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The Model as Driver of Workflow

by Kerry Dawson

ImagesThe idea of a workflow and being more productive is all well and good. However, your work and its flow doesn’t just magically happen. It requires action. That is, you have to do something to make anything happen. You have to expend energy. Actions can happen in a rational or irrational fashion though. Just because you expend energy doesn’t mean you’ll produce anything or for that matter anything you‘ll necessarily want. To produce something in the most logical fashion so that you can ensure you will end up roughly with positive results and the results you want, rather than just engage in anything in an ad hoc fashion, its best to use some kind of model to shape your outcomes. In essence, you’ll employ a framework that will shape the way you work.

Images 1The other side to this is that you can expend energy in either an efficient fashion or a very inefficient fashion. To expend energy in an efficient fashion requires not only a model to shape what we do but good tools to enable us. Fortunately, the Mac and the software that you can employ on a Mac are excellent tools that allow for the best expenditure of energy or the least friction when you go about doing something.

Utilizing a Model as Part of Your Workflow

For the purposes of this discussion I’m going to outline the model I use to enable my workflow. I’m not suggesting that you use this model but rather utilize at least some model to guide your workflow. However, the model I use is fairly tried and true and is well accepted and mature for today’s modern world. That is, one hundred years ago you would use a different model for a personal or business workflow. However, for current times we need models that reflect the times we live in which is one based on information. This is the information age and in this age information is coming at us from a variety of sources and at a rapid speed and the speed is only increasing.

I just want to reinforce that the idea of using a model is pretty well accepted in many professions. You will see models used by:

  • Engineers
  • Doctors
  • Scientists
  • Architects
  • Designers
  • Lawyers
  • Psychologists
  • and on it goes

In each of these professions people don’t necessarily use the same model. As an example, in psychology, certain Psychologists might use what’s referred to as the medical model whereas other Psychologists use a behavioural model. In each case though, the model shapes the outcome.


The Information Worker so too requires a Model

As much as those in the above professions require a model, so too does the information worker. In fact, if we look at everyone I described above and their professions they are as much an information worker as is the someone who works in a corporation from the front line worker all the way to the executive. My point here is that a model is valuable for any of us in the information age be we corporate employees, consultants, doctors or writers and on it goes. The age of the typical factory worker is as relevant in our world as ever yet even the models employed in the modern factory are much different yet not that dissimilar to that which we saw in the article’s images that preceded this one.


Getting things Done

GtdSo far I’ve attempted to portray conceptually that a model is useful if not extremely useful in the era we live in. In fact, a model was probably useful at many points in time its just the model employed need fit the time. The model I use is David Allen’s Getting Things Done or GTD as it is commonly referred to.

My intent in this article is not to teach you GTD but rather use this as a reference of what I use as a model to help ensure that I Get things Done. Above though you will find reference starting points to GTD. I would highly recommend, if you’re interested in this approach, to buy the first book on GTD. Although, in a way, you might find it amusing in terms of the tools he uses, the methodology is very understandable, structured yet flexible enough to allow you room in terms of your unique personality style.

78363Rather than reading the book from the get go, there are many videos of presentations that David Allan has done for companies like Google that give you a great reference or starting point to the model. In addition, you can also find many interviews wherein he explains GTD. He’s a great presenter so their enjoyable to watch. Having watched those and gotten an idea of what GTD is all about, its at this point I’d read the book.

Utilizing the model or in this case GTD

I utilize GTD (from this point on I will just say GTD rather than Getting things Done) as my framework or guide post to enhance my workflow. That is, this is the technique I utilize to produce positive results in the most efficient manner. GTD is not only my guide post in terms of how I go about Getting things Done and being productive but it also frames the type of tools I will use to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. In the next article I will outline the key tools I use to enable an effective workflow using GTD. In terms of this article, I’m just going to simply concentrate on the value of a model and how GTD, at a general level operates as a model to frame what I do.

A Trusted System

ImagesOne of the guiding tenets of GTD is that we have many tasks or actions that have to be undertaken to accomplish something. One action is simply that; one action. However, anything that involves two or more actions becomes a project. One of the mistakes people make with regard to setting out actions or tasks as operational parameters is that they often state as a task what is really a project. Just to be a bit extreme, someone might write down as a task or action “build a new house”. That certainly is a task but if you look at it very carefully its way more than a task or an action. It involves many steps or actions to bring about that outcome.

