When it comes to feeling overwhelmed, the simplest productivity tip is to think about what value is added to your tasks. Companies and factories use these ideas to regularly cut the excess. They save time, money, and up production… so, let’s get into the value-added mindset too!

Simplify it all with Value Added Tasks Transcript

Welcome back to extra credit episodes of the Simple Systems with Sam podcast. 

We took a little break there for a hot minute. Honestly, the reason we’re back right now is because of such huge technical issues that came with posting the last episode: Part one of Essentialism summary. 

I had this idea of what I wanted to talk about before I decided to summarize essentialism. It just goes so well with part one that I figured I owe everybody a bonus episode. 

So here is our value added episode, literally. We are going to talk all about things that are adding value, and things that we need to prioritize, because they matter. 

I’m not going to say that the podcast isn’t value-added. If you’re listening to it, I hope you enjoy it. I hope that you get value from it. I did have to cut back on these extra credit episodes, because for me, things just haven’t been feeling good. Not for the podcast, but for all these other things I have in motion right now.

I have been struggling a little bit, and I have known that I need to cut back. 

As I feel the burnout start creeping in, one of the first things I do is use this tool from companies. So let’s talk about this whole value added approach. 

Value Added Approach

Companies will look at a process they do, and look only at the steps that add value to their bottom line. What steps are necessary to get to the end goal? This is either a production quota, maybe monetary goals, or maybe budget cuts. They need to decide what is bringing value to the company as a whole. Then start cutting the fluff of what’s left. This is how they become a lean system.

Lean Six Sigma is one of those things that I could just nerd out about all day, but it’s basically continuously cutting fluff until you get to the things that really only matter. 

From the book, Essentialism, they talked about the Pareto Rule. This rule is that 80% of the outcomes that you achieve come from only 20% of the work. They kept mentioning over and over again that you want to be in charge of your own schedule. You want to be in charge of the things that you do and how you spend your time. Because if you aren’t in charge, somebody else is leading your life. That is not a good feeling. 

When you start to feel like things are just too much and too heavy, we need to start cutting back. We need to know what things we have to do, so that we can still maintain a semblance of normality and things that are going well. Without pushing ourselves over the edge with things that really don’t add value to our lives. 

These can be big things, small things, but using that idea from the book, and assessing what you’re doing in your everyday life…what things are actually bringing you a step closer to your goals, and what things aren’t? 

Find Your Root Goal

Thinking back to the root cause analysis episode, we are going to do something similar for step one of this. Find your root goal. The bare bones, basic goal that you have whenever you’re starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed with the situation that you’re in, and what you are working on. 

For example, if you are working on a note packet, and have to get it done before you can go to sleep, otherwise your students literally will have no clue what’s going on. You know that doodle notes work really well, but there is just so much to go through. You could ask yourself, “At the bare essence, what is the point of giving my students a note packet?” You may come to a conclusion that there really is no point. 

For me, the main point is that I can point them to exactly which page the notes are that we need to refer to. When they have an open note quiz, I can tell them to get the page with the title they need. As I say that in my head, and realize that is really the bare bones goal…then all I have to include on my notes is a title. I give them a Cornell note layout, type a title in, and I print that off to use as our note page. 

I used to add all of these clip arts, do a rough layout of how I thought everything was going to fit ahead of time, and try to type in things. 

My way of taking notes was always a little bit different than the way they wanted to take the notes. The spacing never quite worked out and it just became more of a headache. 

That is actually how I made the shift into sketchnoting because the spacing I prepared was never quite right. The doodle notes got in the way sometimes, especially as I was creating them myself. 

Instead, we would just add sketches into our notes as we took them. Students could copy that down, and it has worked amazingly. 

If you are interested in my sketchnoting journey, and how you can implement it in your classroom, go ahead and make sure you’re on my email list, because this summer, I have a special surprise coming for you. And there may be a leaked preview or two if you’re on my email list. 

