Workflow Is My Favorite Flow
How to efficiently plan and effectively execute your professional goals using GTasks & GCal
Flow — a smooth uninterrupted movement or progress.
When you start an academic program the flow is built in. The program is comprised of courses and the courses are comprised of classes. The classes are well-defined blocks of time in which a specific topic is discussed.
The course has a start date, end date, and classes inbetween. Classes have a start time, end time, and a topic of discussion.
However, without the structure of a course or classes, how do you learn topics or even decide what topics to learn? Well, this has been one of my greatest challenges yet, that is, creating my own workflow to remain productive, day-in, day-out. Because every topic is optional and always dynamic in the time required to learn each. The worst part is, without a preset amount of time to learn a topic, that topic has a seemingly infinite on-boarding time.
But before we get into topics, let’s take a broad view. Let’s look at a day and how we can break daily responsibilities into blocks of available time and blocks of non-available time.
Available time blocks are the blocks we can add tasks to. And tasks are items we have added to a to-do list.
Non-available time blocks are blocks that already have something assigned to them. So if I decide to block out an hour and a half for the gym, I wouldn’t plan anything additional in that time.
For this article, I will be using two tools, Google Tasks and Google Calendar, though, you might find it helpful to use a Pomodoro timer. I use the Pomodoro method (50/10min) but I don’t find the timer all that helpful personally.
To get into Google Tasks, you’ll need a Gmail account. If you don’t have one and don’t care to make one, any Kanban-style chart makes for a good substitute, like Monday or Trello.
Otherwise, to access Google Tasks you’d log into your Gmail account, click on apps in the upper-right-hand corner of the window, then scroll down to the ‘Tasks’ app.
From here you are presented with the task app and there are several things we can do with it. The main thing is that we can create lists and add tasks to those lists. Then, if we need to, we can add descriptions to those tasks.
- Click ‘+Add new list’ and name your list. Hit enter when done.
- Click ‘+Add a task’ in the list you just created, name it, then hit enter when you're done to add it to the list.
- Optionally you can click the pencil icon, that shows up when you mouse over the task, to add a description to that task or remove it from the list.
- Lastly, click the open circle in front of that task on the list to mark the task as completed. It’ll then be moved below the list to the ‘Completed’ section where you can view all the tasks you’ve completed from this list.
The night before I’ll create a list of tasks that I’d like to complete for the next day. I’ll also have a list of long-term goals I can chip away at in the event that I have no more tasks for the day to complete or if I’m looking for something to do in my free time.
The next step is to block out time on a calendar. I’ll be using Google Calendar but if you don’t have a Google account or don’t care to make one, any calendar will do. On the calendar, I simply plan to add the tasks on the list we just created.
- Hit the ‘+ Create’ button on the upper-left-hand side of the app. This adds an event to the calendar.
- After the event is added to the calendar we can then fill in the details like the name of the event, if the event will last all day, the timespan of the event, whether it repeats, and even a reminder should one be needed. All details can be edited later, if they should change later on, by clicking the event on the calendar. I also like adding any applicable meeting links to the description.
First, I start by adding blocks that represent the time we don’t have available. So breakfast for instance. I think an hour is enough time for me to make and eat breakfast so I’ll add an hour-long block to the calendar and call it ‘breakfast’. I’ll do the same for any of our tasks that have a defined amount of time.
Second, we will add blocks to fill the space between the blocks we already added to represent the time we have to complete our other tasks on the list.
I usually name these ‘Study Sessions’. Each ‘Study Session’ in these blocks is a Pomodoro block meaning that I will spend 50min of each hour performing tasks and the remaining 10min resting (grabbing food, water, stretching, responding to my social life).
Additionally, I click on the ‘Study Session’ blocks, and in the notes, I write the specific tasks I have in mind to complete in those sessions. I usually leave my self-ample time and then make the last task the item I want to start the next block of ‘Study Sessions’ with.
So you’ve decided you want to learn something new. I just decided I want to learn C++. Making that decision and deciding why you did is the first step. The tasks and calendar are in the middle pieces. They come and change day by day. Some days are better than others as far as progress goes. That’s by the ‘Study Sessions’ are open blocks of time and not specific time goals for every little task.
Tasks, in this case, are the topics involved in learning this new language, each of those would be a class in the traditional sense. Then learning the language, as a whole, would be the course. Our goal
The last piece is defining the end. What does ‘finished’ look like to us. Because without knowing what the end looks like we will never reach it, all our goals and courses would be indefinite so we need to make them finite in order for the tasks, classes, and so on to be obtainable.
The easiest way to do this is simply to add an end date to your calendar. We’ll want something more than that though, like a project encapsulating everything we learned, and perhaps that end date will be our decided deadline for this project.
The question then is, when to start the project. To answer that question you have to answer the question, “Why are you learning this topic?” Because when that “why” is the finish condition for our studies. Then before you set out to work on the project, give yourself a deadline for it.
For example, I want to learn C++ to get into Computer Engineering. The ‘why’ for this is answered for me when I am able to complete medium ‘Leetcode’ algorithms in C++ and my proof of knowledge will be creating a project to demonstrate my C++ skills.
So in conclusion, each new concept you want to learn for a reason and you’ll use that reason to determine how much into that concept you need to get. With that scope, you’ll be able to estimate how long it’ll take you to complete that goal and you’ll mark the date on your calendar. That date will be the start of a project encapsulating the concept you learned. Once again, you’ll be able to estimate how long the project will take you and mark that on your calendar. Then day-by-day you will create a list for each day and those lists will comprise of tasks. Some related to working towards your goals and some related to life. Then you’ll build out your calendar according to those tasks. The main takeaway is really to make each of your goals definite, defined. Everything else in this article is about the tools and methods I personally use to do that.
Thanks for your time reading this, I hope you found some of these tools useful. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments or in LinkedIn, I’d like to know what your thoughts on this are.
Cover Photo Cred Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash