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Design an Online Workflow

Design an Online Workflow

There are countless wonderful, free, online tools out there that help you with productivity, and give you a pretty good way to manage your projects, your small business, and more. But how do you design your workflow, such that you actually make use of the tools consistently, and to their best effect? Let’s set something up.

First, let’s make this a system you can use to manage your projects, personal or otherwise. Second, let’s make it a system that gives you full network communications and collaboration capability. Finally, let’s make it free from start to finish (at least at the base levels of all these products). Here are a few setups:

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Web-Based Toolbox

  • Build a Protopage- I went to Protopage and built a START PAGE. The logon is lifehack and the password is demo1. Protopage lets you do all kinds of things. You can have sticky notes. There’s a calendar. There’s widgets to put up photos, to display web pages, and to show RSS feeds.
  • Get a Voo2Do Account- Go to Voo2Do and get an account. This will be your todo list. (or use tadalist, or remember the milk, or toodledo, or a gazillion other great products).
  • Use GMail and Google Calendar- Gmail and Google Calendar are just easy. They’re fairly uncluttered as apps, and both have all kinds of functionality. I’m still not over Gmail not letting me have folders, but otherwise, they’re the best. I forward my domain email accounts to a Gmail account for ease-of-use, and one-stop collection. The Calendar has lots of great features, like group calendar and all kinds of easy drag-drop create feelings.
  • Set up AIM– An IM client puts you in touch with people for quick fast discussions. I actually recommend using a multi-service client, like Meebo (web-based) or Gaim, so that you don’t have to do the “do you use AIM, or Yahoo! or MSN Messenger” conversation.
  • Set up a Campfire– It’s probably easiest to send you to 37Signals itself, and you can pick up Campfire, their group chat app, as well as BaseCamp, their project management software.
  • Get SkypeSkype‘s a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) product, which use can use as either internet-only, or you can combine with SkypeOut service and SkypeIN service to connect it to the greater telephone network. You can by handsets that make it act like a regular phone, or you can just use your microphone and speakers on your computer.
  • Check out ZohoZoho makes all kinds of free online office application tools, including a word processor, spreadsheet, a presentation tool, and more.
  • Get a Wiki- A wiki is a web-based data site that allows you to build easily edited webpages where you can store information (see Wikipedia). There are some great free ones. I use PBWiki the most.
  • Use an RSS Reader– No, they’re not just for blogs any more. RSS readers let you track important information, keep abreast of targeted data, and allow for collection and aggregation into a reading platform best suited for your needs. (I use Bloglines– do you have a more favorite web-based client?)
  • Set up a Blog– Internal blogs or external, using a tool to capture information in a journal format with dates is really darned useful, especially when coupled with search tools. If it’s external-facing, then your blog is also your press release engine and your public advertising channel #1. (WordPress for internal or external, WordPress free and hosted, Blogger).

Sample Morning Using our Tools
Once you select all your tools, you’ll need to build a workflow that maps to what you need to get done. Here is a sample flow for a few fictional hours in a workday.

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  • Arrive 8:45AM, drink coffee #2. Set digital timer. Pop open Gmail for 15 minutes. REFUSE to check Gmail for 15 minutes.
  • 9:00AM Open Protopage. Check Voo2do list. Projects are showing some next actions involving calls, and some involving editing a nearly-finished proposal. Handle the proposal first, writing it up in Zoho Writer or Writeboard, and share it using BaseCamp with your client. They’ve subscribed to your RSS feed, so you might not have to call or email until later.
  • 9:20AM You finished your proposal, and you uncovered some great points you want to copy and use again later. Post those into the wiki. Get up for a stretch and a walk to the coffee pot.
  • 9:30AM Double-check Gmail. There’s a note from Surya about traffic overheating your server in Ohio. Get on IM, find Surya, and ask him if he’ll cover it. Mark yourself busy when you’re done and post a blog entry marking down what you and Surya did, deciding on a final course of action.
  • 10:05AM Go over some “Friends-only” pictures in Flickr of your prospective new data center in Vietnam, shot by a friend you met on Craigslist who was going that way anyway, and who you paid no more than a case of beer for his involvement in finding the data center and snapping pictures. Tag a few to remind yourself, and make a note in the wiki, linking back. Post about it on the blog, too.
  • 10:42AM Check off 3 things so far in your Voo2Do. Double check them against your BackPack master list of your project, mission and goals, and consider using Zoho’s spreadsheet software to calculate out the savings between what you spec’d the job to cost in hours versus what you saved by flowing so smoothly.

Keys to the Scenario

You can change any of the software options I’ve listed, but the premise is this: hook them all together in a meaningful way and consider the SUM TOTAL of those products the platform. Consider it all related to what you’re doing. Remember that the goal is to accomplish things, to move yourself forward on the goals you have for yourself and your business. It’s not to master a foolproof system that you can never change again.

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Check out the demo ProtoPage, if it’s lasted this long. And if it has to come down, build your own. It’s fairly intuitive. Then, try incorporating all those rich, free, easy-to-use online tools, and build a workflow that supports the lifestyle you’ve dreamed up for yourself. Feel free to load the comments up with modules you’d add instead, with defences of why your tool is better than the ones I recommended, and finally, whether using this methodology does something for your productivity.

