A company’s most expensive asset is its employees.
Think about it – if a 100-person company has an average yearly salary of $75,000, that’s $7.5 million, before benefits and perks. As employee count grows, so does the total cost.
That’s why it’s critical employees use their time productively.
Our CEO here at G2 Crowd refers to this concept as “being frugal with time.” Sure, it’s essential to be cost-conscious when employees are booking flights and hotels for a business trip, but the real waste of money is when an employee takes two weeks to complete a project that could have taken two days.
Luckily, the most expensive asset is also the most valuable.
When employees use their time productively, everybody wins. We complete projects, we hit our deadlines, and we meet our business goals.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. As a society, we suffer from a problem. A productivity problem.
Everywhere we turn, there’s a distraction waiting to be entertained. The latest social media site, a viral video, an article on reptoids, a guerrilla marketing street campaign, a coworker who doesn’t know when to walk away – we’ve all been there. These distractions (plus many, many more) are slowing us down and taking minutes – sometimes hours – from our day.
If any of this sounds even vaguely familiar, then this guide is for you.
Throughout these chapters, you’ll learn everything you need to know about implementing time management skills and boosting productivity. We’ll cover how to identify and eliminate your biggest time-wasters, how to build a productive team, why you need to establish processes, and so much more.
Time management and productivity
Are you ready to stop wasting time and start checking things off your to-do list?
Let’s get started!
We live in a world full of distractions. Everywhere you look, it seems there’s a new person to talk to, a new social media platform to join, new music to listen to, and much, much more.
Often, these are exciting! I mean, what’s so bad about new friends (both in real life and on your social media platform of choice)? Unfortunately, when these distractions infiltrate the workplace, they are able and likely to impact our day-to-day negatively. When you compound these internal distractions with the unexpected meetings, the water-cooler talk, and the seemingly endless stream of emails, it’ll leave you looking back and wondering where the last three days went.
Okay – three days may be a bit of an exaggeration, but a five-minute break to read the BuzzFeed article your coworker sent you can end up taking more from your day than you’d think. In fact, this study from UC Irvine found that it takes nearly 25 minutes to get back on task after losing your focus. Lose focus just five times a day, and that’s about two and a half hours you could have been spent working.
We’re all guilty of this (I’ve stopped to chat with a coworker twice since starting this article, but don’t tell my boss that). Everybody has their time-wasters – what’s important is that we understand how to prevent them. Taking a break now and then usually isn’t a big deal. In fact, it’s necessary to stay productive over the course of the day. It’s the breaks that turn into lost hours we need to prevent.
Identifying and eliminating time-wasters
To do this, we first have to identify the ways that we often lose track of our day. In this chapter, we’ll feature some common time sucks – both internal and external – and follow up with some useful ways to resolve them.
Internal Time Sucks
We’ll begin with the internal time sucks. And by internal, we mean these likely start and end with one person: you. As you read this section, think to yourself: ‘Which of these honestly play a significant role in my day-to-day?” Determining your biggest distractions is the first step to preventing them.
The Productivity Problem: Social Media
We’ll start with an obvious one: social media and general internet browsing. Checking your Facebook for 10 minutes a day doesn’t seem like a big deal. But what if you do it six times? That’s an eighth of your day spent looking at the wedding pictures of your roommate’s cousin’s ex-boyfriend’s… you get it.
And with the growing popularity of the “double screen,” sometimes it’s more than just a check. If you’re leaving your social media up all day on your second screen, well, you’re probably devoting more than just an hour to it.
The Fix: Schedule It Out
Taking a break during the day to catch up can be harmless, but limit this to once per day (I promise, you won’t miss much). Set aside 20 minutes around lunchtime to do a quick one over of all of your accounts. When the times up, you’re done. Everything beyond that you should save for your train ride home.
The Time Management Problem: Email
Speaking of things we’re always checking, on to the next distraction: email. Between important work emails, meeting invites, sales pitches, office updates, and, of course, spam, the influx of messages to our inbox is neverending. And if you’re in the habit of checking email as it comes in, you’re probably spending more time than necessary getting back on task! Don’t even get me started on the sheer volume. Just the thought of cleaning up my inbox to “inbox zero” is headache-inducing, but we still have to stay up to date.
A quick Google search for “email productivity hacks” will give you so many results, you’d spend weeks researching (which is contradicting our goal of increased productivity). For simplicity’s sake, we’ll discuss two of the most common and most effective.
The Fix: Set a Schedule and Implement Filters
Similar to social media, you’ll want to set specific times throughout your day to check messages. For me, these times are around noon and 4:30 pm. I know that a lot of professionals don’t have the luxury of ignoring their email first thing in the morning. If this is you, work an earlier time into your day. Then, shut it off and get back to work.
