The Missing System
Here’s something that baffles me: the fact that most companies don’t invest in helping their employees develop effective workflow systems.
(It’s probably worth taking a moment here for definitions: When I say “workflow system,” I mean a set of habits and tools used to organize what work you do and when you do it. And when I say “effective,” I’m referring to the amount of value you produce.)
Most people don’t dedicate much thought to such systems. The default, instead, is to run your day as a reaction to events and deadlines on your calendar, an inconsistently referenced task list, and, most of all, the flux coursing through your inbox.
As productivity nerds know, however, there are much more effective ways to get important things done.
Full Horizon Planning
Consider my own workflow system (evolved over a decade of close scrutiny). I call it full horizon planning.
The motivating philosophy here is simple: every project I’m obligated to complete has two states, dormant or active; if it’s dormant, it’s tracked somewhere that is regularly reviewed (so I won’t forget), and once I make it active — and this is the important part — I make a plan for how and when the whole thing will be completed.
To pull this off, this plan must exist at multiple levels of refining granularity. That is, on the monthly level, I know what weeks I will work on the project, and only when I get to those weeks do I plan out what days I will work on it, and only when I get to the specific days do I figure out which hours it will consume.
These plans, of course, change as things unfold, but the point is that I don’t deal in abstractions, I like to work directly with the brute physicality of time. This makes sure I get the most out of the cycles I have available, and it prevents me from committing to more than is feasible.
This workflow system requires more upfront investment of mental energy than lurching from deadline to deadline, and it certainly wouldn’t work for all types of jobs, but it’s a major factor in my ability to consistently move ideas from conception to completion, and do so while rarely working past five.
To summarize, a good workflow system can (I suspect) at least double the amount of value the average employee produces. And yet, we rarely see much emphasis placed on optimizing this piece of the professional puzzle.
This smells like a big open opportunity to me.