(This is the 2nd in a two-part series on Personal Workflow System. Take a look at Part 1 if you haven’t already.)

In Part 1Personal Workflow System: Next Best Thing to a Personal Assistant, I demonstrated the benefits of a personal workflow system and encouraged you to dream a bit about the possibilities by imagining the transformation a personal assistant could offer. I concluded with a summary of the benefits a personal workflow system provides people with varied responsibilities and a flexible schedule.

Familiar & Popular Default Approach

If that didn’t persuade you, I want to champion the necessity of a personal workflow system from a different angle. Here in Personal Workflow System Part 2, I will emphasize the pitfalls of not having a personal workflow system, which you’ve crafted and regularly update to manage your research, teaching, service, travel, and all the personal stuff.

Maybe a personal workflow system seems unnecessary since you already have an approach to getting things done. Maybe your approach isn’t systematic or even self-conscious, but you’ve got one. I get that. To simplify, if you haven’t intentionally created a personal workflow system, then it’s highly probable you’re using the well-known and highly popular default approach. I know it intimately since I used it for years. The default approach includes numerous enticements.

Default Approach Enticements

  • Extreme flexibility
  • Always available
  • No preparation needed
  • No lists involved
  • No apps
  • No timetable
  • No rules!

Sound appealing? These upfront enticements, dare I call them benefits, are especially appealing if preparation, structure, new technology, and routine trigger resistance in you. Before you celebrate consider the vulnerabilities embedded in the default approach.

Default Approach Vulnerabilities

But you guessed it, there’s a flip side to all these enticements. The foundation of the default approach rests on three tools, which are also the source of its vulnerabilities.

1. Your memory

2. Your past experiences

3. External cues

1. Your Memory.

While human memory is one of your greatest assets, you likely know your memory isn’t reliable. Random memories can bug you at undesired times (while sleeping, working, driving, etc.) and can fail you just when you need them most. The more your memory is needed for time-based tasks, infrequent tasks, not fully mastered tasks, the greater the probability of forgetting. Your memory is subject to distraction. You likely don’t need me to elaborate on how your memory can fail you. But even when it works reliably, you may be using significant cognitive resources if you’re using valuable and limited working memory space to keep the reliability high.

2. Your Past Experiences.

This is the fabulous and terrible variable. When your past experience is filled with consistent success, you’re on solid, predictable ground. If your city garbage pick-up is Monday and has been for years and you routinely take out the trash Sunday evening, your default system for taking out the trash needs no enhancement. If your previous approach to completing challenging projects (such as writing or event planning and undesirable tasks (such as making travel reservations) has been to delay, ignore, and allow the pressure to build, you’ll find yourself locked in this familiar pattern again and again. So, when your past experiences create resistance, frustration and plenty of inconsistency, this variable will undermine you almost every time.

3. External Cues.

These cues work fine for doing a task like laundry (no clean clothes—wash them). But relying on external clues can also leave you at the mercy of other people, who will gladly and consistently supply you with external cues when they email, call, or walk in your office with requests. Your environment (workspace, phone, car, computer, etc.) will also supply you with plenty of cues, but many of them can be distracting. The things that matter most to you—like applying for a grant or new position, publishing an article, launching a new project, or expanding your network—won’t email, call, or knock on your door. The adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” has a timeless resonance because it’s often true.

Harsh Reality of Relying on the Default Approach

The default approach has its benefits and an obvious attraction. But when I relied primarily on the tools of the default approach—my memory, past experience, and external cues—I experienced significant stress and anxiety. I felt as though I was always “on” and couldn’t step away from work very long or I feared all the spinning plates would collapse. I worked and lived with a nagging feeling that I had forgotten something or was about to. The fear that I might embarrass myself by neglecting something significant or even trivial, kept me perpetually overwhelmed and working long hours. My day began and ended with work.

Now, hopefully, your default approach doesn’t produce as much anxiety and stress as mine did. But when you take an honest look at what’s either not getting done or the price you’re paying to get everything done, do you notice the overwhelm, stress, or maybe even underachievement?

Promise of a Personal Workflow System

This may seem hyperbolic, but it’s absolutely true. The gateway to true freedom, accomplishment, and peace of mind is a personal workflow system, which is comprehensive and tailored to accommodate your flexible schedule with its many varied responsibilities.

True Freedom—A personal workflow system is the gateway to freedom. Paradoxically constraints spark creativity and freedom. You doubt it? Look at the Japanese haiku for the creative power of constraints. With clarity, self-imposed boundaries, and well-defined expectations and aspirations you have the mental space to think and be creative.

Accomplishments—instead of being scattered, anxious, and distracted, with a personal workflow system you have a greater capacity to focus. And focus yields more time on your important tasks and projects, which leads to experiencing the accomplishments you long for.

Peace of Mind—when you can work consistently with relaxed focus and calm, you aren’t as exhausted at the end of the day. When you gain confidence that you aren’t forgetting something or you aren’t spending all your waking hours working to ensure you’re not, you can restore greater wholeness into your life.

Ready to Let Go?

I spent way too many years clinging to my default approach until I reached a breaking point. If you’ve had the experience of saying “never again” or “when I get out of this mess, I’m going to do things differently next time,” or a similar promise to yourself, then you’ve seen some version of the harsh reality I finally let go of.

Wouldn’t you love to experience the freedom, accomplishment, and peace of mind that’s possible for you? If so, join the waitlist for my TAME the Chaos digital course that becomes available in early September. In this digital course, I walk you step-by-step through the process of creating and maintaining your very own personal workflow system, which can serve you the remainder of your career.

 Photo by andrew jay on Unsplash