That said, there are some jobs that require being constantly available by email. If that’s you, then these tips may not apply, and feel free to skip to the next tip. For those who don’t need to be available, keep reading!
Additionally, email filters will be your new best friend. Set up your account to direct high-priority emails (from your boss, direct reports, etc.) to go into a particular folder. Then, when you do quickly check your account, you can prioritize these and, more than likely, graze over the rest. This isn’t to say you should entirely ignore the others, but when you’re in a time crunch, at least you have a place to start.
This last one applies to email, your team collaboration tool, and social media, and I honestly can’t stress this enough. Turn your notifications off. As soon as that popup appears in the top right corner of your screen, you’re tempted. And if you happen to glance at the subject line and it’s something of importance? Game over. Turn off the alerts, take peace knowing you’ll get to it in a little, and get back to work.
The Productivity Problem: Improvisation
The next two internal time-wasters go hand in hand: improvisation and failure to set priorities. If you’re going into your day (or even your week) without any semblance of a plan, it’s probably slowing down your mornings. We’re not saying you need to have your day planned down to the minute (although that does work for some), but having a general idea of what you’ll work on and when will enable you to get started as soon as you open your laptop.
The Fix: Prioritizing Tasks
What will help you schedule your week? Prioritizing your tasks. Knowing which tasks you absolutely need to check off the to-do list will simplify your scheduling efforts.
Identify your most productive hours (for me, it’s 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.) and schedule your most critical work then. Utilize the rest of the day to work on your other projects. If someone needs to schedule a meeting, try to do so in your less-productive times. With a tentative plan of what you’ll work on and when you won’t be wasting 20 minutes at a time pondering what to do next.
There are many free project management software tools that are great at helping improve productivity.
The Time Management Problem: Fear of starting
Sometimes, we procrastinate work simply because we’re scared to start. Does this sound at all familiar? You have a massive project to undertake – we’re talking days of work – and you don’t know where to start. So you procrastinate. Then, you get even more stressed because not only is this project still looming over your head, but also now your deadline is one-day closer!
The Fix: Break It Up
To avoid this feeling, break the project up into manageable pieces – something you can complete in two hours or less. Then, schedule the pieces over the course of a few days, with short breaks in between to work on something else, take a short walk, or grab a cup of coffee. Dividing a big project into more reasonable parts makes it less intimidating and easier to tackle.
External Productivity Sucks
As much as you filter your inbox, schedule your days, and prioritize your tasks, some distractions are seemingly unavoidable. We’ve all experienced the chatty coworker, the irrelevant meetings, and the never-ending requests, but they don’t have to slow down your days. In this section, we’ll focus on the external time wasters and how you can show them who’s boss.
The Productivity Problem: Unexpected Visitors
With more and more offices transitioning to an open-seating plan, it’s likely your desk is in the middle of a high-traffic area. And with foot traffic comes one thing: unexpected (or uninvited) visitors. Whether it’s a colleague asking for help on a particular project, or just a coworker coming over to chat, these visits can quickly go from a quick conversation to 30 minutes lost.
The Fix: Be Firm
I am lucky to work in a hip, open-concept office and to have coworkers who have turned into great friends. Unfortunately, this means one thing: distractions (and lots of them). My best solution for this is to work with headphones (if you’re allowed to) and let people know when you’re in the zone.
When somebody stops by your desk unannounced, I suggest saying something along the lines of “I have two minutes. What’s up?” (unless it’s your boss). If the conversation is work-related, your colleague will know to make it quick. If it’s not work-related, hopefully, they’ll get the hint to save it for later.
The Time Management Problem: Endless Meetings
Meetings can be great. Sometimes, you’ll leave a meeting with an understanding of your tasks, expectations of the group, and a feeling of accomplishment. But often, you’ll attend a meeting and walk out still wondering why they invited you in the first place. And when your week is littered with those, it could be a waste of not just minutes, but hours.
The Fix: Say No
Okay, this isn’t always an option, but before you accept a meeting invite, ask yourself a few questions. Is this meeting relevant to you and your work? Does it have an agenda? Could it be covered in an email? If the meeting doesn’t have anything to do with you, you can say no. If it is relevant, consider setting an agenda so that everybody walks away with an understanding of their tasks. Sometimes, meetings are inevitable, but at least you can take steps to make sure it’s productive.
Some time sucks are simply out of your control, but with a proactive attitude, you can help be the solution. In Chapter Four, we’ll cover this more comprehensively with the case to establish processes. For now, we’ll carry on with how time management can increase productivity.
I’m sure at some point in your life somebody has told you to “work smarter, not harder.” You know, develop a strategy that allows you to minimize the trivial tasks to maximize your working hours?
That’s all good and well, but I’m a proponent of working smarter and harder.
Time management allows you to do just this.
