Long-time readers of this blog understand the connection I draw between Lean manufacturing and methods for making knowledge workers more efficient. A key element of lean is the elimination of waste in all forms -- from the trivial (the waste of paper clips) to the major (the waste of repairing defective products) to the tragic (the waste of human potential).

A recent interview with Professor John Kotter in strategy+business highlights just how important the elimination of waste really is. In talking about Lou Gerstner's early days at IBM, Kotter says,

When Louis Gerstner first became CEO of IBM in the early 1990s, the company was hugely complacent. And he told everyone, “We’re going to win. We might not win the series, but we are going to win the next game. We aren’t going to take days off — that’s not how you get there. That’s not how you make big things happen. I’m not asking you to work 200 hours a week and die. What you’ve got to do is take all the junk that you’re doing right now — and trust me, you’re doing lots of junk — and get rid of it, purge it, delegate it, whatever.” Once you do that, all of a sudden there’s more time to pay attention to opportunities and hazards and to do that consistently, without fail and without letup.

At all the organizations I consult to, I see people hammering away at their jobs -- coming in early, staying late, working weekends, and still overwhelmed by the amount of work they're not getting done. Lou Gerstner's quote reminds me how important it is to look for obsess over the eradication of waste in all its forms. When you get rid of the junk, you actually have time to make big things happen.

What junk are you doing? Attending pointless, flaccid meetings? Engaging in a string of 12 emails that could have been resolved in a 5 minute conversation? Spending the first 10 minutes of your day at the office trying to figure out what to do (instead of actually doing it)? Attending to trivialities rather than the critical issues that need your focused brilliance?

Eliminating waste may not get you to Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Workweek, but it sure will keep you away from a 200 hour week.