For any business or trades worker, you should think of your workflow like a river. If it flows neatly downstream, then all is going well. If there are any blockages in the river, the water starts to back up. Suddenly, you’re weeks behind schedule, cancelling appointments, and losing well-earned vacation time because of communication issues, mishandled equipment, or shipping mishaps.

In short, you want to keep that river flowing steadily. Here’s are some things to consider so you can do that:

When and why work is slowing down

To improve your workflow, you first have to identify where the stoppage points are. Think of these as moments in the week where work is routinely being halted or delayed for a recurring reason. Grab a notepad, and jot all of those moments down. Consider ranking them from the most-to-least important issues.

Once you have a list, you’ll know what the problems are that you want to solve. Taking the time to identify these stoppage points will make you more productive and efficient in the long run. After all, sometimes you have to slow things down in order speed things up.

How you can improve communication with your team and outside partners

Once you’ve written down the list of when your workflow is usually held up, it’s likely that you’ll find that you had some issue with communication. That’s okay. There are easy steps to solving communication issues! To do this, you’ll have to look internally and externally.

To look internally, ask yourself:

  • What are the communication issues between you and your employees?
  • If you’re a small business owner, are you being as attentive as possible? Maybe you haven’t been routinely checking in with your workers, and haven’t had the chance to set up weekly team meetings. Here, you could ask about the communication issues they face, or the workflow problems that you may have neglected to see. Answering these questions will help you attack these problems head-on.

To identify external communication issues, ask yourself:

  • Are you working with any third parties that could be more attentive? Perhaps the company bringing you materials is always a few hours late. It could be time to make new partnerships, or file a more direct notice to a company letting them know that their responsiveness could be improved. Not only will this show them what your needs are, but your feedback could help them improve workflow issues of their own.

What online resources to invest in to help do managerial work for you

There are hundreds of apps out there for you to help you maintain a steady flow of work.

Slack, for example, is a digital communication channel for your business, which essentially creates group chats of various sizes for you and your employees where you can share anything from PDFs to photos.

You might feel like your business is too small to invest in online resources. Five employees, for instance, can easily communicate through an email chain. As your business grows, your workflow will be held up as you try to onboard more employees.

Where you can automate work

Automation is usually the last thing a trades worker wants to hear. However, when used properly, it can be a useful tool to expand your capabilities as a worker, rather than a robot coming to steal your job.

In fact, automation can save you time and energy from some of the most mundane tasks in your day. Duties like scheduling shifts, managing payroll, organizing client folders, and confirming appointments can largely be automated with a few useful online resources.

Whether you’re giving your employees time to recharge their energy for maximum productivity

Work is more efficient when people take breaks - this is something that society is realizing more and more. Breaks are essential for employees to recharge and return to their jobs with better attitudes for getting through the day. Your employees may want to work as much as possible to earn their buck, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be more productive.

In one survey, even though 20% of North American workers worried about not working hard enough after taking a lunch break, about 90% of them said that it helped them feel more refreshed.

Ultimately, workflow is powered by productive employees, and productive employees are ones that are happy, well-rested, and encouraged to think creatively. Encourage your workers to go on walks, take coffee breaks, or even step outside for a moment to catch some fresh air. While it might seem like they’re stepping away from their shift, they’re actually recharging to be more productive for the rest of the day.