Lean Productivity For Individuals (in action)

Last week we talked about the 5 principles of lean productivity and how to apply them. But I didn't give a full example to make things feel real and tangible. In this post, I want to try and apply things on my own workflow and see how it works.

Identify value

We talked about this in the first post, and I will probably keep mention it as it's the most important step of out process. It's easy to fool yourself, say I want to be productive at X without giving a good explanation for why. We don't give ourselves the time to think it through or look ahead and see if we want to do this thing long term.

When you want to identify the real value, it's better to look in the future. I like to use the 5 years transition framework. Grab a pen and paper and create a table of 3 columns. In each column write down how you see yourself after five years if:

a. Things stayed the same and not much changed.

b. Things improved a little bit and you managed to make some changes

c. Things dramatically changed. Picture the best-case scenario, go wild, be a dreamer.

You will probably find the real value you seek somewhere between column 2 and 3. 

When I did this exercise I kept thinking of what makes me happy, what do I enjoy most, so here is what my table looks like:

3 versions of me in 5 years

Value stream mapping

To see the full picture of my workflow, first I had to break things to steps. I took creating videos as an example, but you could apply it to anything.

Creating videos should go like this:

  1. Writing the script
  2. Filming
  3. Editing
  4. Design Thumbnail + description

After a couple of tries, things start making sense. My flow diagram looks like this:


Honestly, before doing the exercise I was sceptical. I wasn't sure what to expect. But after looking at it I start noticing the bottlenecks and roadblocks, so I made a list of all the "waste" to see where my bucket was leaking.

Where time was wasted

For me, filming and editing took the majority of my time, which make sense, but they took way more time than they should. Filming was taking so long because I didn't work enough on the script and had to record parts multiple times. With editing, I wasted time reviewing, trimming and cutting videos even before creating a project in editing software (FCP). Later I found its much faster to create the project, go over the videos and highlight the good parts and add them to the timeline straight away.

Overall this exercise turned out to be very helpful to identify the issues in my flow. Next step was making a list of things I can do to improve it:

  1. Work first thing in the morning
  2. Block a window of 2 -3h to film/edit
  3. Spend more time editing the script
  4. Put a time limit on creating a filming setup
  5. Don't multitask

Continues workflow & pull system

One of the main issues I suffered from, and noticed that many other fellow indie hackers/makers suffer form as well, is working on many side projects at the same time. And to make matter worse, picking up new projects without finishing old ones. Trying to juggle 10 balls at the same time.

This is a perfect example of busy-ness vs productivity. When you run on a treadmill, you won't get anywhere.

Building a (pull) continues workflow means you must work in smaller batches, where you do your best not to work on anything you don't need yet. In my case, I don't write scripts for all 20 videos sitting on my todo list. I do one at a time, I film it, edit it, and publish it before I move to the next one.

This may sound counter-intuitive. You may think that doing videos in batches and mass (write all scripts then film everything, etc) should be faster and more efficient. But there are many experiments proved the opposite. Here's a short video to demonstrate that:

Continues improvements

One of the reasons I was stuck in the procrastination cycle is because I never implemented a feedback loop. I kept trying things, hacks, tricks and tools, you name it. The issue, I never knew what worked and what didn't and why what didn't work, didn't work!

Productivity is a process and like any other, it needs reviewing and improving. Pausing every week or every month to look back and review your work to see how you can improve is not an optional step, but it's arguably the most important one.

One of the best habits I picked up last year was daily journaling. At the end of each day, I write down how my day was, what went wrong and a tiny message to my future self on how to do better. This daily feedback loop was my way to skip the treadmill.

Practice makes perfect

It will take you many iterations before you can master any flow. I'll probably need to create at least 50 videos to get anywhere near my ideal video creating flow. That won't happen without practicing, recognising the flaws, and continuously improving.

What's next?

So far we talked about implementing a workflow in a vacuum, in isolation of our environment, routines and habits. For this to work, we must have a supportive environment. Which we will discuss in the next post.