Every job has a workflow and routine. Workflow can broadly be understood as the coordination of tasks within a process. Generally, routines form around the way workers structure their day, and workflow forms around the way that workers structure their tasks.
In many cases, your workflow will include others, as information is passed back and forth throughout a company’s workers and computers. Workplace holdups will include lack of action on priority tasks, distractions, downtime while waiting for information from other workers, and slower processes that might be due to outdated methods or methods that have accumulated unnecessary complications and additions.
Even when you find yourself working independently, your workflow can help to determine your productivity and time management, as well as the necessary tools to get jobs done. However, it is easy for our workflows to become loaded down with non-essential practices, outdated methods, and minor time-wasters that we don’t notice because we are accustomed to them. Here are a few tips on evaluating your workflow and finding ways to cut out the waste to make you more productive and your time more valuable.
1. Keep an Activity Log To Evaluate What You Spend Your Time On
Activity logs force you to account for the way that you spend each hour as a worker. These can take a very simple but powerful form. To begin one, keep a notebook on hand in your workspace. Every hour, jot down what you were doing or working on the previous hour. It does not need to be a detailed summary, but should say enough for you to understand where your time went. Then if a task that you do often takes a lot more time than usual, flag it with a note that tells you it was “urgent” or “complicated.” Having too many urgent flags or complicated flags could be a sign of prioritization problems in your own workflow or your company’s workflow as a whole.
If you are then finding that too much time is spent on relatively unimportant activities, then your workflow can be helped by a better prioritization of your day and your schedule. For instance, checking your email the first thing in the morning can help to set you up for the day ahead. But emails that are less important to write can be scheduled for a later part of the day so that you use your early energy and momentum for more important tasks.
2. Make a List of Possible Time Wasters
Workflow maintenance will often require you to evaluate your organizational processes. Spend a week going through your normal processes, and ask yourself if everything is moving smoothly. Then, rather than trying to fix all of your organizational woes in the middle of the workday, which could constitute yet another distraction, keep a list of workflow upgrades that you would like to look into. Make going through that list a different priority on your schedule.
This is also a good practice for those who are prone to distractions. Keep a list of things that you want to investigate that might also take you away from your current task. Then schedule a time for yourself to go through them again so they aren’t forgotten.
3. Schedule Time to Find the Best Solutions
When you are done evaluating, your list should include anything that you consider to be a red flag for workflow slowness.
You might notice that you are looking up the same webpages, procedure, or data over and over again when you could easily clip it into a notetaking app. Maybe you are having to frequently convert files, either due to miscommunication in the workflow process or inefficient applications and programs, when files can be saved in their optimal formats to begin with.
It’s also possible that you are using analog media when you could be doing it digitally, such as paperwork that you will need to enter into your computer database when it could all be done online or through a computer. Or writing notes by hand that will need to be scanned into an app later. With a little research, you might also find parts of your workflow that you can automate to save time and energy.
When it comes to workflow maintenance, it’s also worthwhile to pay attention to the software you use. Does it need a simple update to help it run faster? Could your computer itself use a cleanup to load more quickly? Are you needlessly using many different databases, lists, and programs, when one program could do it all? Do you find that you are writing the same things over and over again in emails when you could easily compose a form or template email to modify and send?
4. Optimize Your Engagement
Are you engaged with your work? Or do you find yourself distracted?
When we are engaged with our work, we enter a focused mental state that many psychologists refer to as flow, meaning that we are able to put our energy into our tasks without noticing the time go by. This may seem counterintuitive after asking you to take a look at where your time goes and telling you to pay attention to your activities each hour. However, the focus that makes up flow is the same kind of intense mental energy that allows us to be productive.
Things that interrupt flow include notifications on mobile devices, as well as email notifications on our computers, idle chit-chat, and conversation that could better take place at another time, concerns and worries about things you need to remember burning up the back of your mind, browsing online, and not taking care of yourself physically.
You might also find that your engagement suffers from not taking enough breaks. Downtime is a necessary companion to productivity. This doesn’t mean shirking work, but scheduled breaks can help to strengthen your focus time and add variation into your routine. Just be aware that breaks which are routinely protracted or take longer than you plan risk incorporating waste back into your workday.
Personal workflow can have a strong effect on company culture. Ineffecient workflow and communication can incorporate waste that creates frustrating downtime and longer hours needed to get everything done. By evaluating and paying attention to how you spend your time, you can easily make the necessary workflow adjustments to keep you on track during the day.