If you’re like most of us, each morning kicks off a never-ending to-do list. Chances are, from the moment you get out of bed until the moment you fall back into it at night, you are focused on something that needs to be done. Some days might be more intense than others, but every day you likely have a stream of tasks to get completed and processes to help you complete them.
Do you have a system for managing everything? If not, you’ll soon be overwhelmed (if you’re not already). That’s why efficient workflows are critical. The term “workflows” might call to mind a corporate business-person documenting a roadmap on a whiteboard, but in truth workflows are so much more than that. Workflows are really the act of carrying out processes and creating a system that works for you, so that you can get more done in less time (and with less stress). You can develop a workflow for everything from showering in the morning to accomplishing important work initiatives. The point is that there is an intentional system and you're not just going through your day trying to absorb everything that life throws at you.
Here’s some good news: if you understand your workflows, you can take efforts to optimize them. How can you reduce the necessary steps and limit the time spent on each task? By streamlining your workflows you’ll not only be more productive, you’ll have more peace of mind and time.
Related Post: Redesigning Your Workflow for Productivity
The Workflows at Work
The majority of people will have more “to do” at work than at home. Yes, in your personal life you have grocery shopping and kids’ sport practices and home repairs. However, chances are the tasks that you need to tackle each day change and you likely don’t carry the same pressure at home. At home, you’re your own boss.
At your place of work, you might want to pay a bit more attention to your workflows. That’s because getting more done in less time makes you a truly valuable staff member, no matter what level you are at in an organization. Whether you’re an intern or a c-level, you likely have an ever-evolving to-do list, and often other people are waiting on you to complete your phases so they can move onto theirs. Doing well at work makes you an invaluable resource, which leads to promotions and more money. Ultimately, isn’t this the goal for most people? So it’s a bit easier to be motivated to take things to the next level at work.
Here are some tips for optimizing the workflows you use during your workday.
Are you responsible for creating anything? Whether you send out weekly emails, pull together certain reports, or create purchase orders, chances are there are certain things that you need to create during the day. Have you created different templates to make this job easier? In the email example, you’ll find marketing email templates available in most email provider systems. Look for the same sort of templates in other platforms. For example, Google Docs has plenty of templates for creating budgets, presentations, even holiday cards! If you’re asking to create something, before assuming you need to start from scratch, see what’s already out there. Then, keep a file on your desktop with the various templates you have used. Save them with names that are easily identifiable and keep adding to the file over time. Once you’ve built up a robust amount, let your coworkers know what is available. This is a nice value-add for people on your team.
Automate whenever possible
A huge part of workflow efficiency is simply understanding how to automate. There are a number of ways to do this, but most of them are going to involve a software platform (at least to a degree). For example, a work order software allows you to automatically create work orders based on certain criteria, such as when a task is completed or when a customer calls in. There is software for automating marketing activities from email to lead nurturing and much more, along with accounting, HR, sales, and more. No matter what department you’re in or what your job function is, there are likely processes that you can automate to run on their own without manual inputs each time. One area that’s pretty easy to automate is your own email. We provided lots of email organization tips in this post, but one of the more popular ones involves setting up rules so that email is automatically sorted and prioritized. For example, you can create a rule where client emails are automatically moved into a folder at the top of your inbox. Or, you might create a rule where emails from your boss automatically get flagged for follow-up. Do you send the same response to different emails more than once in a day? Create a few different auto-responders and set parameters for when they are sent. Think about the ways that you engage with email each day and which steps you take manually. You’re likely to find a few steps that can be cut or made automatic. Even if the only thing you automate is your own email function, you’re sure to save a lot of time!
Simplify your paperwork
If you handle a lot of paperwork for your job, then you know how cumbersome it can be. Is it needlessly complex? You might be surprised what you can cut from various paperwork. Often, different fields and steps get added over the course of years and everyone just goes with it, rather than looking for ways to make things more efficient. We suggest performing an audit of your normal paperwork, such as the work orders or purchase orders that you normally manage. Information should be clearly laid out and easy to understand. If it’s not, then you’re making your job more difficult for no good reason. Try to develop templates that use only the fields you really need for the next part of the process. For example, if you create a client intake form, consider what information will actually be used from that form. You can always add more information into your CRM system or paper files later on. Review all of your paperwork and make sure it’s concise and to-the-point. Is all of the information gathered essential? You may even find that some necessary information is missing. Regardless, it’s a good practice to review all of your common paperwork once a year or so and see what can be improved.
Delegate some tasks
Delegating is an important part of streamlining, and many people don’t take advantage of it. It can be uncomfortable to give up control, but the truth is that doing so can make you much more effective. If you are spending time on lower-level tasks that another person on your team could accomplish, it’s time to pass the baton. Don’t delegate tasks where the outcome is crucial, but you can get some help with smaller phases of big projects. Is there anyone on your team who is eager for more responsibility? If so, sit down with them and go over your work processes to see what they might be able to take on. It’s important to note that successful delegation means giving specific tasks to specific people. There can’t be any ambiguity - colleagues need to know exactly what they are responsible for, and when items are due. If you encourage delegating, you can free up time for your whole team. No single person will be overwhelmed if work is spread more evenly. Plus, people with more experience have more freedom to apply their energy to more complex tasks and strategizing, which is best for the entire department.
