A Personal Workflow System is the Key to Organizing Your Life: Part 2

This article continues from Part 1 of this series. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and overloaded, the first step in correcting this is to stop and consider the causes of your stress. Following are several ideas to help you identify and solve this problem, so you can feel accomplished and satisfied at the end of your work days.

Being  connected to your communication channels all day means communication never stops. So the constant stream of distraction makes you switch your attention every few minutes, and that’s enough to make anyone feel irritable and frustrated.

The personal workflow management system that I created and teach—Empowered Productivity—has attention management as the foundational component. By learning to control your attention, you will reduce your stress. Then you can be thoughtfully proactive, rather than constantly reactive.

Your distractions and responsibilities likely fall into three categories that your personal workflow management system must be able to handle effectively:



You have an onslaught of commitments to other people. In addition to meetings you are expected to attend, you have commitments in the form of deliverables you need to execute in order to perform well at your job. You also have commitments that others have made to you, that are necessary for you to keep your own commitments. Often, your boss and/or team are aware of your commitments, so this adds pressure.

You’ve also got plenty of commitments in your personal life. There are friends and family members to see, and colleagues whom you’ve promised to assist. There are also all the responsibilities you have to manage, like finances and parenting, for starters.

All these commitments run through your head constantly, like a bad movie. Many people live in fear that they might forget one, even if they keep a calendar or daily planner.



It’s not uncommon for business leaders to receive 100 emails per day. If each of these messages requires an average of 2 minutes to consume and make decisions about, this translates to more than 3 hours a day just managing email!  Add to this the messages you are sending and receiving throughout the day on all of the other communication channels in your life, and it becomes clear where some of our daily stress originates.

Almost every time you respond to a message, a new one appears. You can’t seem to get on top of all the communications. In fact, you often experience communication debt, which is a term for the sense of anxiety caused by the constant feeling that you owe someone a reply. Combined with telepressure, the urge to respond immediately to every communication, it’s understandable that we’re all stressed out!.he subtle sense of anxiety caused by the constant feeling that you owe someone a reply. Combined with †the urge to respond immediately to every t™re all stressed out!



Most of the communications you receive carry requests for commitments, information about tasks that you need to complete, or just information you need to digest. Just responding to the communications is overwhelming enough, but then you have to figure out what to do with the information. File it? Delete it? Does it require action? Small decisions like these, added to the thousands of other decisions we make throughout our day, contribute to mental exhaustion. Even though these decisions are small, they add up and take a toll.


Take Control With a Personal Workflow Management System

Most of my clients tell me they feel like instead of their work being enjoyable, it’s exhausting and overwhelming. Of course, this bleeds into their personal lives. When they feel exhausted there, too, the result is the overwhelming stress and burnout that is finally starting to be taken seriously, a year into the pandemic.

Adopting a personal workflow management system is not about being successful. All of my clients have achieved success. The question is about the cost of that success. My goal is to help people achieve the same or greater levels of success in a way that is easier, more efficient, and energizing instead of stressful, demotivating, and draining. Empowered Productivity is designed to help you achieve those goals by teaching you new behaviors and helping you form new habits that collectively are part of a comprehensive system.

The first thing I ask clients is how they keep track of their commitments, communications and information. Most clients tell me they have some type of calendar, either paper or online, and they supplement that calendar with flagged emails, sticky notes, legal pads, dry erase boards, spreadsheets, apps, and a variety of other things.


A Single Organizational System

The first thing to know is that you need a single set of tools to store and organize all of the disparate details of your life. 

When you file all your tasks and commitments into one place, you’ll be able to finally relax and refresh. Your brain will be free to stop doing all the stressful remembering of all the details of your life and work, because that burden can be transferred from your brain to your single place. This frees up the brain space you need to unleash your genius and creativity.

I recommend that you keep your time-sensitive commitments, things that happen on a certain day and/or at a certain time, on one digital calendar. Keep your commitments that have a weak relationship to time, like tasks that you just have to do soon or eventually, in a digital task manager. Making appointments with yourself to do your tasks isn’t helpful for several reasons, including:

  • You can’t see the big picture of everything on your plate.
  • Because of the above, it’s hard to prioritize appropriately.
  • You can’t keep track of what you’ve done without reading every past appointment on your calendar.
  • You lose that satisfying action of checking things off, and this is not only satisfying, but research shows that we are most motivated by progress, so without the ability to check things off, we dampen our motivation.
  • The first person you will break an appointment with is yourself.

The Process is the Missing Piece

The tools are a useful part of a personal workflow management system, but they’re not the most important part. It’s the habits and behaviors you implement around how you use the tools.

When you develop the right habits, you perform them consistently and without even thinking. Right now you may be in the habit of writing all your thoughts and to-dos in a bunch of different places. But you can change that bad habit and replace it with a good habit of capturing all your thoughts in the most effective piece of a single system.

Watch for more important components of my Empowered Productivity System in Part 3 of this article series.


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

May 31, 2021
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