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.