When you implement time management tactics into your day-to-day, your levels of productivity will increase, simple as that. The time management is the working smarter, and the increased efficiency? That’s when you’ll work hard.
A simple method to maximize your working hours is identifying your productivity limit and sticking to it. Over the course of a week or so, keep track of when you’re at you’re most productive. Is it right when you get into the office? Or do you need a cup of coffee and a few minutes before you can get after it? I even know some night owls who do their best work when the rest of us are sleeping (and hello to my editor, who is probably working on this piece around midnight).
Additionally, take note of how long you can buckle down and work before you need a break. Are you somebody who can put your head down and knock out three hours at a time? Or do you prefer working in shorter increments with a quick breather every hour? There’s no wrong answer, and the only right solution is the one that will work for you consistently.
Use your findings to plan out your day, and even your week. When you implement this time management method into your regular schedule, your levels of productivity will soar.
That’s because by identifying the limits on your productivity, you can schedule your most important tasks for the times you’re going to do your best (and fastest) work.
When I began utilizing this system, I was able to increase my writing speed by nearly 1,000 words per day. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve identified that I’m most productive from 8 a.m. until around lunchtime. Knowing that I can sit down at my desk first thing and type until 11 a.m. has motivated me to get to work earlier and use my morning hours as efficiently as possible. Then, I can revise and edit as a brain break in the afternoon before diving into writing again.
With this method, time management increases productivity because you’re becoming familiar with yourself and your work habits. By working smarter and taking the time to find your productivity limit, you can use your best hours to work hard.
At a higher level, identifying and scheduling both short- and long-term goals will improve efficiency for various reasons.
When you write down your present and future ambitions, you can begin to prioritize them by the level of importance, urgency, and required time or financial commitment. This allows you to set realistic timeframes for what you can achieve, when, and how.
Identifying your short-term goals and the potential constraints around each enables you to select one toward which you’ll start working. Finalizing the goal you’d like to hit and setting a deadline for yourself will increase productivity by pushing you to focus your attention on something. When you set a final deadline, you encourage yourself to achieve certain aspects by a given date.
Similarly, long-term goals can foster the same sense of urgency, especially if you break them up into multiple tasks to complete in the interim. Long-term goals can potentially increase productivity even more if it’s a more difficult goal to achieve.
For a real-world example, consider a runner planning to take on their first marathon. For most, this would be a long-term goal. It’s no secret that running 26.2 miles is quite an undertaking. However, the runner can think back and remember how accomplished they felt after their first half marathon. The desire to feel that way again pushes them to train even harder and, eventually, they succeed in completing their first full marathon.
While you may not be running miles at work, the same mindset applies for lofty career goals. The more difficult a goal is to set, the greater feeling you’ll have once you achieve it. Often, that knowledge is enough to motivate you and make you even more productive.
This final method of time management certainly improves productivity, but it relies on one thing only: you. Training yourself to be disciplined in the workplace is a sure-fire way to increase productivity, but it’s easier said than done.
However, it is possible, and there are various methods you can try out until you find one that works for you. When you do find the one that works, you’ll be impressed with the changes you see in your day-to-day.
The first step to overcoming your weaknesses is to identify them. What distracts you at work, and how often? Is it social media that keeps you from finishing that project, or does water-cooler talk take up your day?
Whatever it is, attempt to eliminate it to the best of your ability. Personally, my “workplace weakness” was Amazon.com. I would tell myself I was taking five minutes to check if an order had shipped and then, oh – 20 minutes had passed (and I had probably ordered another pair of shoes).
When I saw this beginning to impact my workday negatively, I downloaded an app that would block certain websites for an allotted amount of time. I blocked social media sites and, of course, Amazon, and made myself work for an hour at a time with a 10-minute break following.
Today, I no longer need the app but can follow the same cadence. A bit of self-discipline gave me more working hours in the day and more money in my wallet.
Similar to my 10-minute breaks, some people can establish self-discipline with small rewards throughout the day. For a small task, this can be as simple as eating a piece of chocolate after you’ve finished. For larger projects, a 15-minute walk in the sun could be enough motivation to get you to the finish line.
This chapter was called “how time-management increases productivity.” Frankly, it’s simple. When you begin to work toward self-discipline and to prioritize the things you need to do, efficiency will follow.
Which is better: email or instant messaging? Ah, the age-old question.
Okay, maybe not that old. But as far as workplace debates, go, the fight between email and I/M is about as heated as it gets.
If you’re in an email-exclusive office, there’s probably a millennial or two pushing for a team collaboration tool. If your office that primarily uses instant messaging, there’s likely a few people who actively prefer the old-fashioned way.
