How to Become More Productive by Using Workflows

For the longest time, I’ve told myself I’m an organised person. 

If you looked at my family, it would all make sense, my dad and my three older brothers all exhibit the same signs. Whiteboards covered in shopping lists and jobs to do around the house, typically on time to events plus an all but confirmed addiction to good stationery. However, when I would consistently find myself either in the throws of stress with college work or in a perpetual feedback loop of procrastination, clearly my talk of how organised I am and how I get things done was not matched to my walk.

Real depiction of me as I get overwhelmed with tasks

How could this happen to me? I’m the youngest in a long line of organised fellows. I have my to do list apps, my post it notes, you’d think with the necessary tools at my hands I would be the artist of productivity. Evanando da Vinci so to speak. However it was not to be and I was stuck in the perpetual colouring book of productivity. I did a self review of my workflow systems and I realised a few things.

  • There was too much complexity in systems I used for my day to day. Often these would be a combination of multiple productivity systems I found online or deep in Medium articles. Using multiple applications for work (three or more) was just too much too.
  • Things would just be too big or too vague for my understanding.
  • I was not catering for my unique mind, I am but the only son in the family with Developmental Coordination Disorder, or DCD and after reading a book or two on the condition, I realised I needed to create the perfect environment for me. Sure I could base my process on one system (only one Evan, don’t mix five in there), but just fine tune it to my mind.
  • This has to be fun. I’m a student in college who is on work placement and running a side business, if it isn’t fun, I simply won’t do it and will eventually turn into liquid stress.

Enter Systemist, from the guy who made Todoist

One productivity app I fell in love with nearly a year ago is called Todoist. It was found on my great crusade of productivity and it just stuck with me.

It had some nifty features which scratched my developer itch (conditional logic is your friend and I’ll tell you why) but I felt I never fully grasped it’s potential. If I could crack the code, I would be the equivalent Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars saying UNLIMITED POWER but as versus shooting lightning out of my hands, it would be many tasks getting checked off my lists.

Of course, only after at least two cups of coffee can task completing happen!

Amir Salihefendic is the man who leads the company Doist, that created Todoist. His own work flow is called Systemist which when I read the full article (which you can find right here), I realised that this would work for me and my own situations with just a few tweaks. I won’t explain the full system, the article does that brilliantly but I will mention the core parts of it.

  1. Take It Everywhere – Todoist is installed across all my devices, phone, laptop and desktop.
  2. Capture Everything – Whatever pops into my head, I will physically take out my phone and put it into Todoist. If I can’t take out my phone, I’ll find a post it or use my hand to write it down.
  3. Break it down into small tasks that are actionable – This is so important and I’ll hit on why in the next paragraph
  4. Prioritize – My craziness somewhat appears again when it comes to priorities but I’ll reason my madness with you.
  5. Get to ‘to do list’ zero – Much like my Inbox, nothing should be left at the end of the day. If there is, something went wrong and I need to review.
  6. Get feedback – Todoist has a karma system that gives you points and levels for doing well. I’m a gamer, so any form of “Level Up” is second nature to me 🙂

I love number three. Because what I’m going to say next may be controversial..

No one can multitask. Not me, not you, no one.

What you consider to be multitasking is rather just single-tasking ineffectively. Our brains are like the processors in our phones and laptops. They work on one thing at a time. Processors just work so fast that we don’t notice what’s called a context switch. If you are drafting an email and next thing get a notification on your phone that you check, that is a context switch and that is expensive in processing terms.

I personally adapt single tasking in virtually everything I do. This workflow helps it and I’d say encourages it. I’m going to show you now a slice of my single tasking madness!

How to use this workflow when you get offered a guest post opportunity on ANDREW AND PETE 😀

What better way to show off how I work than in a guest post where I talk about how I work! Below you can see a screenshot of my Todoist app. (FYI, I use the paid version!)

