Productivity is an illusion.
A hazy oasis shimmering at the edges of the desert, always visible but never quite reached.
At least, when it comes to the kind of productivity we’re all dreaming of. The team that is 100% productive, with no loss of time, and shifting seamlessly from one project to the other with military precision.
The fact is, we’re human beings: both us and our clients, and life happens. Things go wrong. Files get lost. Emergencies occur. Meetings get cancelled. Cars break down.
And that perfect productivity we’re seeking for gets pushed further and further back, until we wonder whether it’s best to simply scramble things together the way we have been doing, and hope for the best.
The answer of course is both yes and no.
Sometimes scrambling things together is the best way to good productivity. You can achieve quite a lot by simply giving something a go.
Eventually, however, scrambling collapses into the biggest and most unproductive mess you’ve ever seen, and it all catches up on you.
For Work Wise Week, QuickBooks is looking to highlight productivity tips in order to help encourage efficiency and smarter working practices within the workplace.
So here are our tips for productivity in the real world – the messy, mixed-up, not-quite-perfect world that we all live and work in.
1. Use Slack instead of email for team communication.
As a company with 100% of our team working remotely, we use Slack for all internal team communications. It’s our office base, our kettle, our water cooler, our boardroom.
We chose Slack for two reasons – one, all the creative agencies I knew were talking about it. And two, within a month of using it my total emails had gone down by over 40%.
Slack makes us more productive because:
- The team have access to each other, but not on an interruption basis (as in a physical office). It allows focused work without having to be socially rude. When someone stops by your desk and says, “Hey, do you have a minute?” and you point-blank ignore them, things could get difficult. If someone sends a Slack message and it’s not replied to for a few minutes, no problem.
- It’s manageable by each team member depending on how their day is going – If you’re working on something and don’t want to be disturbed, you snooze Slack notifications. If you see a question and don’t know the answer, you leave it for later and set a reminder.
- Everything is visible, but only when needed. With email, communication goes back and forth, takes longer, and often copies in people who don’t need to be (or misses out people who do need to know). In Slack, everyone has visibility, but only if they want to.
- There are integrations to everything – Google Docs, Dropbox, Hootsuite, Zoom, Stripe, you name it. Every few weeks Slack comes out with more integrations that make life better – and more productive.
- It’s got a killer search function. The search box in Slack is like a little mini-Google for all your team conversations. Can’t remember that login? Type in ‘login’ and it will let you jump to that conversation you had about it a few days ago. Trying to remember where the team meeting is going to be held? A quick search and the info from months ago appears in seconds. Talk about productivity.
2. Use Zoom to hold meetings online as much as possible.
These days, online meetings with Zoom or Skype or Gotomeeting or FaceTime or whatever is seen as standard. No one’s really surprised to have an online meeting instead of an in-person one.
Because our team is 100% remote, all of our meetings are held this way. Every rare once in a while we meet up in person with a client – usually in connection with one of our Customer Journey website build projects, or at a conference or event. But our primary way of working is to hold video calls online – and it saves time not only for our team, but for our clients as well.
It also means that any team member can join in on any meeting, anytime. You’re never missing the people you need.
We use Zoom because Skype is simply not working as well as it used to. It cuts out and has issues and hangs up on people – and don’t even get me started on Skype for Business. Every one of our clients who has it ends up having two Skype accounts, neither of which works well.
We used to use Gotomeeting, and we still do sometimes, but it’s a little more old-school technology wise. When it comes to technology, do what everyone else is doing. There’s usually a reason for it.
To enhance productivity, actively encourage the team to use online meetings wherever possible. You’ll be surprised how often they don’t actually need to get in the car, drive to the client, hold the meeting, and drive back – all with hours of lost time for traffic and parking and whatever else.
3. Use Trello to plan systems & share ideas.
When we as a team recently wanted to build new onboarding and delivery systems, the suggestion was given to us that we take a bunch of post it notes and create the system on a wall.
Since we’re a remote team, Trello became our post it notes, and our wall. We created a few boards, added the team, and held online meetings (via Zoom!) to go through them and shift boards and cards around. In between meetings, the team could access Trello and make changes anytime.
This is particularly helpful when it comes to sharing ideas about content marketing. Many of our clients would like to get their team more involved with generating good content for the firm’s marketing, and Trello is a brilliant way to do this.
Make it a habit for every team member to add something to the joint Trello board every day – a positive comment from a client, a new idea for a blog post or video, some thoughts on an upcoming marketing campaign.
You can still hold in-person team meetings, planning meetings, strategy meetings, whatever – but to enhance their productivity, use Trello to document what you’ve discussed so you don’t have to scrounge for those notes and wonder what happened to the list of actions.
4. Encourage rest.
One of our four pillars at The Profitable Firm is rest. This one always gets the raised eyebrows when I’m sharing them at an event, or with someone new. Creativity – yep, makes sense, you’re a creative agency. Integrity – of course, absolutely, we all agree with that. Generosity – ah yes, social responsibility, well done. Rest – huh?? What’s that?
We’re slaves to the idea that if we work more hours, we’re more productive.
That is absolutely and categorically untrue.
As a matter of fact, every one of us knows that overwork leads eventually to burnout, and that’s the least productive thing of all.
But we still hold on to the lies of the working culture around us. Little lies, and innate beliefs we hold without realising it. This comes out in the culture of the business, and the comments, and the jokes.
Think about it: if someone steps out of the office and goes for a walk to get fresh air, isn’t everyone going to wonder what in the world is going on? If one of the partners took a nap in the middle of the day, wouldn’t there be whispers about whether they were seriously ill? If someone went home at 4.30 instead of 5, we’d see raised eyebrows and talk by all those who were still sitting at their desks. (Sitting at their desks and talking about the person who left, of course…)
It requires a massive culture shift to make rest a good thing. Something that enables you to be more creative, more alert – and more productive.
It also requires a very high level of trust. All of the PF team have complete authority to take a break whenever they need it. Go for a walk, clean up the house, build some lego, run down to the shops. They still are expected to get their work done and to be efficient doing it: but we hire people who love what they do. I sometimes have to push them to finish work instead of driving on to 7pm or 8pm or 10pm or whatever.
We do have a 3 month probation period for all new hires, and during that period it’s made very clear that this is their chance to be driven, work like a crazy person, blow us away with how dedicated and focused they are. Once they’ve done that, and established that trust, it becomes very obvious that they will make great decisions about their work – including their rest.
To enhance productivity, think about how you can encourage rest in the workplace. Try not to be too restrictive about it (“you can go for a walk, as long as it’s under 10 minutes, and I can see you from my office the whole time”), and look for a balance of work and rest.
5. Do what works for you.
We can all be slaves to someone else’s brilliant productivity idea.
This person puts an out of office, and only checks their email once a day.
That person never answers email at all.
This conference speaker has his PA review every email.
That author replies to every request personally.
And on it goes.
Figure out what works best for you by trying them, a week at a time. If within a week (or even a day or two) you realise that it’s not helping, feel free to give up entirely and try another approach.
Everyone’s personality and business and customers and circumstances are different. The speaker with a PA and an entire team at his beck and call is in a different position to the startup freelancer working on his own.
To enhance productivity, you may need to shake up your current processes a bit and try new things. And the result – for a little while – may feel less productive. But it will come round in the end, and you’ll be glad you did it. Even if the rest of the world does it a little differently.