Whichever way you look at it, there are pros and cons to each. And with communication being key to productivity in the workplace, it’s important you’re using the solution that works for your business. In this chapter, we’ll highlight the pros and cons of each, and ask the question, “Do you have to choose?”
Email Pros and Cons
We've been using email in the workplace for years. Whether it’s scheduling meetings, sending documents, or simply catching up, professionals all over the globe are sending 269 billion emails every day.
However, like anything, email has its pros and cons. And as team collaboration tools continue to gain popularity (Slack is the most-reviewed product on G2 Crowd), professionals are asking if email is still relevant.
This section will feature common advantages and disadvantages of email to help you determine if it’s the right choice.
Advantages of Email:
As we mentioned, we've used email for years. That said, the first advantage is obvious – it’s universal. It’s likely that any professional you meet will have an email address where you can reach them. Companies typically distribute your business email address on the very first day. It’s been a staple in the workplace for nearly two decades, so regardless of age or profession, you can probably bet that somebody has an email address and knows how to use it.
Similarly, with email being as popular as it is, most people are well adept at it. Frankly, it’s easy to use and requires minimal time and effort to implement. Additionally, email simplifies the process of sending documents, images, or contracts with the use of the attach function.
One of the many arguments for email is the ability to send messages to multiple people at one time (with or without them knowing it). By using the CC or BCC function, the sender can communicate with as few or as many people as is necessary, both in and outside of their organization.
Communicating with professionals at a different company is an ordinary and necessary piece of the work week. Email makes this process simple. On the other hand, a team collaboration or instant messaging tool isn’t typically well-suited for this.
That all said, email still has its shortcomings. If you’re an advocate for instant messaging, the following may sound all too familiar.
Disadvantages of Email:
As we mentioned earlier, there are billions of emails sent every day. But sometimes, it feels like every one of those is ending up in our inbox. With email threads, meeting invites, group announcements, and more, every professional is trying to get to the coveted “inbox zero.”
This brings us to our first disadvantage: the inbox itself. With office workers receiving 121 emails per day on average, it’s nearly impossible to keep up – especially if you’re only checking twice a day (per our recommendation). As emails continue to flood your inbox, your chances of missing something important increase. If it was a critical update or an action-required message, you could not only slow down yourself, but also others as well.
Unfortunately, we’ve all been on the other side of this situation as well. Who hasn’t sent a time-sensitive email only to receive a response days later? At its beginning, email was regarded as one of the speediest forms of communication. Today, it’s often considered one of the slowest ways to reach a coworker. At companies where employees typically use a team collaboration tool, an email could go unread and unanswered for days, if not more.
Finally, there’s one significant disadvantage that could cost you and your company more than just time: phishing. Phishing is a cybercrime that targets email users. A criminal will send an email that looks to be from a legitimate institution or individual, requesting sensitive details from the receiver such as personal information, banking details, or passwords.
These emails can be especially tricky, as a phishing email is often unidentifiable from a valid one. However, if you stay alert and pay close attention to detail, you can avoid the negative consequences. This resource has 10 helpful tips to avoid phishing scams.
The next section will turn focus toward instant messaging tools and highlight their advantages and disadvantages.
Instant Messaging Pros and Cons
We live in the age of instant communication. Text messages and video chats can instantly connect two people across the country, and even the world.
With our personal lives utilizing so many different forms of instant messaging tools, why would our professional lives be any different?
Instant messaging has certainly gained popularity in the workplace over the years. This section will highlight the advantages and disadvantages of using team collaboration tools as an alternative to email.
When compared to email, instant messaging is just that: instant. With a team collaboration tool, responses often take just minutes, if not seconds. And when you’re seeking an answer to a vital question or sharing a critical update, those speedy responses are just what you are looking for. Team collaboration tools often offer the speed that email lacks, which allows you to get back to work quickly, without waiting days for an answer.
Additionally, as workplaces begin to implement these tools, the dreaded inbox clutter is usually reduced. I work in an office that uses a balance between team collaboration software and email, but I really only get emails for meeting invitations (and occasionally from my dad – he hasn’t figured out how to send things to my personal email yet). Everything else is through instant messenger. This makes my inbox manageable; a luxury many of my peers don’t have.
Instant messaging is also wildly helpful if your company has remote employees. The work-from-anywhere mindset is becoming common, and team collaboration tools enable your employees to feel like they’re apart of the team, even if they’re in Portland and your headquarters are in Dallas.
And while this last one may not be a pro so much as it is an opinion, we can’t forget to mention millennials. This research from the Kenan-Flager Business School at University of North Carolina mentions that by 2020, millennials will make up 46 percent of the workplace – the same millennials that popularized AOL instant messaging, texting, and Snapchat. I can’t say for sure, but between email and instant messaging, I think we can guess which one they would prefer.
However, it isn’t all good. Email champions will likely agree with the following.
