A Personal Workflow System is the Key to Organizing Your Life: Part 1

Do you want to organize your life for success? I’m talking about feeling more fulfilled and less frazzled, both at home and at work. If you’ve been trying to increase your productivity, but you can’t seem to make progress, the secret weapon you’re missing could be a personal workflow management system.

When some people see this phrase, they immediately think of software or apps. But that’s not what I mean in this context. A broader definition of a personal workflow management system is a collection of habits and behaviors for storing, organizing, prioritizing, managing and executing on all of your commitments, communication and information. It’s a methodology for  operating that empowers you with increased control and less stress over all of your responsibilities.

In this article and the two that follow, you’ll see exactly how a personal workflow management system can help you achieve more of what’s important to you on a daily basis, so you feel more fulfilled, energized, and productive. I’ll introduce you to the personal workflow management system I’ve created during my career in the productivity industry. I call it Empowered Productivity, and it’s a system that’s proven helped tens of thousands of knowledge workers in virtually every industry to feel less overwhelmed, overworked and overtired.


The Empowered Productivity Series

I’m excited that I’ve partnered with Sourcebooks to bring Empowered Productivity to busy professionals in bite-sized chunks via their Ignite Reads line of books. The Empowered Productivity Series will enable you to learn the most important parts of each module of this personal workflow management system in an hour or less! The first book in the series is Attention Management: How to Create Success and Gain Productivity—Every Day  which illustrates the foundational component of Empowered Productivity: attention management.

We’re happy to announce the second book in the series, From To Do To Done: How to go from busy to productive by mastering your to-do list!


What Is a Personal Workflow Management System?

Apps or software alone can’t organize all the disparate pieces of your work and life. They alone can’t help you become more productive and achieve your most significant results. No tool alone can be that solution. Something more is needed.

Just as having the best golf clubs don’t automatically make you a pro golfer, having the latest tools and apps won’t necessarily make you more productive. It’s the way you use those tools and apps that makes the difference, that’s why it’s so important to differentiate this system as behaviors and habits, not just software and tools. It’s also true that apps can support our habits and behaviors to make us more efficient. To continue the golf analogy as an example, a pro golfer will play a better round of golf with a complete set of high-end clubs than with one used club they bought at the thrift store. But the best clubs won’t help you if you don’t play golf, so the methodology is the first step.

Our Days Are Dynamic

If you’re like most busy professionals, you’re constantly bombarded with information all day long, whether from email, texts, chats, social media, or on Zoom calls. As we’ve learned, this is life in the digital age. A personal workflow management system is a reliable method for systematically receiving all of this incoming information and dealing with it effectively, instead of letting it overwhelm us. Instead of stressing over all that needs to be done, we can learn to organize our lives, both professionally and personally, to get more done in less time.

A good personal workflow management system takes into account the reality that, given our technology and the constant stream of communications, the nature of our work today is very dynamic. Our schedules, our task lists, even our calendars seem to change constantly to accommodate new responsibilities and commitments. We often consider them to be “unexpected” changes to our day. But the truth is that we know we’re going to receive new communication every day that has the potential to change our plans. Since that’s true, they aren’t really “unexpected,” right? So our personal workflow system needs to be dynamic and adaptive, also.


Distraction Makes Us Distractible

If you often feel frazzled and frantic, you’re not alone. Before the pandemic, two-thirds of American workers felt “burned out." No doubt the percentage is even higher now. If you feel overwhelmed and overloaded, it’s important to stop and identify the causes of your common yet undesirable feelings. 

If you’re like the majority of my clients, the number one reason for this feeling is because you are connected to your communication channels all day, and communication never stops. So the constant stream of incoming communication makes you switch your attention every few minutes. And that’s enough to make anyone feel irritable, flustered, and frustrated.

That’s why my personal workflow management system, Empowered Productivity, has attention management as the foundational component. Learning to control your attention will reduce your stress and enable you to be thoughtfully proactive, rather than constantly reactive. You’ll learn to exert more control over your work and your life. Instead of constantly reacting to the wants and needs of others, you’ll learn how to become proactive, and make more progress on the tasks and projects that are most important to you.

In the next parts of this article, you’ll learn about the other components of Empowered Productivity, and how to tie them together so you become empowered to operate at maximum efficiency so you can more easily achieve more of your most important results.


- Maura Nevel Thomas, author of From To-Do to Done

May 17, 2021
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