–Chris Brogan has his own accounts on nearly every one of the web-based software tools out there. He also has accounts for [chrisbrogan.com] , Grasshopper Factory, and Podcamp.org .

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Last Updated on January 2, 2020

How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

Over time, we all gather a set of constricting habits around us—ones that trap us in a zone of supposed comfort, well below what our potential would allow us to attain. Pretty soon, such habits slip below the level of our consciousness, but they still determine what we think that we can and cannot do—and what we cannot even bring ourselves to try. As long as you let these habits rule you, you’ll be stuck in a rut.

Like the tiny, soft bodied creatures that build coral reefs, habits start off small and flexible, and end up by building massive barriers of rock all around your mind. Inside the reefs, the water feels quiet and friendly. Outside, you think it’s going to be rough and stormy. There may be sharks. But if you’re to develop in any direction from where you are today, you must go outside that reef of habits that marks the boundaries of your comfort zone. There’s no other way. There’s even nothing specially wrong with those habits as such. They probably worked for you in the past.

But now, it’s time to step over them and go into the wider world of your unused potential. Your fears don’t know what’s going to be out there, so they invent monsters and scary beasts to keep you inside.

Nobody’s born with an instruction manual for life. Despite all the helpful advice from parents, teachers and elders, each of us must make our own way in the world, doing the best we can and quite often getting things wrong.

Messing up a few times isn’t that big a deal. But if you get scared and try to avoid all mistakes by sticking with just a few “tried and true” behaviors, you’ll miss out on most opportunities as well.

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Lots of people who suffer from boredom at work are doing it to themselves. They’re bored and frustrated because that’s what their choices have caused them to be. They’re stuck in ruts they’ve dug for themselves while trying to avoid making mistakes and taking risks. People who never make mistakes never make anything else either.

It’s time to pin down the habits that have become unconscious and are running your life for you, and get rid of them. Here’s how to do it:

1. Understand the Truth about Your Habits

They always represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully, tried the same response next time, and found it worked again. That’s how habits grow and why they feel so useful.

To get away from what’s causing your unhappiness and workplace blues, you must give up on many of your most fondly held (and formerly successful) habits. and try new ways of thinking and acting. There truly isn’t any alternative. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas. No new ideas, no learning. No learning, no access to successful change.

2. Do Something—Almost Anything—Differently and See What Happens

Even the most successful habits eventually lose their usefulness as events change the world and fresh responses are called for. Yet we cling on to them long after their benefit has gone.

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Past strategies are bound to fail sometime. Letting them become automatic habits that take the controls is a sure road to self-inflicted harm.

3. Take Some Time out and Have a Detailed Look at Yourself—With No Holds Barred

Discovering your unconscious habits can be tough. For a start, they’re unconscious, right? Then they fight back.

Ask anyone who has ever given up smoking if habits are tough to break. You’ve got used to them—and they’re at least as addictive as nicotine or crack cocaine.

4. Be Who You Are

It’s easy to assume that you always have to fit in to get on in the world; that you must conform to be liked and respected by others or face exclusion. Because most people want to please, they try to become what they believe others expect, even if it means forcing themselves to be the kind of person they aren’t, deep down.

You need to start by putting yourself first. You’re unique. We’re all unique, so saying this doesn’t suggest that you’re better than others or deserve more than they do.

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You need to put yourself first because no one else has as much interest in your life as you do; and because if you don’t, no one else will. Putting others second means giving them their due respect, not ignoring them totally.

Keeping up a self-image can be a burden. Hanging on to an inflated, unrealistic one is a curse. Give yourself a break.

5. Slow Down and Let Go

Most of us want to think of ourselves as good, kind, intelligent and caring people. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.

Reality is complex. We can’t function at all without constant input and support from other people.

Everything we have, everything we’ve learned, came to us through someone else’s hands. At our best, we pass on this borrowed existence to others, enhanced by our contribution. At our worst, we waste and squander it.

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So recognize that you’re a rich mixture of thoughts and feelings that come and go, some useful, some not. There’s no need to keep up a façade; no need to pretend; no need to fear of what you know to be true.

When you face your own truth, you’ll find it’s an enormous relief. If you’re maybe not as wonderful as you’d like to be, you aren’t nearly as bad as you fear either.

The truth really does set you free; free to work on being better and to forgive yourself for being human; free to express your gratitude to others and recognize what you owe them; free to acknowledge your feelings without letting them dominate your life. Above all, you’ll be free to understand the truth of living: that much of what happens to you is no more than chance. It can’t be avoided and is not your fault. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it.

Final Thoughts

What is holding you in situations and actions that no longer work for you often isn’t inertia or procrastination. It’s the power of habitual ways of seeing the world and thinking about events. Until you can let go of those old, worn-out habits, they’ll continue to hold you prisoner.

To stay in your comfort zone through mere habit, or—worse still—to stay there because of irrational fears of what may lie outside, will condemn you to a life of frustration and regret.

If you can accept the truth about the world and yourself, change whatever is holding you back, and get on with a fresh view on life, you’ll find that single action lets you open the door of your self-imposed prison and walk free. There’s a marvelous world out there. You’ll see, if you try it!

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Featured photo credit: teigan rodger via unsplash.com

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