As we mentioned before, it’s probable that every office worker you come across will have an email address that they know how to use. The same can’t be said for team collaboration software. Sources often cite a lack of adoption as one of the leading disadvantages of this software – some people prefer their email and have no reason to learn how to use a new tool. If you have employees who won’t adopt a new software platform, team collaboration may not be your best option. It will only result in unanswered messages and unfulfilled requests.
Instant messaging tools also offer more opportunities for distraction. In the same way that checking your email six times an hour will slow you down, constantly opening up your team collaboration tool for every notification will keep you from staying on task. Instant messengers encourage quick communication, which is great. Sometimes. Often, users will abuse the privilege by sending a single email’s amount of information in five or six messages, resulting in annoying pings and unnecessary notifications.
While we’re on the topic of inappropriate use, we’ll highlight our last disadvantage: informality. Team collaboration tools are very reminiscent of the AOL instant messenger many of us used as preteens – a casual setting we used to connect with friends after school. Unfortunately, this means it’s often used informally in the workplace with an excess of emojis and non-work related messages.
For some workplaces, these disadvantages are negligible, while for some, they’re something to consider. It’s important to evaluate your office environment before determining which method of communication you’ll primarily use.
Are they really interchangeable?
What’s the best part about the debate between email and instant messaging?
You don’t have to choose.
Sure, some may prefer one over the other, but frankly, there’s room (and a need) for both.
Emails are great for communicating with people outside of your organization – something you’ll likely come across semi-regularly at work. It’s also helpful to use for wordy announcements or significant chunks of information. Sending these updates over email will make them easier to find and refer to in the future.
On the other hand, team collaboration tools are great for connecting with members of your own team, and especially remote employees. For a quick chat or a virtual meeting, an instant messenger could be your best option.
So before you pick a side and stick to your guns, take some words of wisdom from this Old El Paso commercial.
Why not both?
Have you ever taken over a project from a colleague who was moving on to something else? How did it go?
If it went smoothly, it’s likely there was a documented process involved. If it was a little rocky? Well, probably not.
I once took over a weekly email send when my colleague moved on to a different role. Luckily for me, the process documentation she made was exquisite. We’re talking numbered steps, corresponding images – I mean, she even had a flowchart.
Although the task proved to be a bit difficult at times (I promise an email send isn’t as simple as it sounds), it was rare that I had to ask her a question. Ninety-five percent of the time, I could find the answer right in front of me.
On the other hand, I had a coworker who took over some key responsibilities when an employee left the company. When it came time to complete the task, she found that she had been left zero documentation. Needless to say, there was a bit of scrambling involved, and a two-hour task ended up taking the full day (which for my colleague, meant six working hours lost).
Did that story make you a little nervous, or did it sound familiar? It was supposed to. This chapter is all about the value of establishing processes, documenting them, and keeping them current.
Why we need time management processes
So why do we need to establish processes or a standard list of instructions for a given task? Especially when so many people are comfortable with just “winging it.”
While that mindset may be great for spontaneous road trips and exploring new cities, it’s not always ideal for the office. Creating processes and procedures is key to onboarding new employees, keeping everybody on the same page, and fostering a productive workplace.
Having documented steps to any given task can eliminate questions and bottlenecks throughout the process. For example, the content team here at G2 Crowd uses the following process when we’re writing articles (like the one you’re currently reading):
- Research your topic (1-2 days)
- Writing first draft (2-4 days)
- Submit for the first round of edits (1-2 days)
- Make revisions based on edits (1 day)
- Enter as a draft on the site
- Final edits and SEO optimization
As one of our writers, having these steps documented allows us to set realistic deadlines, accurately predict when we’ll publish work, and overall, keep us from asking “so, now what?”
As for our editor, this process allows him to plan his week based on what content he’ll be receiving from whom, and when. Being able to schedule work by the day has eliminated bottlenecks and helped our team become a well-oiled, content-producing machine.
More so, having this process well documented will be crucial for whatever writers we bring on in the future. Naturally, when possible, explaining processes or tasks to a new hire should be an in-person interaction. However, a document they can refer to in the future will likely make them more comfortable and provide them with a source of truth.
Documented processes also communicate expectations to employees. With a set standard in place, your colleagues will understand the deadlines and quality standards by which they're expected to work. By streamlining the tasks you regularly do, your entire team will follow a similar workflow which, ideally, will make for more efficient and consistent performance across the board.
How to establish productivity processes
Now that we have an understanding of why we establish processes, we should probably answer this important question: how?
This section will probably come off sounding like a process for creating a process, which is fine! These guidelines are our suggestions, as everybody will likely make tweaks based off of their personal work style.
