While there's something to be said for multitasking, a serial workflow—completing one task after another in order of priority—can be much more conducive to getting your work done. Splitting your attention between several tasks at once can slow you down compared to knocking off one focused task after another on an ordered list. Today I'm going to show you how to create a serial workflow platform with just a few simple tools that you probably already use: plain text, a couple handy extensions, and browser tabs.
A serial workflow is ridiculously easy to set up, but in its simplicity lies its power, young padawan. Here's what you'll need to get the serial workflow goodness started:
- A text file with the broad strokes of your everyday tasks. You don't have to include every single thing that you need to get done; this lists the stuff you need to do every day that doesn't change much.
- These extensions: Foxmarks, Session Manager, and a backup plan for your Firefox bookmarks
- A bookmarks folder structure that makes sense to you; I label my folders by date with subfolders for each client/contract underneath.
How This Works
List your recurring tasks in a plain text file, including all the to-do's you need to take care of every day, every other day, once a week, etc. Keep this file on your desktop for easy access. Here's an example of what an overall weekly view could look like:
Once the .txt file is open in your favourite editor, launch Firefox and open a tab to begin the first big task on your list— for example, say you need to research a new computer purchase for work. Your first page might be a Google search for a certain model. Then, open up the next few tabs with research you need for that particular purchase: reviews, price comparison sites, etc. That's the first task for the day, the one that needs to be done (or at least a good chunk carved out) before anything else, so it gets the first few tabs in the queue.
Before you really get started working (this part is important), hit Ctrl+Shift+D to bookmark these tabs into a subfolder titled "Computer Research" (just an example) under today's date. Since you've already set up backup plans for your bookmarks with the extensions already mentioned, you know that this simple folder structure will be around even if your browser crashes unexpectedly; plus, you can easily access your daily tasks at My Foxmarks if for some reason you're not at your main machine. Here's what my folders look like. Again, there's nothing hugely dramatic or groundbreaking here, and yet it works so damn well:
At this point, you've got a couple options for setting up the next part of your serial workflow. You can open up a new Firefox browser session, or you can just open up a new tab to address your next task. It's really up to you and how you like to work. Personally, I just keep on opening tabs all the way across my to-do list; I like the feeling of plowing through my work this way and I don't have to keep flipping between windows to get to the next thing—it's just there. Plus, reaching that last tab gives me a great feeling of accomplishment that far outdoes any kind of thrill I've gotten from multitasking.
So! To summarise, all you're really doing here is using your browser tabs as a prioritised task manager— instead of viewing the traditional to-do list, you're utilising your browser as an all-in-one organiser, archive, and daily work log. It's not rocket science: it's just a different way to barrel through your daily tasks.
Why a Serial Workflow is Better than Multitasking
Here are three reasons why this serial workflow method works more efficiently than multitasking:
- You can get a better idea of what you've accomplished and what you still need to do. No matter how organised my multitasking efforts are, I always feel like I've forgotten something. Not so with serial workflow: I just work my way across the tabs, and if I don't have time to do something, I can just scoop those items via the old ctrl+shift+d into a folder marked "not done" and do 'em later. Yes, you've still got stuff to do, but at least you know what it is.
- It's a linear approach, rather than a scatterbrained attack. Using browser tabs to organise your work for the day helps you to focus your energies on just one thing at a time, giving it all your attention. Multitasking can send you in too many different directions at once; you can't focus as well and you don't necessarily get the same feeling of accomplishment.
- You can get more done. On average, I've found that my productivity has doubled since using the serial workflow system. I work faster, smarter, and the quality of my output (at least in my opinion!) has gone way up. The simple act of just doing one thing at a time can have an amazing effect on your quality and quantity control.
How do you organise your workflow? Are you a serialiser or multitasker? Let's hear it in the comments.
Wendy Boswell, Lifehacker's Weekend Editor, is a staunch advocate of working serially. Her feature series Technophilia appears every Tuesday on Lifehacker AU.