The Five Steps of Mastering Workflow

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I recently purchased a copy of David Allen’s new book ‘Getting Things Done – the art of stress-free productivity’ a follow up on ‘Getting Things Done’ which Time magazine hailed as the best self-help book of a decade. The new book is rewritten from start to finish. It contains new perspectives and new data that validates his timeless admonition that ‘your head is for having ideas – not for holding them’. Allen’s premise is simple: our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax. Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organised we can achieve results and unleash our creative potential.

Over the next few articles I will outline some of Allen’s productivity advice. In this article I start with outlining his Five Steps of Mastering Workflow. The Five Steps work together as a whole to produce results.

The Five Steps are: 1) Capture what has our attention 2) Clarify what each item means and what to do about it 3) Organize the results, which presents the options we 4) Reflect on which we then choose to 5) Engage with. Allen states that most of us use this method intuitively when faced with a number of tasks. However, most people have major weaknesses in each of the five steps. And the quality of our workflow management is only as good as the weakest link.

Most of us have many things to do however, many of them are juggling around in our mind, on post-it notes or jottings on paper in different books. These are all weaknesses of Capture. All things to do must be captured in a To-Do list in one place. I suggest placing a small To Do notebook on your desk. As you remember something that you have to do – Capture it in your To Do List.

Weaknesses in Clarify include having things captured in a To Do list but not clarified exactly what they represent or decided what action, if any to take about them. I suggest To Do lists must be written in a form which states exactly what must be done e.g. Write AREA Article. To Do lists must not be one word or have vague meaning.

Weaknesses in Organize revolve around not having clear decisions on what action must be taken. For you to clarify the action to be carried out, you must make a decision. Take for instance you are confronted with an issue with a client – the client cannot meet the asking price. So the To Do is solve client John price issue. But you have not organized your thoughts around the issue, so you have not made a decision on what is the actual step. It remains confused in your mind, sapping your mental energy. Organize the facts and make a decision. The decision can then be entered clearly on the To Do list – Show client John another property.

We may not Reflect on the contents of our calendar consistently to keep tasks functional. We don’t look ahead at our calendars to stay current about upcoming events and deadlines and become victims of last-minute craziness.

Finally, if any of these previous links is weak, what someone is likely to choose to Engage in at any point in time may not be the best option. People have a constant nagging sense that they are not working on what they should be, that they don’t have the time for potentially critical activities.

The dynamics of these five steps need to be understood, and good techniques and tools implemented to facilitate their functioning at an optimal level. Allen recommends to separate these stages as you move through the day, concentrating on doing one at a time.

Over the next few articles I will continue to share the techniques contained in the book. In the meantime, practice your five steps, increase your productivity and so reduce your stress levels.

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