Before you start documenting your steps for a certain task, you’ll want to do that task more than once. If the job is a part of your day-to-day, I suggest taking at least a full week before you start writing down what you did. This will allow you to fall into specific habits and work styles that feel natural, as opposed to feeling forced to work in one way because that’s what you had written down.
As you’re completing the task, take note of aspects that stand out. Is something repetitive across projects? Is there a step that takes significantly longer than the others? Looking out for these before you start documenting will allow you to emphasize them in the listed steps.
So after you’ve gone about a week establishing what you do and in what order, it’s time to start your documentation. Next time you go to complete the task, have an open document in front of you on your computer.
Execute the first step, then write out what you did. So on with step two, three, etc. For the first draft, I like to start by writing the steps in great detail. Then, I’ll simplify when I go back to edit. This ensures I’m not looking back after writing and forgetting what I was talking about in step three.
After I have my steps written out, I’ll go through the task itself one more time, cross-checking my actions with what I’ve written to ensure I didn’t miss a step. If all of that checks out, I’ll begin editing and simplifying what I’ve written.
The case for simplification is simple: if it’s too long, nobody will want to read it, or much less follow it step-by-step. However, this requires a balance. You want your steps to be simple enough that the document is user-friendly, but detailed enough that it still gives the reader clear direction.
To test your document after simplification, you can find a willing third party. Sit your colleague down in front of your computer, give them your process, and see if they can complete the task start to finish. Ask them to take note of any hiccups they come across (and what number step they were on), and begin to refine based on their feedback.
You may have to go through the editing and refining steps multiple times, but the time and energy spent establishing your process now will pay off in the end. When you hand off this task in the future, one lucky colleague will have a smooth transition and a solid understanding of how to get it done.
You know that nonsense saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”?
It may not be nonsense.
Look, I’m not saying you have to wake up every morning entirely eager to get into the office. But with companies beginning to pour resources into employee happiness, I’m not ruling it out either.
In the last few years, “culture” has become a buzzword throughout job interviews. Interviewers and recruiters will praise a company for their “super fun” culture, and job-seekers will list it as one of their top requirements – but what does it honestly mean?
To some, office culture means ping pong, kombucha on tap, and wearing shorts to work. For others, it means a relatively young office working at a hip startup. On a deeper level, culture means building a productive team and fostering a healthy, efficient work environment.
This chapter will cover ways that companies, leaders, and employees alike can contribute to promoting an efficient team, resulting in a happy workplace.
Productivity from the top down
Building a productive team starts from the top. That means executive leadership and the company itself should take measures to promote group synergy.
Full disclosure: I’m a young employee relatively early on in my career. I’m not going to tell anybody how to run a company. However, I can speak to tactics that my company has used that I feel have made for a more productive team.
At the most basic level, having coffee at the office has been a lifesaver. You don’t have to have a full spread of snacks or drinks. However, having coffee, water, and maybe some small bites readily available for your team can keep them energized. That means, when the afternoon slump hits they won’t have to leave the office (and their zone) just to grab a cup. It also keeps employees from making multiple trips to coffee shops throughout the day.
And regarding in-office perks, enabling your employees to work beyond their desks is an easy way to get the creative juices flowing. If you have the resources, communal standing desks or a lounge area with couches are great. Even a lunch room with long tables is enough to switch up their surroundings.
If you’re working in a smaller office, allowing your employees to work remotely (even just occasionally) can be a valid alternative. Sometimes, we hit a slump, but what we really need is a change of scenery. Some of my most productive days of writing are when I’m able to post up at a coffee shop.
At a higher level, being transparent, from leadership down, has been critical. Employees at G2 Crowd know precisely what goals we’re working toward and why. Encourage asking questions and staying curious. When all your employees feel empowered to share their thoughts, they’ll likely get behind your goals and get excited to help you achieve them.
Productivity for Leaders
If you’re a leader, the happiness and productivity of your team are of the utmost importance to you (at least, I hope they are). When your team wins, you win but when your team fails? Well, so do you.
By setting ground rules and expectations early on, your team will have an understanding of what they need to achieve and how to get it done. This step may sound not-so-fun (I mean, who wants to give rules to a group of adults?), but think of it this way.
Rules typically come with a negative connotation, but that isn’t the case here. These guidelines are merely meant to prevent employees from feeling future confusion about what they can and cannot do. When both you and the team understand your process, it’s less likely to create a distraction in the future.
For example, my office has a pretty lax work-from-home policy – it’s up to the discretion of each manager. However, my team does a quick in-person meeting every morning, so it’s nice to have an idea of where everybody is going to be. Because of this, we have a general guideline that says we can work from home one day per week if we give our team 24-hour’s notice.
Personally, having this standard has made my life easier. If I know I’ll need a work-from-home day one week, I’ll let my team know on Monday, put it on my calendar, and don’t have to think about it again. Similarly, my team and manager appreciate the transparency and don’t have to use any time in the morning trying to figure out where I am.
