Of all the troubles I’ve faced in my time as a professional marketer, staying productive has to be the hardest. In fact, it’s impossible to be productive without staying organized and having an efficient workflow set up. This is especially true when it comes to running an organization like a business.
That’s where the importance of streamlining your work processes comes in. And developing an efficient workflow begins by documenting the current processes you’re following to complete your tasks.
By laying out everything you do more than once in a work process, you can identify exactly where you’re wasting time and what you can do about it, and continually improve your workflow so you can increase your productivity and perform more consistently.
How to Streamline Workflow and Power Up Your Productivity
What gets measured, gets managed.
– Peter Drucker
Document your current processes
Whether you’re carrying out your tasks from memory or following an existing workflow, you first need to lay out the steps you’re following in your current process to complete your tasks.
This doesn’t have to be anything formal — scrawling down your method on a piece of paper is better than nothing. I would, however, recommend using a checklist app so that you have a solid point of reference that won’t go into your recycle bin.
Sit down (with your team, if you’re looking to document a process that involves them too), then visualize and record each step of your current workflow. Break down your current work processes and practices and record the steps you take.
The whole point of this exercise is to know where you currently stand, and where any friction builds up which will wreck your business’s (or your) productivity. As such, don’t gloss over anything you find, and don’t assume that a step is being completed without proof.
Remember: You’re not recording your ideal work process or how things should be working — you’re writing down what’s actually happening.
Fill in any gaps
Now that you have you basic framework, it’s time to start improving your workflow and maximizing your productivity. To do that, you first need to fill in any gaps in your current process.
Depending on the work process you’re improving this may take a little research, as you’ll need to know what you should be doing in the first place. To do this, search Google and Buzzsumo to check what the highest ranking and most shared recent articles on the topic are, respectively.
If the process you’re working on will be used by your team, make sure that they’re present when you do fill in the gaps. Not only will they be able to identify flaws in your current workflow, but they will be able to offer a second opinion on how to patch things up.
Again, the aim here isn’t to shoot for perfection — you’re just getting together a completed version of your original process, mistakes and all.
Identify the biggest problems
Next you need to highlight where the biggest problems during your work process can (and do) arise.
This can be a result of waning motivation, unclear instructions, communication breaking down, time zones clashing, you name it. If a stage in your workflow consistently proves to be a road bump to your or your business’s productivity, you need to highlight it and jot down what the problem is.
If you’re having trouble identifying any major problems, take a moment to think about what the entire point of your process is — your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), if you will. Then just relate that back to each step and ask yourself whether it helps to achieve that goal.
For example, the whole point of your daily routine is to increase your productivity by setting yourself healthy and productive habits. If, upon examining your routine, you find that you never have time to complete your morning ritual before work, the time you wake up is likely the cause of the problem.
Improve what you can
Here comes the satisfying part — improving whatever you can of your workflow. Again, this will probably take a little research, but you need to smooth out whatever you can while focusing on the problem areas you previously highlighted.
Let’s go back to the daily routine example. If your main problem is not having enough time in the morning, chances are you’ll want to improve by waking up earlier. Similarly, if you’re constantly burnt out by lunchtime, you’ll almost certainly need to be taking more frequent breaks.
Record your improvements in a new version of your process map (keep the old one – it’s great to see how far you’ve come at the end of all of this).
Test your new workflow
The only way you’ll know if your improvements work or not is to test them. To do this, you’ll want to create a test which is as close as possible to a live environment — think about the elements of your process and try to replicate any outside influences.
Based on the nature of the work process you’re improving and the situations involved, you may be able to go straight into live tests. However, if the risk is too great to jump straight in, do your best to simulate what would happen.
Once you’ve set up your test, work through your new-and-improved workflow as closely as you can. Measure your KPIs, then compare your results to those of your original process.
If the new process didn’t do well in your tests, go back to the drawing board, check that you’ve documented everything correctly, suggest new improvements, and test it again. Once you’re happy, it’s time to move on.
Put your improvements into action
After testing as closely as possible to a live environment (and succeeding), it’s time to put your new workflow into play. The trick here is to make sure that everyone who’s going to use the process knows why it’s been changed, how it’s been changed, and understands how important the whole thing is.
This is another big reason to include everyone relevant in improving the process — by getting them to “co-author” it, they will feel responsible for it, and are more likely to adopt it themselves.