Situation: The staff at a bureau within a large NYC municipal agency was struggling. Mayor Bloomberg and his no-nonsense Commissioner had raised expectations for responsiveness. But people had difficulty in finding information they needed, chronic interruptions undermined people’s ability to focus on their work, no one had an effective approach to managing the increasing burden of email, and most importantly, people lacked a process for consistently and systematically dealing with incoming work. As a result, work piled up and deadlines slipped. People were overwhelmed and felt as though they had no control over their jobs.  

Intervention: We introduced a comprehensive organizational system for both paper and electronic files that reduced the time wasted in looking for information. This enabled staff to spend more time creating value. We also introduced a simple system for dealing with the daily inflow of work, especially email. We taught fundamental work habits that created uninterrupted “space” for people to focus and concentrate on their critical tasks. Finally, we gave the staff a simple planning tool that helped them track their projects and ensure that they were moving forward.


Resolution: Post-training surveys revealed dramatic improvements: a 36% reduction in time spent looking for information, a 25% reduction in time spent processing emails, a 35% reduction of time lost to interruptions, and a 40% reduction in the amount of time spent working on backlog. The vast majority of participants (91%) reported at least a 10% increase in productivity. One participant said, “I am now able to manage discrete pieces [of work] better, see progress, and not feel overwhelmed. Moreover, I am able to spot possible barriers to forward motion better.”