For a manager, setting these clear expectations will also help you to build relationships with your employees. Establishing professional relationships with your direct reports is critical to building a productive team. Team goals are great, and something to get excited about. However, when you know an individual, you can personalize their goals as well.
When you start with a new employee, ask them what it is they’re motivated by, then listen to the answer. You’ll likely hear a range of things, from money to a promotion to the future – personally, I’ve been known to tell my manager that I eventually wanted their job. Regardless of what they say, use their answer to help them build a plan to work toward their personal goals.
Employees will get excited about team goals – especially if they have some sort of bonus they’re working toward. But providing the opportunity for employees to work toward their personal goals is what will truly get them pumped to come into work every day.
Furthermore, encourage your employees to build relationships among themselves. A collaborative team, where members can chat about projects and bounce ideas off one another, is a productive one – but this won’t happen if they’re not comfortable doing so.
My team, in particular, has bonded over our weekly ideation session. On Friday afternoons, just when everybody begins to burn out, we gather in a room to come up with new topics for the writers. My manager has made this into a game that unfortunately for me, requires a semblance of athletic ability. However, it also results in lots of laughs and lots of topics to write about.
Through this weekly meeting, my manager has encouraged both bonding and brainstorming. Just one hour per week has enabled us to get comfortable with one another, and, ultimately, promoted team synergy.
Productivity for team members
Although you may not be a direct part of the hiring process, you are still able to contribute to workplace productivity! Establishing an efficient team can be just as much on individual employees as it is on the manager.
A solid first step is to be a better communicator and encourage open communication among your teammates. This will look different to different people but is easy to customize in the way that works for you.
Personally, promoting communication is something I’ve struggled with at work. While I’m great friends with my teammates, I don’t like working at my desk. That means that for the majority of my day, I’m usually working in the kitchen or at a communal standing desk.
However, I’ve realized this may come across as me trying to avoid those who work around me. While that certainly isn’t the case, I’ve made a point to work at my desk for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. That way, my team and I can catch up in person, ask each other any burning questions, or give feedback.
The exciting part about building a productive team is that it’s an effort everybody can get behind. When you combine a killer team with a software platform that promotes efficiency, there’s nothing stopping you. The next chapter will cover how offices and individuals can use software to improve time management and productivity.
Technology makes our lives easier. Simple as that.
I don’t think it’ll take any convincing for somebody to agree that an email is more convenient than a carrier pigeon, or that picking up the phone is easier than sending a letter via snail mail.
Today, there is a SaaS tool to simplify nearly any job function you can think of. Need to sign and send a contract with an electronic signature? There’s a tool for that. Looking to send a mass email? Email marketing software has got you covered. However, some are still hesitant to implement different software tools, unsure of whether or not they’re worth it.
While there is absolutely a commitment involved – both financial and time – software, when used correctly, can speed up your processes and significantly improve your workflow. This chapter will highlight different software types and how they can improve productivity in the workplace.
But first, we’ll focus on three key words from that last paragraph: when used correctly.
Unfortunately, those who are hesitant about purchasing software often feel that way because of past experiences. Many companies will shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a new email marketing software, only to have a less-than-stellar implementation. Months later and their already time-strapped team is still sending emails to their customers using a BCC on Gmail.
In cases like this one, software is hindering, not helping. What’s even worse? You’re also out $10K.
That’s why a successful implementation is critical when you’re looking for a software to increase productivity. We all love the bells and whistles of any given software tool – often, they’re the selling points. However, when you’re looking to purchase, be sure you’re empowered with the knowledge to make setup a breeze. When you and your team both have an understanding of how to use the software, you’ll reap the rewards.
Now that you understand the importance of a smooth implementation, we’ll highlight some common business problems and how software tools can absolve them.
File Storage and Sharing Software
As we’ve mentioned (multiple times) already, we send a lot of emails. Typically, it’s not the sending that is the time suck – it’s the inbox cleaning. However, when you’re sending a dozen emails to your team per day each containing documents, PDFs, and images, it may be taking up a chunk of your time.
File storage and sharing software is your solution. A storage and sharing tool enables your team to keep documents, images, videos, and additional file types in one shared location. That way, when your newest marketer emails you asking for that most recent case study, you can direct them to the drive and continue with your day.
Different users can access these files from their mobile devices or their computers, and usually, without assistance from anybody else. These tools can eliminate bottlenecks while making sure every employee, regardless of team or role, has access to the business collateral they need to do their jobs.
Email Marketing Software
While we’re on the subject of sending lots of emails, let’s talk about your marketing and outreach teams. Especially in a small business, teams and individuals are likely wearing lots of different hats. Spending hours (or even days) sending individual emails to your customer base is a massive waste of time, especially when you can’t tell if they’re even getting opened.
