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If you’ve been trying increase your productivity (your ability to achieve your significant results) but you can’t seem to make progress, the secret weapon you’re missing might be a personal workflow management system. This kind of system is at the heart of what I teach and write about, because I know it gets results. Here’s a quick overview.

Productivity expert Maura Nevel Thomas says you need a a personal workflow management system

Lower your stress with a personal workflow management system.

What is a personal workflow management system?

A system is not just an app or software. It’s your habits and behaviors for using all of your technology tools effectively. Just like pro clubs don’t make you a  pro golfer, it’s the way you use the tools that makes the difference. A system corrals everything you need or want to do in one place, from that email you just got to your long-term goals. Most of us keep this running to-do list in our heads. But we can only truly manage what we can see. And that means getting our goals and responsibilities recorded, centralized and prioritized outside of our heads. A system makes all your choices during the day part of a comprehensive process, minimizing the decisions you need to make, which helps you to avoid procrastination. It shows you the best use of your time at any given moment.

Why is a workflow system so powerful?

Our lives are full of distractions and demands for our attention. Without a personal workflow management system, it’s too easy to get stuck in reactive mode. In other words, you might spend the whole day dealing with emails, calls and conversations as they come up. Meanwhile, your most important work and most treasured goals keep getting pushed to the back burner. A system puts you back in control—you’re making the decisions instead of letting things happen to you. A system can absorb changes and new priorities, but it keeps you in the driver’s seat.

Do I have to use the whole system, or can I pick and choose parts that work for me?

A system delivers better results than implementing random productivity tips here and there because its parts work together. In my Empowered ProductivityTM System, for example, your calendar and your task list have distinct roles that complement each other. You can customize your system somewhat. But, as I’ve written before, there’s no amount of “customization” that lets you hold onto bad habits while still getting the results you want. A system requires openness to thinking and acting differently, but if you’re looking to make more progress on your plans and goals, then something needs to change.

What are the benefits of a personal workflow management system?

When you do commit to a system, your life gets easier in many ways.

  • A system organizes all the details of your life in a logical way so that you can access them and act on them easily. (No more wondering where you wrote down or filed something!)
  • You’ll lower your stress by becoming more proactive rather than constantly reactive.
  • A system helps you quantify your world and steers you toward the daily actions that will move your important tasks, projects and goals forward.
  • You’ll stop feeling that “What else should I be doing right now?” anxiety because you’ll have a clearer sense of everything that’s on your plate.
  • If you tend to procrastinate, a personal workflow management system will help you stop putting things off.
  • You’ll always be able to see what you aren’t doing now, so you can handle it or stop stressing about it.
  • You’ll feel in control instead of overwhelmed.

My book Personal Productivity Secrets: Do what you never thought possible with your time and attention … and regain control of your life can guide you in implementing the Empowered ProductivityTM System. And if you’re a leader, it’s important to assess whether the people on your team have a workflow management system. It’s the only way to accurately determine deadlines, allocate human resources efficiently, ensure realistic workloads for appropriate work-life balance,  and so much more. If this is a skill you think your team doesn’t have, you might be interested in training for your team, which will also incorporate whatever tools (Microsoft Outlook, Mac, or web-based) you might be using, or help you choose if you don’t have one.