Skip to Content

Workflow: Simplify Your Life at Work and Home

20160516_095451Balancing family life, personal, and business present challenges when your interests are catholic (little c, not big C). Family is always a priority while business always demands more of your time; personal time is needed for mental well-being and health. Business owners are in the toughest situation. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk changed the world with their work. The best learn quickly to avoid keeping busy. Even small business owners suffer the same demands on their time as captains of industry.

Some leaders are better at managing their time and personal lives than others. Steve Jobs was noted for his intensity. Elon Musk gave us PayPal, Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX. Their skills in creating value are legendary, but Jobs managed to find time to meditate and stay married, while Musk has had three wives in the last decade. A burning intensity to perform does not preclude a healthy home life. Bill Gates got married and stayed married. (Bill and Melinda make a cute couple.)

If Elon Musk can run several multi-billion dollar corporations, it is possible for you to do great things while retaining balance in your life. Few of us will ever experience the demands of a Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Warren Buffett. It boils down to managing workflow. By creating systems to manage all the demands on your time you can create a happier, healthier, and more productive life.

Work Life

No matter where you work, there will be demands on time. I will approach this from a business owner’s viewpoint because that is my worldview and experience.

Recent events challenged the system I used for many years in my office. Additional new clients with greater needs than most of my current clients coupled with Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will, and at the worst possible moment) tested my skills. I am still digging out.

Here are some considerations for managing workflow at work:

  • Outline expectations with clients, co-workers, and the boss. Since everyone has different needs and expectations it can be like dancing on the edge of a razor. People will constantly try to push you off balance, not out of malice, but to gain advantage to satisfy their own needs.
  • Build a system that works and is flexible. In my tax office we have to be prepared for everything. Our best laid plans can crumble if we create a rigid workflow. A critical issue can take precedence over regular work.
  • Allow your team to shine. I refuse to dictate most workflow matters. My team is in a better position to determine the best course of action to maximize their productivity. I provide guidance when necessary. When issues arise I provide input and allow each employee to then determine the best way to manage work at their station.
  • Consider categories. We are in the process of switching our tax workflow procedures. We will list each tax return that comes in A, B, or C. Tax returns in the A category anyone can prepare with only minor review. These are the easiest returns. The B tax returns can be data entered by anyone, but will require a review. All C tax returns must be prepared by me or reviewed by me. The C returns are the most difficult or contain issues where my experience will result in significantly lower taxes.
  • Each work environment is different. Using my office as an example again, I set priorities on workload. Certain phone calls must be made today. Due dates frequently dictate work order in a tax office.
  • Record every step. We use multiple organization tools to manage workflow in my office. Every piece of work is entered on a worksheet at the front desk. We have a redundant system to reduce errors. Tax returns are reviewed. Even my work is checked. For example: When a tax return is finished and signed by the client it goes in a slot. I take these e-files and process them. When the IRS accepts the return I mark it ACK and return it to another slot. Natasha, at my front desk, checks each e-file to make sure it was really e-filed. We don’t want a return unfiled because a page stuck together.
  • Use time management tools. Each member of my team uses different methods to process their workload. I tend to be a paper and pencil guy. I have handwritten notes everywhere (and only I can read them due to my awesome handwriting skills, though I have it on good authority Natasha is able to grasp every seventh word). Many employees use Post-It notes, the digital kind, and keep them on their screen. Outlook is a great management tool. The tax software I use has several time/workload manage tools built into the program.
  • Always keep an open mind. Test ideas to improve your workflow. Team members are a great source of ideas to better manage time and workload.

51AL-nTCBzL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_There are many more ways to manage workflow in your professional life. Each situation is unique, as are you. What works for me may not work for you. I prefer to manage by fiat. My employees tell me they love how I grant them the latitude to determine their own work space. I refuse to spend my day hunched over the backs of my team. I hire good people and give them the authority to do the job in the most efficient way for them.

Family Life

Family is more important than work. Work life frequently requires us to spend more time with people other than family so it is imperative we prioritize family life. Since I have been married for 28 years (to the same woman, you smart ass) and have two daughters who managed to stay off drugs and not get pregnant, I assume I did something right. I make no claim to being the perfect father or husband. All I can do is share what I do that led to the current results.