Set the right priorities
Which things need to be completed first, and which can wait? Part of streamlining your entire day is understanding what your top to-dos are for each part of the day. Exactly when you choose to do these tasks will depend on your own personality and working style. For many people, they have a burst of productivity in the morning and then a lull around 3 pm. Others are night owls and tend to have a surge of energy in the evening, but have a hard time getting moving in the morning. Take an honest look at how you work and how you set your day up, and note your most productive times of day. In those blocks, make a short list of the items that you most need to accomplish. It’s a good practice not to give yourself more than 3 priorities - if everything is important, then nothing is important. Three is a manageable number to check off your to-do list. You might also do the same for your entire week, and then make sure these daily milestones align with your larger goals. This is another area where some sort of software can help. There are lots of options out there like Todoist that can help you organize and sort various tasks.
Spend some time each year going through all of your workplace processes and workflows. In particular, look at the results being driven by these processes. You’re sure to have more perspective in general, and you’ll probably notice some processes that are tedious, unnecessary, or redundant. You may come across processes that are bad for your budget, or that someone in another department is also doing. For example, if part of your company’s policy is shredding sensitive client data, you should look at how often that’s being done, plus the costs of paper and toner, and the time it takes to do the shredding. You may find that you can get the same result by managing everything digitally without these manual processes.
Use productivity software
In addition to software platforms designed to automate tasks, you might find that an overall productivity software like Shift can really impact your day. Shift is a desktop app for streamlining and collaborating across accounts and workflows. You can connect all of your Gmail, Outlook, and Office 365 accounts and manage everything from one centralized workstation, and then you can browse our Apps Directory, connect your favorite apps, and switch between them easily. Plus, you can manage your web tabs and organize them by account for a better browsing experience. Users can create a Workspace with the exact apps, tabs, and bookmarks they need, and even share it with their team to get the job done. Shift can streamline your entire desktop so that you have access to exactly what you need as soon as you log in, saving tons of time with opening apps, logging in and out, and toggling.
Related Post: 53 Workflow Automation Tools to Boost Productivity
General Workflow Best Practices
You don’t spend all your time at work - at least, hopefully you don’t! Throughout life there will be several processes and workflows that you complete, simply to get your normal day-to-day stuff done. Here are a few tips for making the most of all your typical processes.
Take advantage of automated features
Look for ways to use technology to your advantage, even in your own home. Things like automatic lights and door locks, smart temperature control, automated blinds, and high-tech security cameras are all items you can set and forget. You can save a lot of money by installing a smart thermostat for automatic temperature control. You can save plenty of time by having blinds that open and close at certain times rather than going around the house each night. Plus, think of the peace of mind you’ll have if you know that you can lock your doors from anywhere!
Use a smart device
“Hey Alexa, add apples to my grocery list.” Whether you want to choose an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant (or one of the other options on the market), installing one of these devices means you can use your voice to complete a variety of tasks. You can then connect these devices to other smart products in your home like lights or speakers. Research the various options and base your decision on your particular goals. Is it more important to you to keep a running grocery list, or to manage your TV and speakers? There is a smart device out there for everyone, and they can save a lot of time on annoying little tasks.
Speed up bill pay
Automatic bill pay is your friend, for a few reasons. Not only does it mean you can set up your monthly bills and forget about them, you can choose the date and amount that works for your budget. Plus, paying bills this way keeps a regular record of your transactions. This can be really helpful if one of your vendors says they never received a payment. From cable to daycare, most companies that you work with are happy to set up automatic bill payment with you.
Use apps when you can
If you have a smartphone, you would be surprised how many apps can help you with your daily activities. There are apps that can help you with everything from shoe shopping to budgeting to calorie counting and much more. Think of the activities that you tend to perform each day, and which ones you would like to make quicker or more efficient. Then do a quick search in the app store to see what is available to help you. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, you could keep a journal and look up various foods and calorie amounts and write everything down. Or, you could use an app that does all of that for you by scanning product barcodes. That’s a huge time savings.
Related Article: 15 Ways to Optimize Your Daily Workflow
Shift Can Help Streamline Work and Improve Productivity
Shift is an innovative platform that can be used for a better, more organized digital experience. You can use Shift to limit distractions, keep important context in your web tabs and apps, and increase overall efficiency.
One of the best features of Shift is that it eliminates endless logging in and out. For people who manage multiple accounts - for example, for those who use several Gmail accounts - this is a huge time saver and reduces confusion. Furthermore, you can easily access and store tabs and bookmarks in Workspaces. This makes it simple to have important tabs on-hand and organized by workspace, then bookmark them for quick access later on.
Anyone who uses online platforms will find Shift to be a powerful resource. With Shift, you can organize and manage the following:
- Mail - Connect all of your Gmail, Outlook, and Office 365 accounts and manage everything from one centralized workstation.
- Apps - WhatsApp, Slack, Messenger—we have everything you need to get it done. Browse our Apps Directory, connect yours, and switch between them easily.
- Search - Save time and find exactly what you're looking for across any of your Mail, Calendar, and Drive accounts.
- Chrome extensions - Enjoy access to Boomerang, Grammarly, LastPass, and many of your other favorite Chrome Extensions.
- Workspaces - Create a Workspace with the exact apps, tabs, and bookmarks you need, then share it with your team to get the job done.
- Account management - Toggle between your most-used accounts, check notifications and streamline your workflow.
If you’re looking for more free time - and who isn’t? - then it makes sense to improve workflows across your personal and professional life. These tips will help you to simplify and streamline all the processes you use each day. You’ll free up mental energy for your next great idea, and the time to execute on it!