level – put signage up around the office that has your Vital Three listed; use town hall meetings, company retreats, or informal team gatherings to return to the Vital Three list. When you start to get too bogged down, or find yourself missing deadlines or dropping the ball, as yourself what you’re adding or doing that doesn’t fit within the Vital Three. (And, if you find yourself overwhelmed, working far too hard, or just not getting everything done – have your own ‘vital three’ to guide your days. Determine which three priorities must happen for you on a daily basis, and watch productivity soar. Hint: Checking email a ton throughout the day shouldn’t be on this list.)

• Give yourself fewer options. When things seem too complicated, have too many steps, or provide too many options, we get overwhelmed and don’t take action. If this is you, do yourself a favor and give yourself fewer choices and less information. For instance, decide you’re going to choose three possible career paths, and stop considering everything else under the sun. Don’t underestimate how much this can help bring clarity - you’ll stop getting sucked in to every new idea that comes your way, you’ll stop wasting time and energy chasing down every idea that pops into your head.

• Sometimes, forcing yourself to ask simple questions – and demand simple answers – can do the trick. Consider the manager who wanted to raise the overall performance and productivity of his team. He took a few steps:

o Each employee provided a short report by the end of business each day which asked each team member four questions: What results did you produce today? What are your top three priorities for tomorrow? Any problems/challenges encountered today I need to be aware of? What do you need from me for tomorrow?

o Employees needed to spend between 5-10 minutes maximum on the report – maximum.

o Reports were submitted via email – bullet points, short sentences, and brevity were encouraged.

o The manager insisted on getting these from his team daily – no exceptions.
Result: These short reports added huge clarity for this manager – quickly, the reports revealed how his team members weren’t always clear on deadlines or how things needed to get done. The simple report provided a clear pathway to success – and was much easier than the complicated spreadsheets, productivity systems, and other “solutions” he had tried before.

Author's Bio: 

Elizabeth Freedman is an expert in career and workplace issues. She is the author of Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself and The MBA Student’s Job-Seeking Bible, and was a 2005 finalist for College Speaker of the Year, awarded by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. Elizabeth runs a Boston-based career-development and coaching firm; clients include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Thomson Reuters and The Gillette Company. To bring Elizabeth to your next association event or workplace meeting, please visit http://www.elizabethfreedman.com.