Have you ever had one of those weeks when it feels like there isn't enough time in the day? You rush around trying to get things done and before you know it, another day is over.
If you find yourself experiencing this phenomenon more often than you’d like to admit — don't worry, we've all been there — it's time to reevaluate your workflow efficiency.
Your workflow is only as strong as the weakest link. And without a clearly defined and efficient workflow, it's impossible to get projects done on time. Let alone create a final output that you're proud of.
In this article, you'll learn how to improve workflow efficiency and supercharge your team's productivity in five simple steps.
Let's dive in.
1. Identify bottlenecks in your current workflow
The first step to improving workflow efficiency is identifying the weakest link in your workflow process.
Are you spending too much time with manual data entry? Or is it taking too long for your team to pick up the tasks that need immediate attention?
Start a detailed analysis of your workflow by breaking down each step of the process and measuring how long it takes, what resources are involved and the output's quality.
Your bottlenecks are the tasks that take the longest, involve the most people or produce the lowest quality output.
Think of bottlenecks as a kink in a hose. The more you have, the slower the water pressure. To improve the water pressure, remove the kinks. The same goes for your workflow.
2. Organize & prioritize tasks
After you complete the front-to-back review of your current workflows, you're left with a list of inefficiencies. But how in the world do you know which one to attack first?
Don't worry. There are a variety of different methods that can help you prioritize tasks and get on your way to optimizing workflow efficiency.
Eat the frog
Frog legs are a well-known delicacy of French cuisine. Unfortunately, this prioritization method doesn't involve a luxury meal.
In this case, the frog is the big task we tend to put off because we think it's too hard or too much work.
But if you face it head-on and get it out of the way first, you'll have peace of mind knowing that one major stressor is done.
And now, you can focus on the small tasks and knock them out more efficiently.
The Eisenhower matrix uses two dimensions to organize tasks: urgency/importance and easy/difficult.
- Urgent tasks: tasks with tight deadlines but aren't crucial for achieving long-term goals.
- Important tasks: tasks that contribute directly to long-term goals but don’t necessarily have a strict deadline.
- Easy tasks: things that you know how to do well.
- Difficult tasks: stuff you struggle with or find challenging.
Now you have a clear outline of which tasks are the most urgent and need your attention immediately.
The ABCDE method is the perfect approach for visual learners. This method involves breaking down your tasks and assigning them a grade, from A (highest priority) to E (lowest priority).
Instead of creating a boring black-and-white to-do list with pen and paper, opt for a color-coordinated action plan by leveraging free design templates to keep you organized, save time and allow for quick sharing across your team.
Chunking is also helpful for improving workflow efficiency by breaking down large tasks into smaller steps that you can complete in a more manageable timeframe. This method can help you feel less overwhelmed by the overall project and more empowered to start working.
Create dedicated focus times in your calendar to finish these small action items for the best results.
3. Leverage automation tools
Work smarter, not harder.
Using technology to automate routine tasks can help you save time and money. It also reduces stress levels, improves productivity and gives team members more time to focus on critical tasks.
When you automate a process in your workflow, you can rest easy knowing it'll run efficiently and with fewer human errors.
An automated preventive approach is vital for maintaining optimal workflows — no matter your industry. Let's take a look at a few examples.
As director of operations for an e-commerce company, you might use inventory management software to send automated alerts when inventory for top-selling products is low.
On the other hand, suppose you’re running the logistics team at a fleet management company. Then, you might use telematic and electronic logging devices to improve response time and minimize downtime for your vehicles.
Regardless of your industry, don't sleep on the power of automation in streamlining your workflows to:
- Improve productivity.
- Reduce human errors.
- Increase employee engagement.
4. Improve communication
Communication is at the epicenter of every efficient workflow. Without solid communication, the odds are your team isn't running at peak performance.
Focus on choosing the proper communication channels for your team, which might not always include email.
Zoom and Scribe are great for video conferencing and screen capture if you have remote employees or work in a global organization. Zoom was obviously a game changer in the pandemic, and Scribe’s the best tool you probably haven’t heard of yet.
If you’ve ever had to manually screenshot steps on your screen or stare at your face while recording a run-through — Scribe’s about to answer your prayers.
The step-by-step guide generator documents your processes for you. All you have to do is run through a workflow once, and voila: Scribe creates visual instructions with text and screenshots. Sometimes it really can be that easy.
And other awesome tools fill in any blanks. ClickUp can help keep everyone on the same page when working across different time zones.
Make communication a priority. Set aside time each week or month for everyone on the team to discuss projects, check in and share updates.
Regularly soliciting feedback from your team is key to increasing workflow efficiency.
5. Document policies & procedures
Every business needs documentation — but it's absolutely vital if you manage many employees or use complex systems in your workflow.
For example, you've recently turned to change data capture to help your team automate data processing from multiple sources.
Since this is a new process in your workflow, it might seem complicated since it requires a particular step-by-step process to run smoothly.
Instead of documenting this process by writing out every step manually in a Google Doc, create a standard operating procedure (SOP) for your process with Scribe.
Here’s one in action.
Now you have a standardized operating procedure that makes sure everyone at the entry-level is trained and understands the importance of this process in the larger workflow.
Wrapping up: how to improve workflow efficiency
There are a million guides on focus, prioritization, and other similar topics — but the truth is, you don't need to read all of those fancy publications to make a difference.
You just need a few small tweaks here and there — particularly in a few key areas of your workflow — to become more efficient.
Whether you're working at a Fortune 500 company or a small startup, these five simple steps will help you save time, increase productivity and avoid pitfalls along the way.
About the Author
Kelly Moser is the co-founder and editor at Home & Jet, a digital magazine for the modern era. She's also an expert in freelance writing and content marketing for SaaS, Fintech and e-commerce startups.