Workflows are the routine and repetitive parts of work. It’s basically what a task or project goes through from initiation to completion. You may not think much about how you do things around the office, but your workflow can, in fact, dictate how productive you will be during the day.
If you’re given free reign over your work process, you’d want to get the most out of it. Not only would this help you complete most of your responsibilities as planned, you’ll reduce your own stress AND have a bit of time to spare to help your colleagues. It’s a win-win situation. But what if you’re not sure whether you’re following a good workflow or not? What can you do to improve it? Let me give you a tip or two!
Benefits of an Organized Workflow
In general, a good workflow should increase productivity. Employees always have some form of momentum in which they carry out their tasks. However, a negative workflow will disrupt production. Issues will arise (i.e. late report submissions, delayed projects, miscommunication, etc.); and in worst case scenarios, this could affect the company’s bottom line. Aside from a smooth system, a good workflow also presents the following advantages:
- Efficient Task Management – An organized workflow will reduce the need for repeating unnecessary tasks. When you have spent enough time in the same process, you understand what works and what doesn’t.
- Accountability – When everyone knows what they are supposed to do, accountability follows. This will reduce the risk of blaming and pointing fingers at each other. Employees don’t have to make excuses. Jobs and projects move forward and are not stuck between departments.
- Collaboration – Allows team members to collaborate and nourish bonds in the workplace. A team that works well together will produce better results.
- Better Insights – There is a clear distribution of information. Information is not hoarded by a single department. The management can clearly see which teams are performing best, and which ones need more guidance.
Breaking the Process: Workflow Mapping
Freelancers are a good example of folks who must follow a strict workflow to get the most out of their day. If they don’t, they risk delaying projects for their clients, as well as time for their personal use. Creating this type of system and rigorously following it takes a lot of discipline. But before you can improve your performance, you must first assess where you are.
Here’s where workflow mapping comes in. Think of it as creating a roadmap so you know how you were completing your tasks each day. For instance: Say you are in-charge of contributing to an online publication. What’s typically your first step? After that, what’s next? Include intervals between assignments, such as times when you take breaks. After completing the blog post, is there anything else that you need to do? Who are the people you coordinate with? How are they important? How do you know you’re done with your tasks?
This can be done as simply or as complex as you want. You can just list your workflow on a piece of paper, OR use special software if you’re dealing with a large team. Once you’ve mapped your workflow (perhaps a different one for each task, depending on your job), you should see areas for improvement, as well as gaps of inefficiency. It is then that you decide the steps you need to take to correct inconsistencies.
Improving the Workflow
When you take on a lot of projects, it’s easy to get confused in the process. By developing your workflow and ensuring that all your progress is on track, you create a better and more efficient way to do things.
1. Shut Off, Keep Away, and Avoid Distractions
The first step to improving your workflow is eliminating factors that prevent you from getting the job done. It’s relatively easy to lose track of your thoughts while working, but hard to find flow and focus.
What are the common distractions that limit you from doing your best? Make a list of these distractions and find a way to overcome or at least minimize them from disturbing you. You can:
- Turn off your phone during work time.
- Block websites that are unrelated to work.
- Work behind closed doors.
2. Track Your Time
There are only a few hours in a day. To be a productive employee, you need to be smarter in handling your time. Work with a sense of urgency. Enforce time limits with each task – and follow-through with them.
The best managers allot time for every activity in their to-do lists. It helps them keep a realistic view of everything they need to finish. By knowing how much time the work takes and how much they have left, they can mindfully work through their tasks without spending too long on one task or another.
3. Use Tools
It’s not easy learning a new tool to enhance your work – especially if this tool was enforced by the management. But over time, you can adapt to it and eventually use it efficiently during your workflow process.
For example: a team progress tracking software like I Done This is great for groups that work online and constantly need to collaborate with one another (i.e. social media marketers and copywriters). This helps managers see who is working on what and what the current stage of the project is. Another amazing tool is Trello, which lets you – or your team – work on different assignments. Alone, you can use their app to keep track of ideas, save links, remember important dates, and make checklists.
Or if you are a team working on different projects at once, you can consider advanced project management tools with different views. They come with various view options, including a Gantt chart, to let you analyze the entire project timeline with resources needed to do it effectively.
Workflow tools like this is not only for tracking and collaboration. You can also explore tools that automate tasks so you can do other pressing duties without dealing with mundane tasks. Email marketing software GetResponse for instance, has an autoresponder feature that automatically creates customized messages for clients and/or leads.
Don’t fear automation. If you can schedule Tweets and follow-ups all throughout the day, do so. Think about the valuable minutes it’ll save you. That means more time to complete reports OR perhaps a quick coffee break!
Success Begins With the Right Process
Sometimes, an inefficient workflow is birthed out of necessity. There’s an urgent project and no one knows how to deal with it. So a quick, slap-dashed plan is born. However, if not corrected, it could bury you – or your team – in disorganization the longer it’s implemented.
Learn to recognize the subtle signs that could impede productivity. A good workflow process should help you finish tasks on time; and on lazy days, should allow you moments to help colleagues. It may seem boring to follow these rules, but think of it as tiny cogs in a machine. If they work harmoniously with one another, the mechanism can keep going.
Do you use a workflow in your projects or work? Tell us about it in the comments below!