But that’s how I started getting into sketchnoting. That’s how I simplified it. I realized that I was going way too far with my notes. I was spending way too much time on them. 

Instead, my very first year I had this epiphany. My main goal was just to have a title on it. I literally had a Sharpie, and during passing period before my classes came in (because remember, I had seven preps that first year, so there was no other extra time to get any of this ready), I would create a Sharpie doodle note or a Sharpie Cornell note page, and I would put the title on. Maybe I would put one or two drawings myself on there, and it took me 30 seconds. 

You know how long a pre-printed, well-designed note packet could take? Probably close to an hour for a few pages because I was overanalyzing so much. The root point of it was that we just needed to have a place where I could have them all reference the same set of notes. 

I had to do a root cause analysis to figure out what exactly was going to add value to what my problem was, and wipe every other step out. Tear it all back to the bare basics and what I needed.

Based on the energy and time that I have, I can add different steps back in.  

Maybe I pre-layout the notes, and I can add in a doodle or two extra, but maybe I can’t, and I just put a title and we sketch along with each other. Maybe I can type up a whole chart of where all their equations and things are going and how it should all be laid out. But if I don’t, they can draw that in themselves too. 

You want to get back to the bare bones basics, so that you can decide what you can handle from there. But you’re still accomplishing the goal. 

Is it getting you to your production number? Saving you time? Is it still producing the same financial outcome? That’s what companies are going to look at, and that’s what we should be looking at in our lives too. 

If you start analyzing the things in your day, just like the book had said, trying to decide what is worth your time that you can dictate where your time goes instead of somebody else, you can also dictate the quality and amount of time you put into different things so that you are adding value to your personal goal set. 

What is going to help you move forward and what is not? 

As you ask yourself this throughout your day when you feel overwhelmed, even in the slightest, or if you feel like maybe you’re spending too much time on something and you have that inkling of a thought in the back of your mind…stop and ask yourself, “Where am I adding value? And where am I spending an extra 35 minutes scrolling through these files in a Facebook group for my teaching subject, and losing time to something that I don’t need to do right now.” 

Value Added Tasks for Teaching

You can do these value added tasks for all areas. Let’s do a couple for teaching. 

Teaching: lesson planning for sure. I think people can definitely over plan. We tend to over-prep for some things.

Science teachers, we can find simpler ways to do most labs and most demonstrations. Do we like to add a little bit of flair? We sure do. Does it take so much longer to prep and clean up, and potentially cause anxiety depending on what you let your students do? Yes, all those, too.

So if you don’t have the time, or the ability to set it up, find an alternative. 

Just the other day, my physics classes were studying momentum. I could have set up the motion cars, and we could have pulled up all of our laptops, and got all the sensors out to do momentum. But you know what we did, we grabbed some meter sticks, some balls and we bounced them. And it worked just as well. 

We could spend more time together making sure that the root of it (which is the math and the concept or solidifying it) was being found. Rather than trying to figure out how we set up the cars, make sure all of our things are pointing in the right way, and the sensors were working correctly. We did what we needed to do, and rolled it back to the bare bones and we still had the value added that was necessary.  

Value Added Tasks at Home

At home we can do the same thing and go overboard with some of the simplest stuff. 

I was actually just Googling earlier today, Happy Birthday inflatables for my front yard that. Something that can just be pulled out every birthday. My kids love those cute little yard signs when they see them in other people’s yards. I know that I want them to feel special, and I do want to make a big deal of their birthdays. 

Well, we’ve got a two year old birthday coming up. I don’t want to put all those yard sticks into my yard just for them to get rained on and really only used once. So you know what? Let me just decide that I am going to get an inflatable. And this special inflatable is going to be put out every single birthday. And then we’re done. That’s it, I’m not doing any more. 

I was trying to reel back to the bare bones minimum. Because again, my headspace lately has not been in the extreme. I know that it would add value for me feeling like I was celebrating my kid’s birthday to the level that I want them to be excited for. 