It takes me a while to get to this stage of having an actionable list within Todoist, however I believe what I sacrifice time wise in planning, I gain in single tasking effectively. Before the list appears, I have what I call The Prelude. The Prelude is the preparation I undertake before beginning any work. Normally it occurs at the start of the day and it might occur again at the end of any context of work (remember how I mentioned context switching?). Activities include getting changed from PJ’s (working from home life! 😀 ), to having a coffee, clearing the work desk, having a flask of water, muting all non-priority notifications, doing a quick meditation and picking a Spotify playlist to listen to music for the duration of the context or for the day. A lot of my more specific playlists will have around two hours of music and I’ll change tasks after a playlist ends if I haven’t already. I recommend Bonobo for good work music as most songs don’t have lyrics that distract oneself.

Next comes The Setup. I’ll use pen and paper here when I’m planning work as I find I’ll be quicker at jotting quick notes or physically drawing a plan. This is where I will also begin subdividing large tasks or objectives into far more actionable steps. For example this guest post had a minimum of 500 words. To me, the 500 words objective seems a bit imposing on initial thought, so I changed it into a goal of having four core sections with around three to four subset topics as paragraphs. I use labels to determine how important tasks will be based on their impact, along with a general organisation of what tasks are. The guest post is high impact because it can affect my business and belongs to my business so it also gets the label suvoken cloud. Finally it has a due date of Friday, so there is a lot of immediacy associated with this work load. The conditional logic I mentioned means you can make a filter that says “if the task is high impact and due today, show it here”. That way, you can truly see what’s important.

I will also identify any potential “suspends” as I call them. Suspends are tasks or activities that means I can’t go any further till this is resolved – blockers can be another word that’s used but I don’t like that word :). So for example in the screenshot you can see a suspended label on one task. This is just after I’ve sent the email to Andrew, Pete and Heather and it tells me that I should pick up a new work context while I wait. The task also has the potential to cancel out the preceding work (the topic may not be liked so I can’t write on it) so I should not go any further. Fortunately Heather got back to me super duper quick (Thanks Heather! <3) so I was able to go back into this work context.

Now the fun bit, The Execution. This is when I begin working on the job at hand. When I started, the list had an average of 40 tasks. When I start, my music is on and my windows are full screen. I have two monitors, my left is the Primary and is where I do the task, the right is Todoist with the list of work in full view. And honestly I just zone out and start working. I stopped to check the time and I’ve been at this workload for an hour now where I’m now 75% of the way to finishing the first draft. I was distracted by my phone one time (damn you Instagram!!!) but otherwise, I’ve been good so far.

Then last, is The Metrics. I judge how well I’ve performed based on what went well, what didn’t go well and where I can improve. I’m competitive at times, so I set a soft goal of having this all in the submission on the ATOMIC website by 15:00 today. So far, I think I’m making good progress! The important thing is not to be hard on myself, I know with my DCD, I’m easily distracted and can tire easily. So I don’t push myself too hard but just try to have fun by being different with how I work and seeing what I can get done in a short period of time.

Conclusion – I got this article done!

When something tries to distract me during work

Since you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume I got this article done. You’ll just have to trust me that it was done super quick, or ask Andrew and Pete when they got the submission! Hopefully this gives you some insight into having a great workflow as I think without one, it’s impossible to scale ones business. I have a few more contexts to enter for the day, some work that has been off putting for what’s involved but it still has to get done.

And maybe the thought of having 40 tasks in a list scares you, I’ve had lists with averages of 100 depending on the work. But remember, these are supposed to be super small and relatively simple tasks. I find that if I suddenly get into a rhythm of task completion and see that I’ve done nearly 50 tasks today before noon, that just motivates me even more to get more done!

I hope you’ve found this article interesting and maybe raised some thoughts in your head that were not there before.

I know that I’ve personally been so much more happy since using this system. Remember what I said at the beginning, I couldn’t find the right workflow till I found Systemist. Systemist could be the worst workflow for you ever! Take the time to search around for one that sounds good to you and give it a try. But if you do use Todoist and Systemist, I’m at 23,595 karma points so best of luck catching up to me 😉

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Evan Day is the one man operation behind Suvoken Cloud Solutions. He specialises in web design and cloud hosting architecture, helping websites scale out to hundreds of thousands of end users. With a smattering of other services on offer, Evan helps clients focus on what they know with their business while he handles the internet side of things. Evan is due to enter his final year of college after completing a nine month internship with McKesson, the world’s largest pharmaceutical distributor. You can find his corner of the internet at https://suvokencloud.ie