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Team Productivity

4 Simple Hacks to Try Right Now for a More Productive Team

Tim Macchi
July 18, 2016
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Being productive in today's world can be a challenge. If you work on a computer, you have so many potential distractions. Many don’t even feel like distractions, but they have a cumulative cognitive drag on us. Don’t believe me? Try reading this entire post without checking email or being distracted.

Most productivity vampires all share one thing in common: switching costs. Switching costs are just what they sound like, the loss of cognitive momentum by switching from one task to another. Some also call it multi-tasking and it’s proven to be bad for productivity.

Even if you don’t think you’re multitasking you might unknowingly be committing micro tasks. As a manager or a leader, you can help reduce task switching and dramatically improve your team's productivity by implementing these 4 hacks:

#1 Wage war on meetings

Meetings are a big productivity killer. You know this and yet, you… just… can't… stop. Any meeting of more than 2 people should have it’s necessity seriously questioned.

Meetings make us feel good, and it's good to get everyone in the same room sometimes. And yes, sometimes it's necessary.

At TeamGantt we all work remotely and we have 1 team meeting a month. That’s seriously it.

Try these tips to reduce any impact a meeting might have on your team's productivity:

  • Have meetings first thing in the morning and keep them short. This way the meetings do not interrupt any work that anyone may be doing.
  • You can also have them at the end of the day, but people might be mentally commuting home at that point. Some say morning meetings are not good because people dread them and it’s when they are the most productive, but the types of meetings you should have are the ones that require sharp problem solving and bringing minds together. The drab, update and status meetings that work well in the afternoons could probably be done over email.
  • Ask yourself if you could have this meeting asynchronously. Use a good team communication tool (like TeamGantt). Daily standups, status meetings, company announcements, and updates are all things that probably don’t need everyone in the room at the same time, interrupting their workflow. Be careful with real time chat tools like Slack, as they can also become a distraction. This leads us to the next tip...

#2 Minimize real-time communication

It’s not just big distractions like meetings that can cut into productivity. When you add up all the micro interruptions, they add up to a lot of switching cost.

This is one reason why remote teams are more productive.  But with the rise of Slack, and the natural human response to want to respond to queries in real time, even remote teams are falling into this trap.

Some of the most productive people say that the only way they function and get everything done is through communicating asynchronously. Elon Musk says email is his favorite communication method for this reason.

So, if you want your team to be more productive, stop expecting an immediate response to your Slack message.

Here are a few ways you can minimize real-time communication to boost productivity:

  • Cut the Slack. If your team uses Slack or something like it, make it very clear that responses do not need to be immediate and people do not need to be online or available at all times. Tell them to think of it more like email and less like instant messaging. We do this at TeamGantt and it works great for us. I actually close Slack completely when I’m working in uninterrupted time.
  • Set common uninterrupted time or social time. It can be challenging if everyone is choosing different times to go silent. If that sort of chaos makes you uncomfortable, then try setting a few multi-hour stretches during the day in which everyone should focus on a task and be uninterrupted. Alternatively if you want the main mode of operation to be uninterrupted time, you can set a few hours a day to be designated “social time” where everyone can chat away and collaborate.

It might feel uncomfortable as a leader to not have answers within seconds, but uninterrupted time is the best thing you can give your team to improve their productivity.

#3 Focus on the big rocks first

Most people start their day checking the easy, short tasks off their list. It feels good to complete a task, and it feels even better to complete multiple tasks. The rise of daily team standups to share daily accomplishments only feeds this instinct. As a result, your team is always busy, but it may feel like you’re not moving the dial on the things that really matter.

One of the most coveted and effective of all productivity concepts tells you not to do this. It’s the concept of “Big Rocks.” A similar concept is called “Eat That Frog.” The idea is that it’s easier to fill in open time with smaller tasks than it is to fill in open time with the bigger, more time-involved tasks and activities. It’s important to work on the Big Rocks when you have the most mental energy and not in the afternoon when you feel like a zombie.

So encourage your team to schedule the time for those Big Rocks (Gantt charts work great for this or try making a simple timeline), and then fill in the time around that with tasks from their checklists.

