Workflow doesn’t just mean your ability to sit through a day of work without being distracted by cat videos on YouTube (although that is an accomplishment all by itself). It refers to a system or pattern that allows you to take in new work, process it, and complete it. Without establishing a workflow, you’re essentially taking on new work, piling it up, and never seeing it through to 100% completion. Sound familiar?
As an online customer service representative, you naturally have a list of tasks that need to be addressed in any given day or week. But when you work from home, the level of flexibility you have on the job can affect your ability to get even the most simple of tasks done. If you cringe at the thought of your boss or spouse asking you, “So what did you get done today?” or if you get palpitations just thinking about your support ticket queue, odds are you’re not in a good workflow.
Whether you’re new to the online service game, or if this is your first few weeks at a work-from-home job, it’s really time to establish a workflow that works for you. You can also use the steps here to develop a workflow even as a veteran work-from-home support rep. You can create a fantastic work/life balance and eliminate the bad stress in your life, all while accomplishing more and feeling great about your work.
The Power of the Workflow
Think back to the last day where you felt truly good about your workday and all that you accomplished. Was there something you did in a specific order that just felt right or that helped you be efficient and effective in finishing off your tasks for the day? We often assume that this “good day” is just a result of our mood or external situations, which can sometimes be true. But in reality, this “good day” usually crops up when you fall into your workflow and don’t fight the current.
Researchers like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi consider this flow state as the source of happiness in life and in work – it’s kind of a big deal. When you’re in your workflow, you enter a state where you are in complete control of the task at hand, you are not thinking about anything of import aside from the task, and you feel “intrinsically rewarded” when you complete the task.
Are you having a hard time imagining that you’ll get a sense of personal fulfillment from completing a support ticket? While your online service career may not be the most glamorous thing in your life, establishing this state of flow can help you be more productive (you’ll finish more tasks), more efficient (you’ll get more work done in less time), and more effective (you’ll have a greater impact).
But the question is – How do you find your workflow, and how do you hold on to it?
Starting From Scratch
Finding your workflow is a little like fumbling in the dark instead of turning on a light switch. If you don’t take a good hard look at yourself, your work, and how you operate on a daily basis, you’re probably never going to find your flow. Most importantly, you cannot force workflow on yourself, especially one that goes against the way you operate as an individual.
So let’s start from the beginning.
We’ve talked about schedules and routines a lot in previous articles, so read up on those if you want to really get a bird’s eye view of your work process. The basics are:
- What hours of the day are you most productive?
- What seems to be the right amount of sleep for you?
- When do you wake up and when do you start working?
- Do you have set break times or plan for errands during your workday?
- What time do you step away from work and do you respond to work notifications after that time?
You may think this is all fairly irrelevant to establishing your “in the zone” mood as you work, but it’s incredibly important, so hang in there. Once you’ve written down (or mentally outlined) your workday, think back to the last day you felt really good about your work.
- Did you follow the outlined “routine” you answered above?
- What was different? Is the difference important?
- Do your normal days follow that same trajectory or do you wander from this routine?
- How much did you produce/complete on this “good day” and how much do you usually produce/complete?
Odds are, you’re seeing a distinction between this good day and what a normal day looks like for you. It’s also quite possible that you’re seeing trends that make or break your workday, like maybe waking up later or saying “Yes!” when your friend calls to go to a last minute lunch.
Remember to focus on what trends in your daily schedule help you be more productive and that result in the elated feeling you get when you realize you totally rocked it today.
The Anatomy of Your Work Process
Now that you know what a good day looks like, let’s delve into what you actually do on those days to process your work. This is probably the most personal aspect of this process, so it’s up to you to fill in a lot of the blanks.
When you’re having a good workday, it means you woke up on time, you’ve taken your breaks (when you expected to), and you’ve put your butt in the chair to do the work. But what exactly does that work look like?
Do you start a good day by:
- Answering emails
- Writing a task list for the day
- Sending out invoices
- Browsing your support queue to determine the order you’ll respond
- ________________ (fill in the blank)
Follow your last good workday to the next step, then the next, then the next. After the first part of your day, maybe you opened the first support ticket and worked through it until it was entirely completed. Maybe you emailed your boss to check in. Maybe you went through your entire email inbox until it was empty. Whatever it was, break it down into bite-sized steps that you can imitate in the future.
You can track it here if that helps you:
If you like to write things out, also add in details that can help you emulate that good workday again, such as when you woke up, when you took breaks, if you exercised, etc. All of these details may be important to re-entering your workflow at a later date.
If you can, try to remember how long you worked on a task, what software or programs you used to complete the task, and if you moved on to a new task or took a break after completing the first. You don’t have to write this down if you don’t want, but it helps to really chunk your good workday out so you can see what made it all fit together.
Now that you have a pretty comprehensive look at what made up your last good workday, you can take that information and use it to create another good workday, and then another, and then another, and then another….
You’ve also established what prevents you from having a good day, and it’s time to work on weeding out those situations and events to make it easier to enter your workflow state.
No More Distractions
Now that you know the general curve of a good workday, you also can compare and contrast that with a normal workday, or even a bad one. What goes wrong? What is so different? For some people, the difference could be:
- Waking up too late, or not getting enough sleep
- Getting lost in email before starting the day’s important tasks
- Seeing a long support ticket queue and taking a break before getting started
- Accepting invitations to go out when you still have work left to do
- Binging on Netflix to get over a rough customer encounter
- Spending too long on one task
- Getting sucked into a Facebook political discussion instead of working
You have the outline of what you want your day to look like, and you know exactly how it felt when you hung up your online customer service rep at the end of the day. Why would you want to keep distracting yourself from that feeling? It’s time to focus on following the path you’ve laid out, and it’s time to stop letting external factors control your productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness.
Bit by bit, try playing with routines, habits, or even new software that help you enter that workflow. Maybe you’ll discover that quiet classical music helps you get in the zone, or that you need to block social media on your computer during your work hours. Try turning off everything except phone call notifications on your phone, or shutting your office door.
Whatever you need to do to set yourself up for success and a distraction-free workflow, do it. It won’t all happen overnight, but before you know it, you’ll start having more good work days than bad ones.
You now have a toolkit for finding your workflow and this will make it easy to dip back into that flow in the future. While bad days are just a natural occurrence when you’re an online customer service professional, the key is understanding how to prevent those bad days from bleeding into good ones. Identifying your workflow and your own unique process will make your job that much easier, and let you love it that much more.
The thing about workflow is that it’s like a current; it naturally wants to take you with it. The sticking point is learning how to remove the boulders that block your way, and to stop swimming upstream. Don’t fight the workflow, and let it find you! You, your employer, and the customers you support will all be much happier when you do.
Latasha Doyle is a freelance writer living outside of Denver. When she’s not writing or reading, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.