Using the Performance Review to improve your workflows

I find estimating task times a difficult job. I either underestimate how long it takes to do a job or I overestimate and give myself too much time to finish it.

Having good time estimates helps me with scheduling large jobs. Customers can trust me when I can deliver on time and on budget.

Estimating task duration for the first time

The more experienced you are at working on a project, the faster you can complete it. If I’m unsure of how long a task will take, I give it a ballpark estimate and then double that time. Oftentimes I won’t have a clue about what I’m doing. My estimated time to complete a task shrinks as I gain more understanding about what needs to be done to complete the job.

The New Father Chronicles - Baking A Cake

One method of guesstimating a time duration is to ask others who did similar work how long it took them to complete the assignment. Another way is to break the job down into smaller tasks and guess an estimated duration for each step. It is easier to calculate estimated time for smaller tasks than the entire project. Add up the total time to give you a total that represents the estimated time for the overall project.

Documenting a workflow to improve efficiency

If a job needs to be repeated, it needs to be documented. Documentation will enable others to follow in your footsteps. If you are unable to complete the job, you can delegate it to someone else. They can follow your script to get the same desired results as if you did the job yourself. Delegation becomes easier when you have the workflow documentation and know you’re going to get the same results. That’s how a fast food franchise operates. There are certain steps in making a Burger King hamburger. There are instructions on how to make McDonald’s French fries. You’ll get the same results because the instructions were followed.

I use a stopwatch and record the actual time spent on a task and write it down in a notebook. This becomes my personal record (PR). When I need to repeat the job, I’ll see if I can beat my previous PR.

While working on the project, I can document notes about any issues to watch out for, any shortcuts I may have discovered, and possible ideas to speed up the process.

Performance Review


Looking at documentation can decrease the amount of time spent on a job when it gets a performance review. I can see possible friction points and brainstorm for ways to improve the workflow. In the Productivity Guild, you’ll see me present workflows that I have documented over the years. These posts are my experiments. Every year, I go through my documentation or blog posts and look for ways to shorten the estimated time to complete a workflow.

One step to shorten a workflow is to create automation workflows (macros, scripts, predefined filters) that can do the work without user intervention. There are a lot of automation tools (Applescripts, Hazel,, Keyboard Maestro, Workflow) that can speed up routine work for you if you invest a little time upfront in building the scripts required.

My OmniFocus review workflow used to take an entire back-breaking Sunday morning for 3-½ hours. After some refinement and experimenting, I’ve changed my review workflow to every weekday, 15 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at night, and 30 minutes on a Sunday morning for a weekly total of 2-½ hours. Breaking up my review over small sessions throughout the workdays and once on Sunday reduced the time needed to review and gave me back precious time to spend with my family. I cut down my weekly review by an hour and was able to make the review process easier to perform.

Action items

Documenting your workflows assists you in doing a performance review. Get your notebook and write down a list of repeating routines that takes up the majority of your waking hours. Break the activity down into next actions with an estimated time duration. When you perform your project, document the time spent on the project. Record any issues or friction points that you encounter. In the next performance review, look for ways to eliminate or lessen the friction points.

A concrete way to improve your workflows is by documenting it and doing a Performance Review. Have you found anything in your life that you hate doing but still have to do it anyways? Have you conducted a performance review and looked for ways to shorten the time needed tom complete a job? Let us know!