As a self employed consultant, and previously as a corporate manager, I’ve invested considerable effort over several years to hone the approach I use to getting work done, remaining focussed on the current task, and maintaining a balance with my life beyond work. This post is about the tools I use and the workflow i employ to help me be more effective.
Before I go further let me stress an important caveat.
Tools are only part of the solution (and not the most important part).
Imagine you’re hoping to create a wonderful dinner party for friends. For the food you’ll need good ingredients and a reliable recipe – ingredients alone (i.e. tools) don’t make a dish. How you put them together is equally important. And why are you having the party in the first place? I suspect it’s more about providing an environment for a fun social evening, and while lovely food may be a core component, it’s not the ultimate goal. Similarly if you want to become more productive, start with thinking about why you want to increase your productivity, and what the overall workflow you desire might look like. With this clarity you’re now ready to consider a shopping list of productivity ingredients. If that sounds daunting, I’ve got some ideas below.
Staying with the cooking analogy, you also think about how much time an effort you are willing to put into the meal’s creation. If you’re a novice cook, don’t attempt Beouf en Croute just yet – start simple. In the productivity world, it’s far too easy to waste inordinate amounts of time tweaking productivity tools rather than getting stuff done.
Finding the right tools to help manage workflow is easier nowadays than it has ever been. The increased efficiency of the digital age means the plethora of tools currently out there can be used with all our smart devices to make sure we all keep on track. Where it has become more complicated is with the number of options available. Many professionals nowadays readily download a new tool without having much idea why and how they want to use it.
If you’re interested to learn how I go about my workflow, I’ve just updated my own productivity Slideshare which outlines the tools I use to effectively manage my day to day work. It’s not perfect, let me say that first off, but it does currently works for me. Yes, I could tweak it here and there and maybe streamline it a little to make it even more effective. The upshot, though, is I’m happy with how it allows me to manage my workflow.
I use the Slideshare to help professionals work out an effective plan to manage their ongoing activity. All I ask is that they are open to some new ideas, think about how they could embrace some of these tools (or alternatives), and become more intentional in their approach to getting their work done. The alternative is that they keep working late and struggle to meet their commitments.
Designing Your Workflow on Paper
Getting the right tools in place that work for you is important and something that should be regularly updated and monitored. For all the tools that I use, I feel I need to have a clear idea of why they are being employed – they have to deliver a benefit that is good for my business and for me.
Designing your workflow management plan is a matter of asking yourself questions about your current practice: How do you handle emails? Where do you store ideas? What about creating invoices, scanning documents or tracking your time usage? What will make it all much easier?
My Productivity Kit Bag
The main components of my productivity plan are:
- A good list manager that is configurable and can be shared across several platforms. (I currently use Omnifocus, which is for Apple only. I nearly switched to Todoist recently, which is multiplatform, but retreated when I realised I would also need to change my mail program and web browser to make it work as I would like)
- Multiple integrated calendars that can integrate with the list manager. I use the native Apple calendar linked to my various Gmail and Exchange mail accounts
- A place to store reference materials that can support multiple document types and be shared. I’ve used Evernote for this for years.
- A solid email program that handles numerous accounts and can be easily searched. I’ve dabbled with many but find the Apple Mail the best for me right now. This is mainly due to it’s ability to present all my mail accounts in a single inbox, along with the integration with OmniFocus and the OS X operating system.
Those are just my preferences. The currently work for me. Your own productivity setup will, by definition, be personal to you.I’m not a bigot about any of these tools. They all have limitations, but I can live with that. If you have a windows platform you will want to make different choices. And if you’re more of a paper-based person you will make different choices again. But even with paper I would strongly recommend that you invest the time in designing a system that works for you – be that multiple sections of a book, different notebooks for different activities etc.
You can take a look at my complete set up and why I made my particular choices here: http://www.slideshare.net/PeteJakob/my-gtd-workflow-setup
I’d love to help you construct your own system if you would like some assistance. Get in touch!