Do More in Less Time:
Creating Systems to Improve Your Workflow

It seems like everyone’s got a system. There are time management systems, client attraction systems, follow-up systems, backup systems, and filing systems … you name it, and someone has developed a system for it.

And systems can be really beneficial for making you more productive at work.

But, before you start thinking about what system to adopt, you need to figure out why – or if – you need a system in the first place.

  1. Sit down with your favorite brainstorming tool. Maybe that’s an old-fashioned notebook and pen, or file cards. Perhaps you like to jot down notes in Word. I like a brainstorming software product called XMind (free to download, and available for both PC and Mac).
  2. Think about your workday. Write down every task you do on a “normal” day. Write down all the tasks you did yesterday, and the day before that.
  3. Review your list. Look for repetitive tasks … things you do consistently. Or those items with more than one step. Where could you add some “automation” or simple processes? For example, did you call or email prospective clients? What did you need to do before you picked up the phone? Where did you get their names? How did you locate their phone numbers? What did you do after you hang up the phone? Did you make notes of the conversation? Send information? Gather all the tasks — no matter how small — into a group. Depending on how many steps are involved and how often you perform the activity, you might want a system for it.

This brainstorming exercise should show clearly where it would be effective to put a system in place.

A system may be something you create yourself — a series of steps you go through each time you are doing a particular kind of task. Or, it may be something that someone else created — a software or web application that automates or coordinates certain types of tasks.

Recognize that there are some things you just can’t — or shouldn’t — systematize. You can’t really systematize the creative process, for instance. But you can create a system for keeping track of your creative ideas.

Likewise, if you haven’t landed your first client yet, it may not make a lot of sense to spend time right now creating a complicated client follow-up system, or an elaborate project management system. A simple “to-do” list is likely all you need at this point.

But you should put some systems in place right from the beginning. For example, no matter where you are in your career, it’s not too early to develop a system for backing up your work!

And, of course, as your business evolves, be aware of opportunities to add systems and increase your productivity.

Types of Systems Web Writers Use

There’s no one-size-fits-all system, even for web writers. We all have different specialties, businesses structures, personalities, work styles, ways of thinking, and life circumstances.

And, as our businesses grow at various paces, our systems need to adapt.

That said, there are certain elements that will benefit almost any web writer. Of high importance — whichever system you use should be available on all your devices, and should sync seamlessly between them.

Contact Management

You don’t need to spend a fortune on some fancy Contact Management System (CMS), but you definitely need a way to keep track of:

  • Prospects you plan to contact
  • Prospects you have contacted
  • Method of contact
  • Result of contact
  • Prospect follow-up
  • Clients
  • The project(s) you worked on
  • Project follow-up

When your business is young, your calendar and email may be enough to organize your Contact Management System. As your business grows, you’ll want to create — or find — a system that can grow with you.

It may be as simple as a spreadsheet or a shoebox full of index cards. Or you could go all out and buy one of the commercial systems. Just make sure you choose one that fits your needs and your budget. Some of the old standbys like ACT! and Salesforce are designed mostly for large companies. They may be overkill and they’re pretty pricey.

Instead, look at:

  • Nimble, which also helps with social media
  • AffinityLive, which integrates seamlessly with services you may already be using like Google Apps, MailChimp, Twitter, Stripe, and QuickBooks
  • Streak, which lives inside your Gmail

Workflow and Project Management Systems

A successful workflow system requires these components at a minimum:

  1. Calendar
  2. Task list
  3. Workflow tracking
  4. Someplace to keep all your project notes, files, images, and related material
  5. Optionally, you might want your system to include billing

A Good Calendar

You can’t take charge of your workflow until you have a good calendar you use regularly. Use a paper calendar, or draw one on a whiteboard in your office. I like to go digital, and in the past, I’ve used Outlook and Google calendars.

Recently, I discovered Sunrise.

Sunrise syncs across all my devices — more important now that I’m using Apple, Windows, and Android devices! You can connect:

  • Trello
  • iCloud calendars
  • Google calendars
  • Google task lists
  • Facebook events and birthdays
  • Foursquare check-ins
  • Twitter (to see the latest tweet from someone you’re meeting with)
  • LinkedIn
  • Evernote reminders
  • Github milestones, if you’re doing computer-geeky things
  • Eventbrite
  • Exchange calendars
  • And more

A Task List

Popular cross-platform task lists include:

Or, of course, there’s good old pencil and paper, Post-it® notes, or a whiteboard.

Workflow Tracking

I’ve spent the past couple of years looking for the perfect workflow or project management system. Until recently, I relied heavily on email — too heavily, as I wasted a lot of time searching for specific emails.

If your business is more complex, you may need an actual project management software solution.

I’ve used Evernote, Basecamp, and Teamwork PM. All are available in web versions as well as apps for Android and iOS, and all but Basecamp offer robust, free versions.

Then I discovered Trello.

Trello just speaks to me. I find it easy and intuitive to use. When I receive a project-related email, or an email from a prospect, I forward it to Trello where it instantly becomes a task. For a while, Trello’s only shortcoming, for me, was lack of a unified calendar. (They have a calendar function, but there’s a calendar for each board and no way to combine them.)

Then I found Sunrise, which links with Trello tasks to turn them into calendar items. Between the two, I’ve become unstoppable.

The personal version of Evernote isn’t a good project manager, but for $10 per user per month, you can move up to Evernote Business, which handles team collaboration and other project management tasks.

One of my clients relies on Basecamp, so I use it for their projects. Basecamp pricing starts at $20 per month, and they offer a free 60-day trial.

For certain types of work, I like Teamwork PM, which integrates with Dropbox, Google Drive, FreshBooks, and other apps you’re already using. It has a timer and billing function as well. The free account lets you manage up to two projects and unlimited users. After that, pricing starts at $12 per month.

If you’re someone who works well with hierarchical lists, check out Workflowy.

How to Determine What Systems You Need

Understand that a system that works perfectly for me at this point in my career, with my personality and habits, might be completely wrong for you, and vice versa.

This point was really driven home to me recently …

As I said, I love Trello. Not long ago, I started a new Trello board and invited my daughter, an interior designer, to collaborate with me on finding furnishings for the townhouse my husband and I were buying.

After a couple of days, I got a call from her. “Can we move this to Pinterest or Evernote?” she asked. “I just don’t get this thing. It’s not intuitive at all, and I’m frustrated trying to use it because …” and she rattled off a list of a dozen or more reasons why it wasn’t working for her.

On the other hand, she loves Evernote and uses it for everything. For her, it’s highly intuitive. I use Evernote sometimes — mostly when I tell myself I ought to like it and use it more — but it’s never really clicked with me. I can’t imagine using it in any system for getting things done — but it might be perfect for you.

Finding the best systems for you can take a little trial and error. But remember, systems don’t have to be fancy, or costly. And if you find one that’s a good fit, it can make a big difference in your productivity, your stress levels, and your quality of work/life. That makes it well worth the time to find the right system(s) for your workflow.

This article, Do More in Less Time: Creating Systems to Improve Your Workflow, was originally published by Wealthy Web Writer.

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Published: December 17, 2014

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