Organizing teams to consistently meet deadlines is one of the biggest headaches for any project manager. Encouraging a change in approach, along with providing the tools to manage their own time, can help your team boost their productivity and get every project finished on time.
Here are 5 productivity hacks your team can start implementing today:
1. The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique is one of the most well-known productivity and time management hacks to teach your team. The method is simple. All you have to do is break down all of your work into short tasks or blocks of time that run for about 20 to 40 minutes, called Pomodoros. After each Pomodoro, you take a short break for a couple of minutes to refresh.
The exact amount of time is up to you. Just make sure it is short enough that you can work with 100% focus for the full Pomodoro. Keeping it to a regular chunk of time like 20 minutes or half an hour also makes it easier to schedule and reschedule your work by moving Pomodoros around.
Breaking work down into these bite-size chunks means you are never more than about half an hour from reaching the next progress milestone. As a result, it is easier to stay focused on the task at hand for the full duration of a Pomodoro, meaning more of the working day is spent working at full capacity, despite also taking more breaks.
2. Shallow Work vs. Deep Work
The level of energy and focus that we have changed throughout the day. Most people get the majority of their work done in the late morning and early afternoon, with their focus starting to wane from that point. Of course, this assumes a regular 9 to 5 schedule, but the same principle applies to any schedule. For many people, the most productive part of the day starts a few hours after they wake up.
Why does this matter?
Not all work requires the same amount of focus. Scheduling work according to the level of attention and mental effort it takes uses your finite daily productivity more efficiently instead of wasting your best work hours on menial tasks.
A great place to start is by dividing tasks into shallow work and deep work. Shallow work is all the tasks that need to be done, but don’t necessarily challenge your skillset or take a lot of focus. Things like data entry or checking routine emails fall into this category. Since they don’t take a lot of energy, these should be handled towards the end of the working day, or scheduled as a short break from more demanding tasks.
Deep work is the opposite. These tasks might take hours of dedicated focus, and the amount of care and attention you put in will have a big impact on the final result. This could be something like creating the content and planning processes to host a webinar. The average person can work at their full focus for 2 to 4 hours a day, usually starting mid to late morning. All of this time should be spent on uninterrupted deep work.
3. Go Offline
Uninterrupted work is central to making the best use of your deep work time. Keeping your team online and available via chat apps and email at all times means they can never fully focus on their tasks.
Video conferencing tools are invaluable in the right situation, such as when working on a collaborative task, or holding a meeting or group planning session. Staying on the call all day can be a distraction and a big productivity killer here when used incorrectly, at least for some.
This does not mean you will be in the dark about what your team is up to, however. Be strict about using status and availability indicators within your team apps so team members always know if they can get a quick response from someone. Daily scheduled availability for contact should be part of every team member’s profile so anyone, even from other teams, can tell at a glance when to expect a reply.
Adopting these practices gives your team more freedom to work in the way they know works best for them while reducing the need for micromanagement. It does introduce a few new concerns, however.
Namely, if your team member is offline and you have an urgent message or an upcoming meeting they can’t afford to forget, how do you reach them? Using internal SMS to send important alerts and reminders can get around this problem. Keep it for urgent alerts and important reminders, however, as using SMS to communicate constantly would defeat the point of enabling offline time.
4. Time Batching
Time batching is easy when it comes to deep work. Since these tasks already often take at least several hours, simply dedicate all of your 2 to 4 hours of deep work on a given day to a single task. If working on the same thing every day saps your motivation, alternate between deep work tasks every day or every other day.
Shallow work is a bit more complicated since it consists of short tasks, which is where time batching becomes useful. It is easy to fall into a habit of handling each bit of shallow work as soon as it pops up, or whenever you can fit it in.
This is not the best approach. It takes time to get up to speed on a task. Switching between work constantly will reduce your productivity and the quality of output on both tasks. This is especially true if you switching between two very different types of work.
Instead, incorporate all of these small tasks into your schedule by grouping them into related batches that can then be scheduled as Pomodoros. This means that instead of stopping and starting with lots of little jobs all day, you can build momentum by turning them into bigger tasks that need the same kind of skills. For example, instead of keeping your email open to quickly fire off replies, try handling all of your communication within a few Pomodoros at the middle and end of the day.
5. Project Planning
Setting clear milestones and progress tracking at the beginning of a project makes it easier to handle a delay as soon as the first signs start to show. This includes not just setting milestones and deadlines for each task, but also clearly mapping out task dependencies where each part of the project is dependent on the progress of other tasks. Creating visual project timelines is a great way to communicate these relationships between tasks to your team in a way that lets them understand their priorities at a glance.
When a delay or scope change occurs, this will enable you to make better decisions about reallocating time and resources. As a result, it will reduce the amount of ‘dead time’ where team members have nothing to do because they are waiting on other milestones.
The right tools and approaches can have a big impact on your team’s productivity. Scheduling a routine that works with the natural ebb and flow of your team’s ability to focus ensures that their finite productivity is spent where it is needed most. Enabling your team to manage their own time in this way takes smart use of project management tools to stay organized, however.