Two things are very important from viewing this project as a series of actions. The first is, you have to be able to manage all the actions that lead up to getting the project completed. To do that you have to have a system in which you can write down and manage all the actions that lead to the completion of the project. In essence, if you’re going to write all this stuff down, either on paper using a pen as David Allen describes, or with a sophisticated piece of software that can enable this, you have to inherently have a lot of trust in it. In essence, you have to trust your system.

Trusting your System

At this point you might be asking well why do I have to trust my system as if it fails I’ll just remember what I have to do. Another key tenet of GTD is that our brains are not that great at the storage of a bunch of actions or tasks. In fact, David Allen would assert that our brains can really only handle about 7 or 8 actions for storage at any one time. However, much in a solid workflow involves multiple actions. So when you think about our example of build a house this involves numerous component actions to make that happen. You absolutely require a system and one that you can trust to manage all that needs to be accomplished. You thus need both a solid model to put this together but a system that you can trust in what you’ve put together. Otherwise, you’ll simply drive yourself crazy if you don’t trust your system. You’ll try to retain all those actions in brain storage a poor place for them.Images 1

Letting Go

There is a lot more to GTD than I’ve outlined and as I said I’m not here to teach you GTD as there are many resources available that will teach you all that you need to know to put what is really a very effective model into place to support your workflow. In the end though, GTD is not about creating more work for you but actually allowing you to control your work so that you have more time for yourself. If you’re in control of what needs to be done you can let go and relax knowing that it will get done.

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The Tools though are Critical

Images 2Do choose a model to enable your workflow. My recommendation would be to utilize David Allan’s model for Getting Things Done. As I said earlier, its a mature model that is well founded with lots of support material and yes tools. If you do approach this model as something you’re interested in and say adopt it as your workflow model stay open. That is, use it as your guide post and the methodology as a technique for enabling your productivity, control and enhanced relaxation as an end result. Feeling more in control in and of itself will lead to that. However, some make the mistake with GTD and are too ideological and in a sense get carried away. I won’t explain this but you’ll quickly see for yourself that you could go overboard to the point all your doing is writing down actions, contexts as they lead to their project.

This is really not the idea of GTD. It definitely is a model that encourages you to think about a task or an action as a component piece of the next action that needs to be taken to Get Things Done and finally complete your project. I have heard though of people who have said that I have 2000, 4000 and 6000 actions and I need tags (another technique of managing tasks and records that I’ll discuss in the tools article) to manage this. Unfortunately and I’ve not seen first hand evidence of this but if this were the case then this is an extremely inappropriate application of GTD and no tagging system in the world would help with a scenario like that. In reality, if someone were doing this they wouldn’t be doing any work at all. They would simply be writing actions which is not the intent of the model whatsoever.

Let the model work for you. Adapt it to your style but do follow the model. Don’t expect though that you’ll be perfect in your application of this or any model. Life happens. Distractions and interruptions will pop up. However, utilizing your model you’ll be able to deal with this more effectively. Yes, maybe action x,y or z might not happen when you thought they should as now there’s a,b and c in the picture. This is just a matter of focus and refocusing. The beauty of GTD is that at its heart it deals with control, perspective, focus and re-focusing and above all else flow. The better your flow the more productive and ultimately relaxed you’ll feel.


In the final article in this set of three I will deal with what is absolutely critical to our workflow. Yes, we need a model to guide us but we need tools to enable us. That is, we have to have the appropriate tools to accomplish everything we lay out that needs to be done. In the next of this three part series of articles I’ll be discussing the tools that I use but I’ll also address the tools from a broader aspect. The Mac is rife with great tools so what works for me might not be right for you. Its important that you use that which you’re comfortable with and that works for you.Images 3

However, I’ll outline a set of tools that I find fit the model well and create the flow I look for with the ease I need. Finally, I trust my system and my trust in my system does liberate or free me from the tedium of taxing my brain to the point it wasn’t meant to go. Analysis, interpretation and decisions are things our brains can handle well given the right information. The tools should and I hope provide you with that key piece of information you’ll need to make the decisions and inevitably get things done.

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