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Remove Friction to Increase Productivity

Recent conversations with some friends have helped me solidify one of my personal “sweet spots”, a value that tends to drive many of the decisions I make. Some people are minimalists. Others are problem solvers. Me? I’m on a mission to eradicate friction from my life. If it’s not as smooth as it could be, I’m going to try fixing it.

At first I thought it was simply an obsession with frictionless productivity methods. An example would be the lack of OTA (over the air) sync in Things, an app from Cultured Code, the lack of which many people lament (and often ridicule) on twitter. It’s not that I’m disappointed that Things doesn’t have the same types of features that OmniFocus has – writer and designer Shawn Blanc has said it many times before that Things does “exactly what’s on the tin” – but that this feature’s absence creates friction in my work-flow. I want to seamlessly capture and track my action items, and having to manually sync on my home wireless network has made it impossible to be consistently – and efficiently – in sync.

I’ve also added a great tool this past year to help me better handle email filing. After years of working with a bloated nested-folder system, and drag-dropping each email into the right folder (sometimes taking a minute or more for each email), I’ve moved to using the great Mail plugin, MailActOn, available for the Mac. This handy little tool removed friction by allowing me to file an email into it’s correct folder with just a couple keystrokes. Removing this seemingly trivial piece of friction has bought me hours of time back each year. Maybe each month.

But it’s more than just the world productivity that has me obsessed with removing friction. As a designer, it’s my believe that the goal in any design is to remove the friction between the message and the user. Whether it’s a logo, a postcard or a website, the message needs to be conveyed in the most clear and understandable way possible. The more friction, the less comprehension and retention. And if the customer doesn’t understand or remember your marketing piece, your product simply vanishes into the chaos of their daily life. Design is about removing friction.

I have made it my goal over the last year to remove friction from any relationships in my life that might have them. Sometimes that means reaching out to a friend when I’m just not interested in having a conversation at all. Sometimes it means forgiving someone. and sometimes it means asking to be forgiven. Friction is found in grudges and pain and guilt, and those are toxic things to live with.

More and more, my mission to remove friction works something like this: ask what the purpose of something is, and then assess whether that purpose is being fully reached. If it’s not, what’s keeping that from happening? The answer to that question is the source of the friction. And once identified, the only thing left to do is attack it relentlessly and remove it.

What are the sources of friction in my life? It’s one of those questions that’s dangerous to ask, but incredibly enlightening at the same time. I ask it daily. And I encourage anyone I know to do the same.

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