As we move into another year of WFH and hybrid work, you may have noticed productivity and motivation shifting for both yourself and your team.
Work-life balance has taken on a whole new meaning, and optimizing productivity as a team can feel challenging – particularly if your team is entirely remote.
In this article, we look at 8 simple productivity systems and tools you can try with your team to improve collaboration, motivation and outcomes.
Note: Struggling with productivity is normal – especially under the strain of the pandemic. Productivity will always be an ongoing journey and it’s something your entire team can work on together.
What is a productivity system (and why does your organization need one)?
A productivity system is a set of guidelines or processes designed to better help you get things done.
You need a system so you can spend less time making decisions. One of the main reasons we have trouble with productivity is fatigue, primarily cognitive fatigue from constant context switching and decision fatigue when you have many choices of what to do next.
By creating a productivity system that fits your work and team, you can reduce the number of decisions being made throughout the day because you already have a plan.
It’s important to remember, though, that not every productivity system will work for everyone on your team. You might want to consider brainstorming with your team so you can get feedback on what might be best for overall productivity and health.
Here are 8 productivity systems to consider.
1. The simple to-do list
The easiest and humblest of the productivity systems is the to-do list. Whether each of your team members keep their own list, or you use a cloud-based tool to keep a shared team list, a to-do list can be an effective system for the minimalist productivity chaser.
To do lists work for smaller teams or individuals who don’t need anything complex. That being said, they are limited in what they can accomplish. Many people prefer to take them a step further to make work more effective and collaborative.
2. Time blocking
Another simple productivity system is calendar time blocking. With this method, your team can take their to-do list and block time in their calendar to get each of their tasks done.
A great feature to time blocking is that if you have a calendar that’s shared with some people in your organization, you can signal to your team that you’re busy during a particular block in a day. This helps keep distractions at bay.
Avoid scheduling too many tasks into a single 1-hour block and instead use this method to block off chunks of time for regular activities like checking email. You can also block off long stretches for project-specific deep work.
Here are a few time blocking techniques that you can try:
- Day theming – focus on an area of work for the entire day (admin, marketing, etc.)
- Task batching – only check email at, say, 9:00 am and 3:00 pm
- Timeboxing – commit to not spending more than a certain period of time on a particular task
If you’re delegating, make sure you check in with your team members to ensure that your expectations align.
3. Single Tasking
Multitasking has been recognized as impossible, yet many people still try to achieve it. How many tabs do you have open on your browser right now? Five? Twelve? Too many to count?
Enter: Single tasking. As the name suggests, the objective of single-tasking is to focus on only one task at a time by limiting distractions of any kind. What you want here is to achieve deep focus.
Here are some ways you and your team can try single-tasking:
- Only one tab at a time
- Create calendar blocks
- Turn off notifications
- Install an app that blocks social media
Instilling these changes in both yourself and your team can create better habits for everyone, allowing your team to get (and stay) focused.
4. Pomodoro Technique
Like single-tasking, the Pomodoro Technique asks you to focus on just one task… with a twist – a timer. This productivity system is great for anyone who wants to do work in short bursts rather than long sprints of blocked time.
Each block should be 25 minutes long, meaning all you have to do is set the timer and work without distractions. After four “Pomodoros,” you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes to rest.
This method allows you to resist distractions and focus on the task at hand. Since 25 minutes is not that long of a time to stay focused, productivity within that time frame can feel more achievable.
Using Pomodoro with calendar blocking can also help keep your team apprised of when and when you aren’t available. Even better is focusing together.
5. GTD (Get Things Done)
Productivity expert David Allen introduced GTD to the world in 2001 and it’s since inspired a global productivity movement.
GTD is a way of organizing all your to-do lists, priorities and schedule in one productivity system. Unlike some of the other productivity systems on this list, GTD can feel more complex. Yet, it’s customizable to most needs.
Here are five pillars of GTD:
- Capture everything
- Clarify the things you need to do
- Organize your action items by priority and categorize them
- Reflect on your to-do lists
- Engage by choosing your next action and get to work
Using this method as a team can help with delegation and completion of individual tasks. You can use GTD as a brainstorm with input from all team members involved in a particular project.
If you’re unsure how to implement this, listen to David Allen explain it on the Unmistakable Creative podcast here.
Kanban is one of the easier productivity systems because it has just a few simple rules to follow.
To follow the Kanban method, you simply split your to-do list into three categories: to do, in progress and done.
This list is organized visually so you get a great at-a-glance view of your work. There are many cloud-based tools available that make it easy to set up personal and team Kanbans.
There are only two rules:
- Visualize your work
- Limit your work in progress (WIP)
Using this method in conjunction with project management software can help streamline work.
7. Eat the Frog
A well-known book on productivity is Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. In the book he says, “If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.” This is to say, you should always start with your hardest project first.
Translation: Do your hardest most time-consuming task first thing in the morning.
This time management technique works because our brains are wired to want instant gratification, which is why we often gravitate towards the easier tasks even if they don’t get us closer to our main goals.
For people who are prone to procrastination, and find themselves checking items off a list but never really feeling productive, this system might be right.
8. Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix method is all about helping you prioritize. If you know what you have to do, but find yourself losing hours just trying to figure out which task to do first, this matrix can help.
Developed by the former president of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower the matrix is a simple tool to aid prioritization and organization of tasks.
Like Eat the Frog, understanding the difference between what is urgent and what is important for long-term goals will help you distinguish where they fall in the priority matrix.
Using the matrix as a team brainstorm, particularly when a new project crops up, is a great way to get everyone on board and working together.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to mastering productivity. And when your team is distributed or working under a hybrid model, getting everyone on the same page can be even harder.
However, with a little experimentation, you and your team might find a few shared productivity systems that not only increase outputs, but also support a health work-life balance.
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