  • Tell them you love them every day. This is the most important part of any relationship. Tell them you care. First thing every morning, I give all my girls a kiss, a hug, and tell them I love them. It is also the last thing I do before retiring each evening. Regardless the situation, I tell my wife and daughters I love them. If I am upset about something they still get a hug and kiss. I make it clear I am upset about the action, or lack thereof, and not with them.
  • Never go to bed angry. This is Mrs. Accountant’s rule. A good one, too. There will be times when you are not happy with a situation. No matter, we still make peace before we sleep. The next day we usually deal with the situation better anyway.
  • Praise often. It is too easy to admonish when a family member does something against your liking. Be sure to praise even faster. A child with poor grades needs a pat on the back when they ace a test. If you are married for 28 years there will be things that irritated you over the years. You can whine and complain or ask gently for some changes. When your significant other does something you like, let them know. Maybe someone needs to lose weight. Instead of harping on their eating habits and flab, comment on their choice of quality food or skipping desert. Reinforce the positive rather than focus on the negative. Once you conquer this skill there will be few disagreements in your household. Mrs. Accountant and I have not had an argument/fight in 25 years. The first three years were a different story. I had to learn some skills and I was determined to have a good marriage.
  • Give each other space. To the best of my ability I do not crowd my family. Everybody needs down time alone. I am comfortable allowing my daughters and Mrs. Accountant their free time without me. Girl time is important. So is guy time. Sometimes life events require alone time to process an event. When ready, they will seek your comfort.
  • Love unconditionally. My wife and daughters are individuals. I have no desire to mold them into what I want. I prefer family members who are their own person. When you love unconditionally your family is unlikely to leave you. Where could they possibly go where it is better? The best they could hope for is a draw.
  • Fix yourself. It is impossible to fix someone else. It is a fool’s errand. I worry about my behavior and encourage my family in theirs. I take care of my health and encourage my girls to do the same. Then it is up to them. No harping. I am not perfect and do not expect anyone else to be either.
  • Make your family special. I spend very little money on myself or family. Mrs. Accountant and I have not exchanged Christmas, birthday, or anniversary gifts in decades. Our relationship is not predicated upon stuff. Instead, we spend quality time together sharing stories, ideas, loves, concerns, and feelings. Our gift is ourselves.
  • Learn to push buttons. People together a long time know each other’s buttons. Always avoid pushing buttons to control or harm. Instead, learn which buttons make your family members happier. Too many people push the wrong buttons on their significant other for a variety of crazy reasons. Stop! You have no idea how fun and fulfilling your relationship can be until you start pushing the buttons that turn him/her on.

It takes commitment and work to have a solid marriage or relationship. Do not get lost in work, school, kids, life obligations, or anything else for that matter. Make your significant other number one in your life. Encourage your children toward excellence. Love them unconditionally. Remain faithful. (It is easy remaining faithful when your relationship is anchored on the deepest of bedrock.)

Personal Life

People get so caught up in work and family that they forget to take care of themselves. Family is more important than work; you are more important than family. Think of it this way: why do airlines tell you, in the event of an emergency, to put on your oxygen mask first, then the kids? Because you can’t help the kids if you are unconscious or injured. You must put “you” first. This is not self-centered arrogance. To provide for your family you need to mange yourself; before you outperform at work you need a healthy home life. It all makes sense.

Here are some tips to maintain a healthy personal life, including mind, body, and soul:

  • Quiet time. To maintain good mental health you need time alone to separate your thoughts.
  • Mental health is increased by running alternative lives. You soon realize how lucky you are when you visualize alternatives. It is natural to think of other people in ways you would not in real life. It creates balance, showing your mind the high quality life you actually have.
  • Clear the mind for a few moments minimum every day. Pray if you are religious.
  • Who cares who is watching? Read what trips your trigger.
  • If you are walked in on, don’t stop singing. Instead, start dancing with the new arrival. Who cares if the police serving a search warrant think you are nuts? It’s a happy nuts.
  • Quiet the mind and then listen to all the sounds around you. There is a whole new world you have been missing and it is an awesome world, indeed!
  • Eat right. Garbage in, garbage out. Feed your body good fuel and it will serve you well for a century.
  • Lift things, walk, run, jump. Life is too short to sit on your ass all day.
  • Make friends of everyone. We all have a few close friends. Having many acquaintances can provide a fulfilling addition to life. Be a friend to all you meet and share ideas and stories. It makes life all worthwhile.
  • Give thanks. Express gratitude to yourself and others. It is okay to feel smug after completing a good job.

I am sure you can add to my lists. Please do so in the comments below. Remember, it is an awesome day to be alive.


Monday 16th of May 2016

I enjoyed the way you broke this down into your professional, family and personal lives. That's good perspective! I had a client who always talked about finding ways to S&S, or simplify and standardize. I suppose it's akin to Munger's checklist approach, but I try to apply the concept in as many areas of my life as possible. It leaves way more time for the things that really matter - like telling your spouse and kids you love them everyday!