I’ve been thinking of pipelines a lot recently. I’m not talking about the water pipes underneath the ground into your taps. In data, a pipeline is a linear sequence of steps typically involving some sort of data processing, where the output of one step is the input of the next.
Given how my brain works, this way of approaching tasks is very easy for me. In this context, being linear simply means having one thing following another. Step 1, step 2, step 3 and so on. It means one big thing is broken down into many sequences, all the steps.
In my thoughts, I recently came up with the idea of the communication pipeline and how effective communication flows from one step to the other. But today, we’re talking about the pipeline of work or, I like to call it, the work workflow.
It came about because I was struggling to be productive recently. I struggled to get things done. In search of a solution, I wanted to find out how to organise and structure my tasks, similar to a pipeline, so I could have a consistent, systematic approach to being more productive.
Bear in mind that this method is geared towards larger, more time-consuming tasks. If it takes less than 2 minutes, it hardly requires anything more of you than to just do it. So, from now on, when talking about ‘work’ in this post, we’re almost exclusively referring to tasks that will take a while and aren’t simple or easy.
So, this article shares what I came up with: the work workflow.
The first step in the work workflow is to identify what needs to be done. While it sounds so simple in concept, I’m sure many of us reading this will know it’s easier said than done.
I know that picking a task when there are so many to pick from and trying to prioritise and consider dependencies gets complicated, frustrating and seemingly impossible very quickly.
For this step, you must find your own system that works for you. But whatever system you find, you need to ensure that by the end of it, you have perfect clarity on what needs to be done and why.
The problem is that it’s easy to say I must write a report or finish my coursework. And that is where I think the problem is.
We often lack specificity and detail in what we want to achieve and end up talking very vaguely and, in doing so, talking nothing at all. We often think we’re being clear and specific, but we’re usually just fooling ourselves. The more clarity you have, the easier it will be to achieve what you set out to do.
If I say I want to go to Birmingham, what part of Birmingham am I going to? I say, “I want to earn more money”, but how much more? By when?
Having that detail and granularity in direction will have a very big influence on the outcome. The more detail you have, the clearer you can paint your picture. What also helps is to identify why you are to get the work done in the first place.
Establishing the why of a task gives some insight and perspective as to where that single task fits into the whole narrative. Once you do that, you’ll find that even picking the next task is a lot easier because now you’ve zoomed out and seen how everything fits together into one whole.
Let’s take this blog article. I first establish what exactly I want to write about. In this case, I want to describe and explain my process for doing ‘big’ tasks from start to finish. I want to tell a story with it and provide real-life examples to add substance to it. I’m writing this article because it’s something I struggled with and helped me, so sharing it may help someone with a similar difficulty.
Once you’ve done step one properly, you should have attained a higher sense of clarity, focus and intent behind what you’re about to do. You’re ready for the second step in the workflow…
2. Plan and Outline
The next step is to develop a high-level overview of what must be done. Things as simple as hanging the clothes on the line or calling Becky to see how she is are not typically intricate tasks, so they don’t require planning.
But generally, we forget that writing that report, doing coursework, or studying for this exam has more parts than we think.
The body you’re in has many different organs. Your house is made of individual rooms, each made of smaller bricks.
Things will, of course, seem so much bigger and more complex when we look at them in their entirety. But break them down into their components, and suddenly, they’re not so scary, and you get to understand them to a greater depth.
Similarly, when we want to achieve a task or project, it would make sense to break it down into its components. The benefit is twofold. First, the task doesn’t seem as big, so we have more confidence in accomplishing it.
Secondly, it helps us recognise that the one thing we want to achieve is made up of multiple steps and/or components in and of itself and helps provide context.
Doing so gives us a high-level view and understanding of what the end result should all look like. It gives us a framework and a structure to build around and within. Consider this step the blueprint or the outline for the house you’re building.
When writing this blog, once I knew what I wanted to write about, the next step was listing the different headings and the main points I wanted to make in each heading.
There is an introduction, the four stages and a summary. I make bullet-point notes about what I want to mention or discuss in each heading. This gives me something to work with and provides a foundation for the article. If I’ve planned an outline properly, I should have a clear visual and mental picture of what matters and the outcome.
3. Prepare and Build
As you can guess, the next step is building your house and completing your coursework. Work and building will vary depending on the nature of your task or focus. It could be anything from sitting at your laptop and typing on your keyboard to searching for a freelancer on fiverr.com. It may be writing a new program or renovating your LinkedIn profile and CV for a new job.
In essence, this step is what we usually mean when we say, “I’m working”.
This part of the workflow is very low level and where the detail comes in. So, in the case of this blog, this is where I start actually writing the article. I will either use speech-to-text dictation and clean it afterwards or write it out from the start. But in either case, I’m using the framework and outline generated from step two to write it, going section by section.
Building can also be iterative. If, for example, you’re designing a website, this could be an iterative step. I might write all the text as a first step, then design or find the graphics in the next and then put them all together in the last.
If I’m writing a report or doing coursework, the first part could be doing research, and the next could be writing it. The point is the ‘working’ part doesn’t always have to be singular or isolated. As long as you are building each individual component and bringing the task to life and completion, then you’re good.
4. Review and Revise
You have all your components. You’ve done your research. You’ve written the article. You’ve built the house. The final part that is often forgotten but arguably the most important is the consolidation and review.
This is about auditing your work on the steps taken. It’s to ensure that the end result matches the initial idea. It is to reconcile reality with intention.
Again, depending on the nature of the work, this can either be a final consolidation or a check that can be an interactive revising and review process. The whole point of this point is to finalise your work and assure quality.
In the case of this blog, this final step for me was reading through my work again. It was putting the whole post through Grammarly and checking for grammar, syntax, diction and nuances in my writing. It means ensuring that the message I want to convey has been communicated effectively and that I haven’t strayed from the focus. It also included editing the excerpt, improving the on-page SEO and uploading it to the website you’re reading on now.
If I’m on a project at work, this stage looks like testing my code to ensure it’s functional and fixing any bugs if necessary. It looks like showing my dashboard to the stakeholders for their approval, and in both cases, it is deployed.
The key to this part is quality. To audit, validate and check your work properly, you must detach yourself and become objective. It’s easy for us to be biased because it’s our work, so we are more likely to pass it off as acceptable and good. We turn a blind eye to mistakes and inconsistencies. But in doing so, we haven’t given ourselves all the work for justice it deserves and end up compromising the end product.
In conclusion, that is the linear process I adopt whenever I do any major work. It ensures consistent quality and a methodical approach to achieve what needs to be done, regardless of its nature. It helps me eliminate confusion, ensure clarity, and ensure quality.
If you’re struggling with getting things done, whether for school or work, for your business or even in your personal life, try this workflow, and hopefully, you’ll see the improved flow in your work…