follow the process

Follow the process [PMP #163]

Whenever I’ve worked with customers who tell me they have ‘too much to do’ or they’re feeling overwhelmed, I usually find they haven’t created processes that help them to do their work.

Without a process, it’s very easy to get lost and confused in all the work that you’re doing. It’s like trying to navigate without a map, you’re basically just guessing where to go and what to do.

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Just so we’re on the same page, what exactly is a process? Well, I Google’d it and here’s what I found:

A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.

You can create processes for the things you do on a regular basis to help improve your efficiency and output quality.

Why processes are importance

Processes help us to be more productive in a couple of ways:

  1. PROCESSES CREATE EFFICIENCY. When you’re about to start a task, if you have a process that outlines what to do and a checklist to work through, you can get started immediately without having to figure things out as you go. For example, every 6 months I have to file a GST return with Inland Revenue (the New Zealand tax department). With my business, it’s a little more complicated as I receive an overseas income. Because I only do this once every 6 months, I was forgetting the steps and little adjustments I need to make. So I decided to set up a task in Asana with instructions outlining exactly what I need to do. If I didn’t have these instructions, it would probably take a number of hours to figure it out each time. Since writing out the process, I’ve got this task down to about 30 minutes every 6 months. Not bad.
  2. PROCESSES HELP YOU TO AVOID MISSING A STEP. Processes also help us to avoid missing crucial (and sometimes costly) steps. For example, a pilot will complete a detailed pre-flight checklist before every single flight. Not because they can’t remember the steps. But because following the process means they’ve checked every single item on that list making it safe to fly. Similarly, surgeons follow a consistent process during surgery. When my wife had a cesarian and she was being stitched back up, I could hear the surgical team counting the swabs and blankets every time they sewed up a layer of tissue to make sure they hadn’t left anything behind. Definitely not a step you want to miss…
  3. PROCESSES INCREASE OUTPUT QUALITY. Whenever you follow a process, this is an opportunity to test the process itself. If you can find ways to make the process more efficient or better, this helps to improve the end result each time you repeat the process. For example, for the last 6 years, I’ve been using templates in Asana every time I need to write a blog post (like this one) or record a video. The more I’ve produced, the more I’ve been able to hone and refine the process of creating content. I’ve made changes to my checklists and now I feel that the quality of my content is much better than it was a few years ago.
  4. PROCESSES MAKE IT EASIER TO TRAIN OTHERS. We all have things we need to do on a regular basis. And if you have a good memory, maybe you can get away with not writing down your process or checklist. But when it comes time to teach someone else your process, you’ll wish you had (and so will they). This is one of most common things I hear from clients who approach me to get help with tools like Asana and Pipedrive. They want to use these tools to create processes making it easier to onboard and manage their teams work. A few years ago, when I was leaving my marketing job, I created templates in Asana for all the common tasks and projects I had to do. My goal was to create an instruction manual that could be given to anyone, helping them to more easily pick up where I left off.

Putting time into defining your processes is well worth the investment. The trouble is, most people don’t because they’re too busy with other things. The irony is, if you spend a little time upfront, setting up processes, you’ll save a tonne of time in the long-run.

How to create processes

These days, if I ever notice myself doing the same task again, I find a way to create a process that will help me in the future. Here are some tactical ways you can define your processes:

  1. CREATE RECURRING TASKS. If you have a task management system, most tools support a recurring deadline feature so tasks can be set to repeat at certain intervals. I’d say about 20% of all the tasks in my Asana account are things that are set to repeat each week, month and even every year. I’ll even include notes and links so I know exactly what to do each time. This is great for things like planning my week, filing tax returns, updating reports and changes to my website. Setting up tasks to repeat means you don’t have to remember when everything needs to be done. You can set it up once and let your task list remind you next time something is due, no matter how often you need to do it. And because they repeat, you don’t need to create a new task each time.
  2. CREATE TEMPLATES AND CHECKLISTS. To extend on this idea, if you add a checklist to your recurring tasks, this consistency helps you to avoid missing a step and makes it easier to improve the process over time. As I mentioned before, I have checklists for things like blog posts, videos and even clients I work with. This means I can deliver a better service by going through a defined onboarding process every single time.
  3. ESTABLISH GUIDELINES USE NOTES AND DOCUMENTATION. Writing down the best practices or guidelines for a process will you (and others) to learn the process more effectively. It’s also useful to have decisions documented in case you need to refer back to them later. For example, I have a Notebook in Apple Notes called ‘Manual’ which is sort of like the guidebook for how I do my job and decisions I’ve made. It contains details for things like my Calendly availability settings and why it’s set up the way it is. I’ve listed the details of my document backup process and who has recovery details for my 1Password account. I even have a note called ‘In case I die’ with details of our insurance, mortgage and what to do with my business. This might sound morbid but if I die, I want to make it as easy for people as possible.
  4. AUTOMATE YOUR PROCESSES. Now, this is the holy grail of creating a process. If you can automate processes so you don’t need to do anything, this is ideal. While it can take some time to learn how to use automation tools like Zapier or Hazel, it means you can use technology to remove the potential for human error. Recently I set up an automation to onboard customers I’ve referred to Pipedrive. Every day I receive an email report with the new Pipedrive referrals which I’ve set to forward to a mail parsing system. The mail parser reads the email, extracts the details and adds this to a Google Sheet. Zapier takes this information, adds the contacts to my CRM and ConvertKit (affiliate link) and the contact will start receiving automated emails helping them to learn Pipedrive.
  5. SET UP CALENDAR REMINDERS. Setting up recurring calendar events is a great way to remind yourself when to do certain things. I have recurring events for things like my weekly review, setting aside time for email and even going to the gym. This is very handy if you’re trying to build a new habit or want to be more consistent in what you do.

As mentioned, your processes will likely evolve over time and can always be improved. Part of having good processes is having a process to update your processes. This means being disciplined about updating your checklists, documentation and setting up new recurring tasks as needed. If it makes it easier, why not schedule some time once a month to review your processes?

Let me know if this post has been helpful and share your feedback in the comments below!