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Finding Your Path to The Perfect Workflow

Understanding how you work can lead to increased productivity, but more importantly it can help you enjoy your work.

I have a confession to make. I’m a workflow creeper.

That means I’m slightly (read: completely) obsessed with how people work. I’m less interested in the finished product, what I really want to know is how you got from idea to results.

I think this stems from all the DIY tutorials available online. I’ll watch two videos and see people getting the same results, but using a completely different set of tools or steps to get there. Inevitably, I end up trying multiple ways and sometimes even learning new skills in the process. I’ll scour over screenshots, software icons, blogs, anything that will give me hints as to how someone does their job.

Sometimes changing jobs isn’t the answer – sometimes we just need to change the way we’re working.

The other reason I’m interested in how people work? Because I often like traditional ways of doing things are outdated. I don’t think I’m alone here. Millennials are fighting disengagement at work on a grand scale. Traditional 9-to-5 corporate employers are having to play catch up in order to retain millennial talent.

Here’s an interesting take from the U.S. Chairman of PwC, Bob Moritz, who told the Harvard Business Review that long careers driven by the allure of one day achieving a title like “partner” at a large firm simply isn’t that attractive to millennials. But even if millennials are more likely today to switch jobs after a few years of trying something, sometimes changing jobs isn’t the answer – sometimes we just need to change the way we’re working.

Even though most tasks have a normal or widely-used path, everyone has their own unique way of doing things. Take blogging for example. There are countless apps, platforms and tools one could use to write, publish and share their words. But we don’t all use WordPress, some of us write in Markdown while others use word processors. I’m not advocating one way of doing things over another (OK, maaabye writing in Markdown), but I do think there are ways of strengthening or tightening up your processes, which can make things easier, and often help you get the job done faster.

Workflows are often considered in terms of technology jobs because workers tend to use multiple programs to complete a task — generally moving from one to another once they’ve reached a certain stage. A great example is a graphic designer moving back and forth between Photoshop and Illustrator to do vector work. But that doesn’t mean analogue tasks can’t be analyzed in the same way. Recognizing your workflow and knowing when to tweak certain areas can be helpful even if you’re still a pen-and-paper kind of person.

There is so much emphasis placed on the end result today that we often overlook the route we took to arrive at it.

1. Pay Attention to How You Work

Are you the type who scribbles notes everywhere as you gather information and then tries to cobble a finished product together? Maybe you’re email-driven, constantly looking back through messages to find instructions. However you find yourself working, even if you have your routines, pay attention to how you’re getting things done, then write it down after the task is complete. You can get fancy if you want but I often find a flow chart is the easiest and most effective way.

Make quick notes about how you work to pinpoint where you can improve.

Make quick notes about how you work to pinpoint where you can improve.

Doing this exercise forces you to think about the path you take to accomplish your task. There is so much emphasis placed on the end result today that we often overlook the route we took to arrive at it. If you’re analyzing a particularly boring or bothersome task, you will, no doubt, look at your workflow and uncover a chart packed with tedium.

Another common strategy is to track your time while you work. Depending on your job, you might already be doing this, but are you really paying attention?

There’s probably a tool out there you can use that will help you do whatever you’re doing, better.

2. Cut What Doesn’t Work

This is editing 101. If something isn’t working, cut it. Spending too much time getting your Word Processor to export to PDF? Find another way to do it. Having trouble managing all your social media accounts? There’s an app for that. In fact, I’ll put on my technology advocate hat here and say, for most desk-work, there’s probably a tool out there you can use that will help you do whatever you’re doing, better.

Even if you find you’ve taken the most direct route to getting things done, take a close look at how you do each step — are there tools you could use differently to help you improve your flow

To reiterate, it doesn’t have to be digital. I recently started keeping multiple notebooks again because I was confusing my recreational writing with my columns for The Reply.

3. Go Open Source

OK, let’s assume you’ve just discovered the tools you’re using to write all your social media messages are slowing you down; does it mean you need to rush out and spend a fortune on apps and software? Uh, no.

Workflow management is not just about getting things done faster and smarter

Today we have access to thousands of programs, applications, tools, apps — you name it. The open source movement has also given us access to thousands of freely available software programs and tools which are kept alive through the generosity of communities or developers. So even if budget is an issue, there’s never been a better time to use free software.

4. Stay Sane

Workflow management is not just about getting things done faster and smarter, it’s about adding enjoyment back into the daily tasks that you do. No matter how you look at them, some tasks are tedious, and no amount of tinkering with your workflow will get you any more enjoyment out of them, so in those cases, do what you must to stay sane. If that means listening to Wilco while you’re writing CSS, then let me suggest an album or two. Or maybe all that time you saved managing your inbox by switching some of your conversations over to an instant messenger can be spent by taking a breather on your favourite blog (might I suggest bookmarking The Reply?).

What are your favourite workflow strategies? Share them in the comments. I’d love to hear them.

by

Christopher is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. He has a fondness for strong coffee, good books and foreign news services. When he was five years old his father helped him raise a family of chipmunks over the winter, you should ask him about it. Professionally, he’s spent time as a technology journalist, PR consultant, and freelance blogger. Christopher’s work has appeared in a lot of trade magazines you’ve probably never heard of and maybe some you have. He has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Toronto and a certificate in Media Foundations from Humber College in Toronto.

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