#4 Theme your time

How does Elon Musk run SpaceX and Tesla at the same time? He assigns certain days of the week to Tesla and others to SpaceX. This is an extreme version of theming, but it can work for your team for the same reason it works for Elon. Theming your time to focus on related tasks allows you to get into a groove by reducing the switching cost associated with switching tasks. You can either theme days of the week like Elon does, or you can theme hours, weeks, or even months. The important thing is to make sure you are giving yourself enough time to really focus on one thing or area. If you combine this with uninterrupted time you will find yourself in that zone where you seem to be able to get 10x more done in the same amount of time.

Of course, you don't need to implement all of these at once. Even trying one today can help you move your team in a more productive direction. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I probably have a dozen Slack messages to read.

Project management milestone examples

Milestones make it easier to keep projects on track by calling out major events, dates, decisions, and deliverables. Here are a few examples of project milestones you might include in your plan:

  • Start and end dates for project phases
  • Key deliveries
  • Client and stakeholder approvals
  • Important meetings and presentations
  • Key dates or outages that may impact your timeline

Let’s dig a little deeper and explore 3 specific examples of how using project milestones can benefit your projects.

Monitor deadlines

No plan is ever complete without a list of deadlines! The best way to make them noticeable is to use the project management milestones and deliverables technique. What does this mean? Make the deliverables project milestones!

Why do this? Well, it’s no secret that not everyone wants to pore over your beautiful project plan to find key dates. Most people—your teammates included—want a top-level view of key dates and events. Milestones are great for this purpose because they’re called out in a special way—usually with a diamond—in project plans.

While you should list the tasks and effort leading up to a project milestone, be sure to present the milestone at the end of those tasks to signify a delivery, or even a presentation of, the deliverable.

Here's an example of how Washington Hyperloop uses milestones to track an important deadline in their project.

Spotlight important dates

Are there days from now until the end of your project that could impact your project in some way? Maybe your team will need to be out of the office for a mandatory training. Maybe there’s a board meeting you’re expected to attend.

It’s important to keep all of these important events in mind when you’re planning a project because they could possibly impact your project schedule. So why not include them as project milestones so you can track them all in one place?

In this example, the team’s off-site strat-op meeting has been added to the project plan as a milestone so work can be scheduled around it.

date milestone in gantt chart

Identify potential project bottlenecks

Many projects rely on the work produced by external teams or partners to make forward progress. If you’re not tracking those external factors somewhere, there’s a great chance you’ll forget to follow-up on it.

That’s why it’s important to list these deliverables as project milestones if you’re working on a project that depends on someone or something outside of your project. Here’s an example of what that might look like for a client approval.

deliverable milestone in gantt chart

Want to hit major milestones on time more often?

We’ve got a free class to help you get everyone on board with your plan! Register for Plan Up: How to Create and Sell a Winning Project Plan to see why planning sets the stage for project success, and get a free Guide to Project Planning when you sign up.

How to create a project milestone

Creating milestones for your project plan can be simple, especially with TeamGantt. Once you’ve mapped out your overall process and plan with your team, you can easily add tasks, identify gantt chart milestones, and determine task owners. Adding a milestone (or converting a task to a milestone) is very easy in TeamGantt.

Once you’ve signed up for a TeamGantt account, here’s a quick video on how to create milestones:

Project milestones are easy to create and even easier to track because you’ve called out the most important points in your project.

How to share project milestones with clients and stakeholders

Want to give clients and stakeholders a high-level view of the project? Simply follow these steps to share a PDF of key project milestones in your gantt chart.

1. Filter your project by milestones.

From your gantt chart view, click the All Dates menu at the top of your gantt chart, and select Only Milestones from the drop-down.

filter gantt chart by project milestones

2. Export your filtered project to a PDF file.

Navigate to your project's Menu, and select Print/Export PDF from the drop-down.

export gantt chart with project milestones to PDF

Customize your PDF settings, then click View PDF to complete the export. From there, you can download and/or print your PDF to share with clients and stakeholders.

share PDF of gantt chart filtered by project milestones

Who would have thought such a critical step could be so easy?

Hit every project milestone with ease

TeamGantt makes it easy to create, track, and collaborate on all your project milestones so nothing slips through the cracks.

You’ll have all the features you need to ensure projects finish on time and under budget—from drag and drop simplicity and team collaboration to customizable views and workload management.

Best of all, it’s all wrapped up in a simple and intuitive interface your whole team will love. 😍

Give TeamGantt a free try today!

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