The 3Cs workflow

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I've been thinking about a new idea for managing my day to day workflow for a while, which I fully implemented today and so far it's working really great. I figured I'd share what I'm doing and then maybe in a month or so I'll provide another update to see if it works as well as I'm now hoping it will.

The 3 Cs

The "3Cs" stand for Create, Communicate, and Consume. The idea here is that pretty much anything I'm doing in a given day falls into one of these three categories. There is some slight overlap, but not much really. And sure, I could break things down more, but I think these are just about right.

If I'm building a website, writing a blog post, or even writing up notes from a discussion, I'm creating. If I'm checking or sending email, responding to IMs, or having a phone call, I'm communicating. And if I'm reading websites, checking my RSS reader, watching a TedTalk, or listening to a podcast, I'm consuming.

These are the 3Cs and I'm now modifying how I go about doing my work based on these key groups.

Implementing the 3Cs

At first, I was thinking of using the spaces feature on my Mac. The problem with this is that an open application in one space still shows up as an open application in another space. The windows are different, but the applications are not. This means that I could still get interrupted by an IM, or be tempted to read my Reader or email. So that didn't work.

Then I thought about getting different actual computers, but that seemed like overkill.

The solution? Leveraging different accounts on the Mac. (Hat tip to TK)

I'm using my main account as my "create" space - mainly because I already have a bunch of websites, apps, and other things in this account and it would have been more work than I wanted to move everything to a new account. It also means my *default* space is the creation space, which I like very much.

Then, I created an account titled "Communicate" and another account titled "Consume".

In the Communicate space I have my email, set up my Adium and Skype chat clients, along with my Basecamp projects and Campfire rooms. I also have my TeuxDeux list and Pandora open (the only two programs open in every account.)

In the "Consume" account, I have my RSS reader, any web page I want, along with Twitter and Facebook. Now, I could have had Twitter and Facebook open in the Communicate account, but there's a very good reason why I don't. While yes, it's true that I'm communicating in Twitter and Facebook, I'm mainly consuming. I'll see an interesting post, an article I want to read, or some thread I want to follow. These are distractions that generally lead to some sort of web consumption.

The last thing I want to be doing when I'm sending an important email or having an important conversation over IM is to get distracted by a Twitter feed.

The problem this solves

I think for all of us, we need to be careful how we're handling distractions, and this is a way for me to do that. This not only allows me to focus on what I've decided is important at that time, but it forces me to be honest with myself about what I'm actually doing.

If I'm working on a website and also having an IM conversation, I'm actually not doing either one of those things very effectively. And while yes, an IM conversation might be a distraction at a particular time of the day, it very well may be an important conversation that needs to be had.

And, I've learned a TON by listening to podcasts such as Mixergy; I learn about things happening in the world by checking the NY Times; and I keep up with various people on their blogs. I've been hearing about a lot of people that are consciously consuming less content, and that's great. But I think a lot of us could do well to remember that many of our creations came from the inspiration that often comes from consuming good stuff.

I have no desire to stop consuming quality content.

It's all good. It's all equal. It's just different.

What I've realized is that feeling bad about not working on a website while I'm watching a Ted talk is actually just as much of a distraction as getting an IM while I'm building an App.

What this workflow forces me to do is simply to be honest about what I'm going to be doing for a given time period. If I shouldn't listen to a podcast right now - then I don't go into the consumption account. Easy!

If I want to watch three video podcasts because I think I'll be smarter and better off after? Awesome! But thinking I'm going to check email and have worthwhile conversations during them? Not so much.

And if I'm designing a site, or thinking about how to link pages together, or writing a blog post, or doing any of the other creative things I'm doing, my communication apps are nowhere to be found. They're not hidden, they don't have notifications turned off, or anything like that. They are closed completely; 100% inaccessible unless I launch the apps themselves.

Feeling the cost of context switching

Ultimately what I think this does is it makes me really feel the cost of context switching, and so I don't do it. It's less effort to finish out the thing I'm working on than it is to jump over to another app.

So far so good

I've had a great day today, and have been more productive, communicated better, and felt like the flow to my day was better than it's been in a while.

I'll check back in a month or so to let you know how it's going. But, so far, it's off to a great start.