How Workflows Improve Your Productivity and Time Management.
This week, I take you through the importance of developing your own workflows and explain why these are crucial to staying focused on what’s important to you.
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Hello and welcome to episode 167 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
Over the last few weeks, I have been writing and recording videos on the importance of creating your own workflows. This was something I was working on during my end of year break and this week, I am answering a question on how to develop your own workflows using whatever tools you are using to help you with your work and manage your time.
Now before we get to the question and answer, I would like to encourage you to take my FREE C.O.D productivity course. Now, for those of you who don’t know, COD stands for Collect, Organise and Do and it is the foundation of any good productivity system.
You see, you need to be collecting every commitment, task and event somewhere you trust you will either act on it or remember it. You also need some time each day to organise all those inputs and to make sure they are relevant and decide what needs to happen next and when. And finally, you need to maximise the time you spend doing the work each day.
This course is my foundational course and is completely free. If you have already taken it, I would recommend, as we are at the start of the year, you retake the course as a refresher, and if you have not taken the course, then please do. It will help you to understand the basics and ensure that whatever system you do decide to use personally, you have a solid foundation.
Full details, as usual, are in the show notes.
Okay, it’s time for me now to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Joseph. Joseph asks, Hi Carl, I read your essay on workflows in last week’s Learning Note and wondered if you could explain a bit more about how to set this up and more importantly what to do when you have a boss and clients who are contacting you every minute of the day.
Hi Joseph. Thank you for your question.
Let’s start with the philosophical thinking behind the concept of workflows. To become good at anything you need two things: consistency and discipline. There are other factors such as developing skills and deliberate practice and we do that when we perform our work. But the essentials here are consistency—doing the same thing over and over again—and we need the discipline to make sure we perform those actions whether we are in the mood to do it or not.
This is one reason why morning routines when performed everyday work. They allow you to develop the right habits, give you time each day to yourself and brings a little calm in what otherwise can be crazy noisy lives.
So, what does creating your own workflows mean?
In their basic form having a workflow for your day gives you a structure to your day. Most of our productivity problems do not come from the volume of work we have to complete. Our productivity problems develop because we are not allocating sufficient time to the important things and that often means we are not taking any time to establish what our core work really is. When you do not know what your core work is—the work that you are actually paid to do—then you will find you are dragged off doing nonessential work that does little to move any of your essential, important work forward.
So, before you go any further, ask yourself: ‘what are you paid to do?’ You are not paid to respond to email, yet how much time do you spend in your email app each day? Now it could be you are paid to take care of your clients who generally communicate with you via email, but that still does not equal you are paid to check and respond to your email all day.
If you are set in front of your inbox for large parts of the day, what that means is you are working reactively and not proactively. You would be better off investing some time anticipating your client’s needs and addressing those needs before they even cross your client’s mind.
I remember back in the day when I was working with clients I noticed my clients often picked up the phone or emailed on Friday afternoons and Monday mornings and the questions were always the same: ‘what’s happening with my case?’
At the time I was working with four or five corporate clients and so I produced a simple spreadsheet for each client with a list of all their cases and kept that sheet updated throughout the week. Then immediately after lunch on a Friday, I emailed my clients the updated list detailing where all their cases were and when they were anticipated to complete as well what information we were waiting for. This had the effect of reducing the number of calls I received on a Friday afternoon and Monday morning by over 80%!
That’s how you work proactively. Anticipate your customer and client needs and address them before they address you about them.
Other things you can do is prepare a standard email your email to all your new customers and clients outlining your procedures and timelines. This very often deals with most of the questions you will be getting. This works whether you are working in clinical trials, real estate, law or sales.
Once you know what your core work is and where you need to be spending most of your working time each day you can then develop a workflow that you follow each day.
Now, my workflow has gone through a few iterations over the years—usually the name I give each part—but the basics have remained the same for a very long time.
I have a start to the day list which includes my morning routines and a quick review of my most important tasks and calendar events for the day. Once those tasks are completed, I move to my Focus for the day list. This is the list of tasks I have decided need to be completed today. There will never be more than ten items on this list and they are all important.
Why no more than ten I hear you ask? Well, that’s because realistically I know I will not be able to do more than ten important tasks per day.
These tasks do not include non-essential tasks, would like to do tasks or any new tasks that come in through the day. These are simply the most important tasks for that day.
It can be very tempting to fill this list up by telling yourself that everything is important. It’s not. There is your core work—remember, the work you are actually paid to do—your project work that if not done will result in delayed projects and any work that has become urgent.
By restricting yourself to allowing no more than ten items in this list you give yourself a chance to actually complete it consistently. If you are not completing this list consistently each day, then either you are trying to do too much each day or you are adding too many nonessential tasks in there and you need to go back and look at how you are prioritising your days.
The final list is your closing down list. This list is for the nonessential tasks and work or the non-urgent stuff that needs doing some time but has no deadline. It’s also where you have most of your daily routines—the routines that just need doing but do not improve your life or move you closer towards your goals.
And also in this list are you closing dow…