Meals are another one that we really need to think about value-added. Especially when we feel like we are in a time crunch. 

What is the important part of a meal? Yes, you can talk about nutrients, if it’s well balanced, and if that is important to you…1,000% go for that. If that is where your value feels added, do that. 

For me, my main goal is that I put food on a plate and we sit and we hang out as a family. My kids half the time, even if they love the meal, won’t even touch it. So I am going to be buying tons and tons of mac and cheese. I will put other healthy options on there with them, but if I don’t have the time to just invent a new dinner from scratch I hope they might try, or cut all of their food into fun little shapes, that’s not value added. 

The only goal is that they have the option to eat food that is put in front of them. And if they do it, that’s just an extra success. 

For me and my husband, there has probably been too much DoorDashing since we moved to an area with DoorDash. But if I have the energy, one day each week, I can meal-prep for large meals, and that will pull us through the whole week. 

It doesn’t have to be fresh. I’m probably steaming broccoli in the microwave, or I’m making seven pounds worth of meatloaf all at once, but that’s all the goal comes down to…is that we have (as adults) a semi balanced meal that we can eat whenever we need it. So that goal is accomplished. 

Home Cleaning

At home I think we sometimes worry too much about the cleanliness of our home. I don’t know if when it comes down to it any of us really care about having an overly tidied house. 

I know that the news broke not too long ago about Marie Kondo giving up on keeping a tidy house now that she has three kids, and I am not mad at her. Before I had three kids, I also would have thought that I could keep my house as tidy as she intended. However, that’s not happening anymore. 

I like my house to be lived in and to have adventures. I like it when my almost two year old is pulling all the books off the shelf to flip through. He’s just reading them to himself, babbling away, flipping through page after page, pulling another book out. It’s adorable. 

It’s also a disaster by my bookshelves, but I’m not going to stop that. My goal is not that the house is picture perfect ready for when anybody stops by because the people that are stopping by…they better know how we’re going to live. 

Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves that we need to vacuum, mop, and make sure our counters are always cleared. Every once in a while I will definitely clear my counters. Having systems to make things easier to put away and know where they go does make that a lot faster. But if I roll back to what the goal is, the goal is that we just live in our house happily. As long as we’re not growing mold on our floors, we are pretty good how it is.

Value Added Tasks in Our Personal Lives

Taking a look at what it’s adding value is worth it. And this comes to when you can say no to things in your personal life. Saying no to events, or to invitations because it is not going to add value for you. 

There are so many things that we do because we want to feel like we are going that extra step. We unconsciously are already going that extra step too many times. 

Well, here I am to tell you that that extra step is what is causing the problem. 

You can write up a worksheet in Arial size 11 font from a Google Doc and share it digitally instead of printing it out, and still be a good teacher. You can Home Fresh a meal, or order pizza, and still be a good parent. 

Sometimes you have to take a step back and see what is actually adding value to the bare bones and goal. And as you have extra energy, and as you have extra time, add on to that. 

When you go too far, sometimes it’s too hard to rein it back in. Feeling that burnout coming on (the baseline for the bare minimum that needs to get done), can become more manageable a lot quicker. 

This was like our lovely little extension on part one of Essentialism

I hope you really got something from this. Once you start practicing, I think that the concept of value-added activities, thinking through what you’re spending your time on, and if it is actually benefiting your life and your goals can be a big game changer. 

I would love it if you would share on Instagram @engineerdoeseducation or @simplesystemswithsampodcast, what types of things you realize are not adding value that you can cut today. 

And when you have the energy, and you have the time, feel free to add it back in. 

But for now, let’s keep it simple. Until next time. 

If you missed the last post, visit the link below:

Ep. 42: Essentialism Book Summary Part 1


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Keywords: goal, notes, essentialism, prep, cornell notes, simple