Developing efficient workflows

A couple of weeks back I came to the conclusion that I simply had too many things to do and not enough time 🧑‍💼

This is an experience I hear many people describe. 

My first reaction was to look at what I could remove from my life. However I hit the uncomfortable place of not wanting to stop any of the activities that I am currently doing but also knowing that if I didn’t make changes that I would run the risk of burning out.  

So I started thinking more about my workflows – how I actually go about doing my work – and looked at whether I could improve those. 

In this post I’ll talk about what I mean by ‘workflows’ and give a couple of examples of changes I have made to try and find more efficiencies in the way I work. I’ll then invite you to look at your own workflows to see if you can make improvements. 

Wikipedia has a definition of workflow that might bore you to sleep, so I’ll try my personal one which is a lot more basic.  

At an individual level, I think of a workflow as simply a routine or process that you follow related to your work. So you might have a workflow related to how you handle emails, a workflow for starting and finishing assignments, a workflow for preparing for exams. 

A workflow can be assessed in terms of its effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is whether the workflow achieves what it is you want it to achieve. So an email workflow should help you stay on top of incoming emails. 

Efficiency is how effective a workflow is, once you take time into consideration. You might have an amazing workflow for handling emails, but if it takes you all day then it is not very efficient, as it uses up valuable time which is needed for other activities. 

Many of our workflows have been developed without much regard for effectiveness or efficiency. We do things ‘that way’ because we’ve always done things ‘that way’.  

However, once you get to a point in your life where the demands on you are considerable or you simply want to get a lot done with the time you have, you’ll have to start assessing your different workflows to see if you can find more effective and efficient ones. 

Let me give you a couple of examples from my own life to illustrate. 

Combining email/ calendar/ tasks – time management

I’ve ended up with lots of email accounts. I also have quite a few calendars and a couple of places where I track my ‘to-do’ list 📅. Trying to track them all in parallel was both time-consuming and stressful. However I stuck to my system because each calendar or to-do list had its own strengths. For example, I didn’t want to give up Google Calendar because I really liked the format and features. I didn’t want to give up Google Keep because it was a very clean list keeping system. 

Eventually it became clear that I needed to develop a single time management workflow, within a single app. I chose Outlook because it allows me to manage email, calendars and tasks all in the one spot. I can run it from both work and home computers and the mobile app isn’t too bad either. 

There has been a learning curve in getting used to features in Outlook that I haven’t used and some minor grief in giving up the visual style of Google Calendars that I prefer, but now I have a much shorter workflow (when working from my desktop) from when emails come in, to logging jobs and events on my calendar and building and managing a task list. 

Posting content to multiple channels ✍️

I manage a number of websites and co-manage a number of social media channels. 

Mentally it is exhausting thinking of what to put on all of them. 

However I realised recently that most of my websites and channels have a similar goal – to communicate wellbeing and productivity related information to other people. 

So I started composing articles and reflections and content in Google Docs and then deciding which of the sites/channels that content could go on. 

It means you are only ever working on a single article at a time, but that article might end up providing the content for 4-5 different posts. 

For example, this article, in different forms will go on a few of my channels. 

This not only helps keep each of those channels constantly ticking over but it feels good to see content have multiple homes, and when you can associate positive ‘feels’ with productivity-related actions, you increase the likelihood of continuing with those actions.

 

What kinds of workflows do you have?

Are there routines and habits that you follow in relation to how you study/work?

If so, can any of them be refined? Perhaps you spend too much time reading content, but not taking notes. Perhaps you take lots of notes, but don’t include any self-testing in your study routine.  

If you don’t have any clear work routines, might this be a good opportunity to develop some workflows?

One that comes to mind would be a workflow at the beginning of each day where you clearly define the tasks you want to complete that day and have them open in front of you.  

Another workflow might be related to how you handle emails. You could develop a workflow like:

Read email → identify task, event or resource → add event to calendar, tasks to task list and resources to repository → archive email

I don’t present that workflow as an instruction of what you should do. Instead I present it as an example of what it looks like to think about study in terms of workflows. You can develop your own, based on your own personal work and study hacks. Whenever you read about new hacks, you can try embedding them in your life by developing a workflow.

For example, when I was first reading Tiny Habits, I was inspired to create a number of the workflows that I now use everyday.

  

My invitation to you

Try developing a new workflow today. 

Even if it is just a really basic one like:

Make cup of tea → sit down at desk → open calendar → set 2 tasks for today → get started

You don’t need to get them perfect the first time around. Just be willing to refine them over time. 

I’ve been in the workforce for 15+ years and I am still developing and refining my workflows.

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