Workflow as Easy as P-D-S-A

In 1939, Walter Shewhart introduced the concept of “plan-do-check-act” as a scientific process of acquiring knowledge. In the 1980s, Edwards Deming refined the cycle by changing “check” into a “study” process. The cycle is logical and is used to test information before moving to the next step. It can be applied to all types of learning and improvement. It can also be applied to improve your daily workflow. Here’s how.


  • Write down everything that you need to do. Hold this list in your in-basket, notebook, email folder or calendar, anywhere that you normally keep your “to-do’s” (but not in your head!).
  • Review the items on your list and determine priorities.
  • Determine resource requirements for each item on your list. Can you do it all yourself? Or do you need to delegate? To whom will you delegate?
  • Do you need equipment or materials to complete work on any of the items on your list? Note what is required and when/where to order.
  • How much time will it take for you to complete each item on your list? When you have your timeline, multiply it by three to get a realistic timeline.
  • Schedule time in your calendar for each of the planned items based on your realistic timeline.
  • Remember to schedule priority items first. Base priority on your organization’s requirements in light of long-term goals and objectives. If you’re not sure what a priority item is, ask someone who knows the answer.
  • When scheduling time to accomplish tasks, take into account your individual energy cycle. For instance, if your energy is higher in the morning, then plan on working on more difficult tasks, leaving less demanding work for the afternoon such as returning phone calls or emails, attending meetings, etc.


  • Do the work as planned. In other words, work your plan!
  • Follow B-F-A-T for email and everything else. For instance, if the scheduled item requires considerable work, B-bring it forward by scheduling time to work on it (e.g., big projects, research, report writing, etc.). If the item is for information purposes only, then F-file it. If the item can be dealt with in less than two minutes, then A-act on it now. If the item has no value to you or the organization, then T-toss/delete it. There. You’re done.


  • Daily, weekly, and monthly, review your calendar and list of to-do’s.
  • Update your to-do list by deleting items that are complete and rescheduling items that can be rescheduled.
  • Keep your list current.
  • If you’re falling behind schedule, can you delegate work? Perhaps your timelines are inaccurate. Go back and re-examine your estimates, requirements, and priorities.
  • What modifications need to be made to your priorities, schedule, resources, timelines, delegated work, etc.?


  • Based on the results of the review of your work (i.e., the “study” phase), make adjustments to your work plan.
  • Go back to the “plan” phase and repeat the cycle.

What you may have noticed about this four-step process is that we spend the most amount of time in the planning phase. This makes sense because planning is the most important part of anything we do. If we don’t plan, we set ourselves up for failure. It is not unusual to spend up to 80 percent of time in the planning phase. Once you know what needs doing and you’re prepared by planning for it, execution is relatively easy.  

Repeat this cycle as frequently as you need. It can be done several times even within one task. This cycle is your key to continuous improvement in your workflow.

Imagine if each individual followed a continuous improvement cycle in their work. The resulting benefits would include organization-wide continuous improvement such as greater efficiency, greater productivity, less waste, and a culture that thrives on innovation and change. The plan-do-study-act cycle is your key to continuing success.

Relax to Gain Power

Productivity is directly proportional to your ability to control stress. That is, the more you are able to control your stress, the greater your productivity. And with greater productivity comes greater power.

Imagine this:

  • Your boss has moved the report deadline forward
  • You need to pick your kids up from school
  • Your in-laws are coming over for dinner this weekend
  • The project team meeting needs to be rescheduled
  • The house has to be cleaned
  • The groceries need to be bought
  • A key project team member called in sick today
  • The kids’ piano lessons were cancelled this week

…and that’s just from the top of your head! Can you see the problem with this? The problem is that your mind is being consumed with to-do’s that directly inhibit your productivity. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The constant rattling of “to-do’s” in your head compromises both your ability to relax and your power. What to do (pardon the pun) about this? Create systems that help to relax your mind.

When one has a system for managing their day, the mind quiets. And when the mind is quiet, you are able to approach your day and its challenges with the necessary focus. But when your mind is noisy, you cannot do this – the white noise zaps your power. To stop the noise and take back your power, here are five things you can do right now:

  1. Today, plan for tomorrow. That means today you will make a list of everything you need to accomplish tomorrow.
  2. Take that list and input it into your calendar, scheduling sufficient time for each to-do.
  3. Too many to-do’s for tomorrow? Bounce non-priority items to the next day and the days after that. Tomorrow’s to-do’s are only “must do tomorrow” items, not “must do this week/month” items.
  4. Manage yourself and your work habits. Be honest with yourself. Are you following your schedule? If not, where are you wasting your time and why? Identify timewasters and get rid of them.
  5. Control your work environment. You can manage external distractions including telephone calls, emails, visitors, and a noisy work environment.

I find that when I schedule all of my activities and follow them, my mind is free to focus on only the immediate task on which I’m working. Why? Because I trust that my system will alert me when the next task or meeting is due. I don’t have to worry about upcoming tasks in the meantime. The freedom gained with using schedules and lists is seen in the productivity gains that seem to occur naturally from this freedom.

You owe it to yourself to free your mind and take back your power. The increased productivity that you will experience will not only make you shine at work, but you will also feel better and be more fun to be around. And who wouldn’t want this experience?

For more information on how to plan and manage your work day, see “How Can Bottleneck Executives Improve their Personal Workflow?”