The simple things in life are often the best

The simple things, like a day at the beach are often the best
Barry Shannon

“I just find myself happy with the simple things” - DMX

I'm sitting in Donegal, looking out over the beach at Downings, enjoying the last full day of a little mid-year break and reflecting on the week gone by. We've had multiple visitors, but as expected the folks who got most out of their time here were the children. Three of my nephews (all under 4) enjoyed playing on the beach, crab fishing, eating 99s, swimming in the Atlantic (medals for bravery), kicking ball at the local GAA pitch and generally doing all the things that kids love to do.

The simple things essentially.

It led me to ask myself; how often do we stop to consider the benefits and indeed the enjoyment of doing the simple things at work, the pleasure of completing a small task, and getting it crossed off the ‘to do' list? Seeing your workload for the day actually and tangibly decrease.

Coming in and administering to a few easy tasks starts in the morning can put us in a productive and successful frame of mind for the day ahead. We've now warmed up cognitively and are ready to start taking on more complex issues, with a sense of achievement already in place. Equally spending some time at the end of your day clearing up bits and pieces can provide a sense of satisfaction especially if you have spent most of the day in meetings and seen little progress in the bigger projects you are working on.

Even returning to a few simple pieces of work during the day can also help us to refocus and centre ourselves while our brain processes the more difficult questions in the background. Reconciling your expenses or answering a few emails can help clear the mind and give it a break from the pressure decisions you have to make.

Don't forget that what is an easy task for us to complete may be pivotal for someone else. Simply taking 15min to check a spreadsheet may be all that is required to let someone else get their day job done, yet not doing it could hold up their entire day (and all the knock effects from who they impact).

Let's remember too that simple tasks also tend to be the ones that actually get completed. How often have we seen projects become unnecessarily complex and, where layers upon layers of additionality get added to the point where all the time is spent planning, meeting, discussing and reviewing while time marches on and nothing actually gets achieved.So even breaking up the larger tasks of the day into more manageable bite sized chunks can be incredibly helpful.

And finally: have we ever stopped to think about the impact small, simple pieces of work can have on the bigger picture? It would be entirely wrong to dismiss the effect simple idea can have on the bigger picture. Look at soccer for example, the worlds most popular sport. In 1966 England played Argentina in the World Cup. There was mass confusion over who had been booked, who had been sent off and the (seeming) lack of communication regarding this. The referee Ken Aston found himself thinking that there must be a better way to communicate to the players, the managers and the crowd the decisions he was making on the pitch. Inspired by a set of traffic lights he came up with a wordless yet highly visual means of telling players to either proceed with caution or to stop immediately and the red and yellow card system was born. A small piece of work, yet highly effective; now understood and employed in every country the game is played.

:: Barry Shannon ( is HR director at Cayan in Belfast

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