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How To Streamline Your Work Flow

Time. Our most precious, non-renewable resource, so precious to all of us, and yet so often the easiest to waste. Where does it all go? If you’ve been wishing for more hours in the day the moment you open your eyes in the morning, here are some of our best strategies for how to make the most of your precious, non-renewable resource, and get more out of your workday.

What’s Your Natural Work Rhythm?

The first and most important step to bringing order to your schedule is to know your natural work rhythm, so you can structure your workflow to work for you, instead of against you. Are you an avid scheduler, but still struggle to get things done? You may be trying to work on a “manager’s schedule” with a “maker personality.”

In his 2009 essay, “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule,” author Paul Graham explains two different natural work rhythms.

The manager’s schedule is the most common, and the one on which most of western society runs. It’s the schedule of businesses and banks, a day of meetings, and tasks divided into one-hour blocks of appointment times. 

The other work rhythm is the maker’s schedule. People with a maker’s personality prefer to think of their day in terms of half-day and full-day blocks of uninterrupted time in which to work. A manager’s schedule doesn’t work for them because the constant interruption at 30-60 minute intervals not only interrupts their workflow, it changes the mode they are working in. A meeting scheduled in the middle of the afternoon blows the whole afternoon because the maker has to think about the meeting beforehand, and process it afterward, not to mention the time it takes to actually get to the meeting, and the reminders that have to be set for them to even remember to go. All these extra mental tasks associated with the meeting make the blocks of time before and after the meeting frustratingly short and are not enough time to accomplish anything hard. 

Understanding not only your own work rhythm, but the work rhythms of your team members is critical to team success. Makers know we have to go to meetings, we just ask that the managers understand the cost and schedule them strategically!

2 Effective Time Management Strategies

So, now that you know your natural work rhythm, how do structure your time to accomplish that daunting task list? Here are our two favorite time management strategies:

The Rule of 3

In his book, The Productivity Project, author Chris Bailey writes about the “rule of 3:”

  1. Limit your daily task list to the three most important things you need to accomplish for the day.
  2. Do the same for your list of weekly tasks.
  3. Repeat. 

And that’s it! It’s that simple! 

The Ivy Lee Method

In 1918, Charles M. Schwab, president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation ( the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in America), met with respected productivity consultant, Ivy Lee, for advice on how to increase his company’s efficiency. Lee met with the company’s executive leaders and explained his six-step approach:

  1. At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

Ivy Lee’s approach was wildly successful and is still one of the most popular time and task management strategies used today!

How To Manage A Project

Ok, so now we’ve got a handle on our own and our team members’ work rhythms, and a solid approach to our individual daily tasks and time management, but what about that bigger project with all the moving parts? Well, we’re glad you asked! We recommend using a project timeline, starting with the deadline and then working backward to determine the due dates for each phase of the project, assigning the tasks in each phase to specific team members (while keeping their natural work rhythms in mind)! 

For a How-To framework with our 7 steps to creating a realistic timeline, check out our article, “T” Is For Timely: The SMART Approach to Writing Your Proposal. 

Happy planning!

More Resources:

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

10 Tips For Mastering Time Management At Work

11 Time Management Tips That Really Work

The Power of the Three-Item To-Do List

The Ivy Lee Method: The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity

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