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Time Management Worst Practice: Inadequate Workflow Management

Workflow management is one of the aspects of knowledge work that traditional forms of time management have been unable to address adequately.

‘Workflow’ refers to the way in which work flows through an organization from one person to the next. In an assembly line or factory environment, workflow is tightly controlled as part of the manufacturing process. Work arrives in well-defined units and is passed from one individual to the next in a very predictable manner.

Workflow in knowledge work is very different. New work can arrive in many different ways. You can receive an email, a phone call, a memo, a drop‑in visitor, or an action item in a meeting; you can also create work for yourself as you discover and define the tasks needed to complete a project, or you get an idea on how to reduce costs or improve a product.

In addition, knowledge work tends to flow from one person to another much more readily than manual work. You may get a request from a coworker that needs your help, you may need answers from an expert in another group, you may rely on the work products of other people to complete your own work, or others may need your work before they can proceed.

With all these different sources of work and interdependencies between people and groups, workflow management becomes increasingly important for knowledge workers. Without it, it is very easy to get overwhelmed with all the numerous demands of your time, and things can easily start to fall through the cracks.

Combined with using your memory to keep track of things, inadequate workflow management leads to forgotten requests, incomplete work, misplaced information, and general feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. Inadequate workflow management is a combination of the following factors.

Lack of Inflow 'Filtering'

Your ‘inflow’ represents the various ways in which people can communicate new information or requests to you. Typical inputs are email, phone calls, meetings, faxes, regular mail, and drop‑in visitors.

Communications you receive through each of these inputs can contain new work, but they can just as easily contain passive information (announcements, discussions) or be completely irrelevant (junk mail). The most effective way to handle these different communications depends on their content: some need to be handled right away, others should be postponed or delegated, others should be filed away, and the rest should be trashed.

No System for Capturing New Work

Since new work can arrive through so many different means, it is very easy for certain items to get lost in the shuffle unless you have a systematic way of capturing new work items and adding them to your to-do list (see Using a More Effective To-Do List.)

When you have hundreds of emails in your inbox, two dozen sticky notes all over your monitor, a big pile of paper on the side of your desk, and you are using your memory to keep track of it all, how can you really expect to remember what you need to work on next? Let alone figure out the best way to use your time.

The main reason for inadequate workflow management is the lack of a systematic way of handling, capturing, and processing all your different inputs and projects.

The best practice of Inflow Management helps you develop an effective inflow management system.


The Time Management  eBook contains much more information on inflow management and setting priorities. Get it now!

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