The work you do, no matter how creative, almost always has some repetitive elements. Designing and using a workflow allows you to do that work efficiently and effectively. It reduces wasted time, unnecessary decisions, and disorganization so you can be more creative and more productive.
Pay Attention to How You Work Now
The first step to designing a workflow is to simply start noticing how you already work. You probably have a routine you already follow; it just might be an inefficient or incomplete routine.
To make the most of your work hours, notice the repetitive tasks in your day and how you do them. Notice which tasks or projects take the most time. Notice which tasks require the most input, which are the most difficult to get started, and which ones you can easily zip through.
As you notice your work patterns, start making a list of what you notice: all the tasks you do, how often they repeat, and the supplies and resources needed to complete them. This information will help you to build your workflow in a way that maximizes your time and energy and reduces interruptions and frustrations.
Systematize Your Tasks
The next step is to take a look at the task list you’ve created and think about how you can plug these tasks into a system or a set of systems. To do so, you might sort your tasks into categories. The categories could be based on frequency (daily tasks, weekly tasks, quarterly tasks) or sorted by work area (writing tasks, website maintenance tasks, customer service tasks, financial tasks).
For each category, you need to build a simple system, which includes a routine
, a designated place
in which the routine occurs, supplies
needed to complete the routine, and a designated time or other cue
to trigger the routine.
Those four elements together create a cohesive, complete system. For each category of tasks, then, think about the logical order in which to complete them: this is your routine. The designated place may be your office, a nearby coffee shop, your car, or your home (you can also have more than one designated place, as long as supplies are available in each location).
The supplies might be as simple as you and your phone, or you and your computer, or might be a much more complex set of resources. The supplies needed will, by and large, determine the place you can do your work; the fewer supplies needed, the more flexible you can be in location.
Finally, what is the trigger that cues this particular routine? It could be a specific time: weekly tasks, for example, might be cued by the day of the week. Daily tasks could be cued by pouring yourself a cup of coffee every morning. Quarterly tasks could be cued by a reminder you set in your calendar every three months.
Stack Your Systems
The next step in a comprehensive workflow is to think about how your systems, created by category, will fit together into one complete workflow.
Many people find it easiest to conquer daily tasks first thing in the morning, then move on from there to weekly, project-based, or one-off tasks as needed. Your needs may be different; you can designate a day to tackle each area of work, block out time for each system, or simply move from one system to another as you finish each one.
A complete workflow incorporates each separate system into one, unified routine. Having a single unified routine reduces the time lost to transitions and repetitive decisions while saving your brain and willpower.
Your workflow is the way in which you move from one part of this over-arching routine to the other. It doesn’t have to be the same every day, of course; flexibility is built in. When you know the separate systems and how often you need to complete each one, you can adjust your workflow to interruptions and demands while still accomplishing the essentials.