Work the Flow: Workflow Revisited

The Flow

I’ve written about workflow before, but things evolve and change as I learn better practices and techniques. Sometimes, I don’t even realize how much I’ve learned until I talk to others.  I’m over here, doing my thing, holed up in the Mad Lab, virtually scribbling away and strategizing how many commas I can pack into a sentence at any given moment.

First, a confession.  I have long been a fan of efficiency in the workplace. This is something learned from osmosis as my father was a general contractor and all around business badass. As someone self-employed, you have to learn to hustle. You’re not burning time down on someone else’s clock . You’re burning your own precious moments. Keep moving or you will die.

Heads Up: This article began as one thing in my head and came out another. I intended to get into a more molecular level discussion with the particulars of the tools, chiefly Scrivener, though the end results are significantly more philosophical and, ultimately, more important.

Embrace Efficiency

If you work efficiently, you have more time to do the things you love. Fly-fishing, buying exotic art, playing video games, or staying up all night binge-watching Orange is the New Black or, get this, work on your passion projects or do more of your work if your work is your passion without festering in the cesspool of mediocrity inefficiency breeds.

Now, having heaped praise upon efficiency, let’s get on with how I’ve continued to streamline the workflow.

Have a game plan. I struggled for a moment deciding what order to list my tips before I realized this was staring me in the face. Whilst I wrote the prefatory info and leapt into a few of the points straightaway, I had this light outline written, so it seems rather obvious it needed to go first. Whether it’s how I block my time out for the day with things like work on X until noon or try to get through the rules on NPC generation before end of day I have a game plan (or roadmap or whatever symbolic icon of destination getting strikes your fancy). And you can subset this as much as you need  to. I’m big on outlining, but my outlines undoubtedly don’t look yours or look like the ones required by my upper level English classes in college (which I often wrote after writing the papers using my own methodology).

Manage time. This is not the same as having a game plan. This boils down largely to avoid distractions. People largely claim that social medias are a distraction, but they are a dual-edged blade that cuts both ways. Social media is good to use to connect with others and best serve for water cooler moments. (I remember water coolers. I will have arrived when I have one in the Mad Lab, but it will likely be a largely lonely one with myself talking in different voices.) Distractions manifest in many ways. You can obsess over deadlines and commitments, what to leave in, what to leave out, and, heck, just listen to this song. (Or don’t. You might find it distracting. Part of managing time though is giving yourself permission to take a break when your mind is drifting away.)

Manage expectations.

Remember when someone told you as a kid that you’re okay?  Well, it’s true. Focus on getting your stuff done. Finding your rhythm. Marching to your drummer. And dig the successes of others in your field. Acknowledge it’s not a zero sum game and you don’t have to do all the things today and if you screw up hitting your marks for the day, you get another go tomorrow. Be firm with yourself, sure, but also be fair. Separate constructive criticisms from destructive critiques and focus on getting your jazz done. There’s nothing wrong with being externally aware of what’s going on, but take internal care. Beating yourself up with mind games can constrain and confine your creativity in whatever your endeavors may be.

Learn your tools.

A carpenter starts out as someone who can (maybe) hold a hammer the right way and doesn’t smash their thumb too often. I am no carpenter and struggled to make it through shop class (much to the surprise of no one).  It’s because I never got comfortable around the tools. My father was a carpenter long before I was a twinkle in his eye and tried to teach me to use a hammer, but I walked away with sore thumbs and a great respect for the grace and majesty of those who can work in the medium of the real. I, on the other hand, always wanted to pursue writing and to that end spent countless hours on his old manual typewriter teaching myself how to type because I knew it would be a necessity to getting my ideas down on paper. Word processors blew my mind. I had an affinity for fonts and taught myself graphic design and HTML and everything else.  I am still learning.

One guy I worked for was a District Manager and he summed up the thought so well that it’s stuck with me over twenty years later.  I’m going to embellish and amplify his points with my thoughts in bold.

When we start out learning any new thing, we are, in essence, beginning from zero. As kids, we’re game for learning new things because we pretty much suck at everything, so what does it matter? As we get older, it’s not so much that our synapses are slowing down, but that our precious egos don’t want the embarrassment accompanying the valley of despair, so we often end up not trying. Losing the fear of embarrassment is liberating.

As we enter this valley of despair, we are going to experience a period of being worse at what we are now doing as we are not only trying to do this new thing, but we are also learning how to do this new thing. We are multi-tasking which, despite being quite vogue for a while, has largely been disproven to be efficient. Try juggling chainsaws while herding cats for an example. Or just juggling. I can’t juggle. Oh well.

After emerging from this valley, we climb up into mediocrity and proficiency where we are about as good at this thing as we were before we started which kinda begs the question “What is the point?” The point is to get better than when we began. Riding a bike is more efficient than walking, except when you first ride a bike you are lucky to go three feet (two of which are likely in a circle). So it goes.

From mediocrity, you can then rise up into greater heights than when you ever began before you set foot on the journey. Most folks set foot into the valley of despair and give up after a short time because they don’t want to invest the time, seeing it as bad investment of their efforts. Patience and perseverance with a promise of improvement awaits you on the other side. Just dig deep. Nobody said it’d be easy. 

Avoid redundancy.

Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t go down false paths. Make certain each step is one closer to your goal or you’re just biding your time circling the drain. Keep learning. Keep your mind alive. A master of their craft knows when to use one brushstroke instead of twenty.

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