Enter email marketing software. These tools grant your team the ability to send one professional email to the masses, without ever needing to open their personal inbox or grab a developer for formatting help. Not only does this eliminate the massive time suck that is the BCC tool, but it also allows you to evolve your email strategy based on the provided insights about who is opening your message.
Web Conferencing Software
Do you have a project that’s being delayed because your remote team can’t schedule a time to meet up and discuss it? With remote work becoming more popular than ever before, many teams are struggling to find a way to connect.
Web conferencing software tools enable your remote team to come together just as they could in an office setting. Additionally, you can often record the meetings for everybody to refer back to as needed. As more professionals are forgoing the typical office in favor of working from home, these tools are necessary to ensure projects don’t suffer from any related delays.
Project Management Software
Our final issue is a bit more general but incredibly common. Are you struggling to keep track of what your team is working on? With multiple projects being thrown at employees every week, it’s near impossible to prioritize your own tasks, remember key deadlines, and stay current on your colleagues’ projects.
Luckily, there is a fix. Of course, we can’t talk about SaaS as a means to increase productivity without featuring this one fundamental tool: project management software.
Project management software, on its simplest level, is self-explanatory: it manages projects. In slightly more detail, it will assist your employees and teams in managing team goals, long-term projects, and individual contributions.
These tools can be used to analyze team performance, give feedback, set deadlines, and stay up-to-date by following the projects your colleagues are working on. Often, you can easily integrate these into your email or team collaboration tool, so you can receive reminders and notifications as you work to meet different deadlines.
Personally, I am a major advocate for project management software. The ability to keep a personal to-do list and see my team’s content calendar all in one place has been a lifesaver.
However, if you plan to implement a project management software platform, you must ensure that your entire team is on board to use it. There’s nothing quite like having to update all of your own tasks, as well as those belonging to a stubborn coworker.
The same goes for all of the software we mentioned above, as well as any other tools you may consider implementing. But if you have a team that’s dedicated to the tool you choose, don’t hesitate. Technology is a productivity staple in the office, and that statement is becoming more truthful every single day.
Up until this point, we’ve covered nearly everything you need to improve productivity. Whether it’s identifying your biggest time-wasters, implementing time-management practices, or helping to build an efficient team, you’re armed with the information you need to start making the most of your workday.
But, we’ll still never say no to a little bit of assistance.
In this chapter, we’ve compiled five time management apps that users love. These tools can be complementary to all of your personal efforts and provide you with an extra push. Following, we’ll give you a brief description of the five featured tools and explain how it will help you increase efficiency.
RescueTime is an app that arms you with a detailed understanding of how you’re spending your days. The app runs in the background of your computer and spits out an in-depth report about the websites you’re visiting most frequently, how much time you’re spending in meetings, and more.
Additionally, the tool has built-in features that helps to hold you accountable. If you find yourself checking Twitter more often than you’d like, you can set RescueTime to block the website for an amount of time of your choosing. Additionally, you can be alerted when you’ve spent a certain amount of time on any given task. If you’re trying to cut down your email usage to just 30 minutes a day, RescueTime can let you know when that time is up.
We’ve pressed on the importance of understanding how you spend your day. If you’re somebody who gets to 5 p.m. and can’t remember what they did, then this app may be for you.
Gmail Delay Send, by Yesware, allows you to schedule an email to be sent at a specific time. If you’re trying to only check email once or twice per day, but rely on email to communicate with key stakeholders, this app could be a lifesaver.
With Delay Send, you can write the emails that need to go out in advance and schedule them to send at a time that works best for your recipient. This can save you from logging in multiple times per day and getting sucked into the dreaded inbox, which we all know is far too easy.
Similar to Rescuetime, Focus Booster can assist in tracking how you spend your day so that you don’t look back on multiple hours lost. However, this tool uses the Pomodoro Technique – a widely renowned productivity method that breaks down work into 25-minute intervals with short, five-minute breaks in between. After four 25-minute intervals, the individual takes a slightly longer 15-minute break.
The breaks will keep you fresh, so you’re continually producing quality work and avoiding burnout. If you’re an employee that likes to work in intervals, this tool may help you accurately time them for maximum productivity.
While not exactly a business app, Coach.Me will help you stay accountable when you set goals. As we mentioned earlier, goal setting is critical to increasing workplace productivity, so this tool will help you form and build valuable habits.
When you sign up for Coach.Me, you enter a community of other goal-setters. This community can help support you as you begin to form better habits. If you’ve been setting lofty aspirations and are looking for people to help keep you accountable, check out Coach.Me.
How many times have you been entirely in the zone, only to be sent an interesting article that takes your attention away for 20 minutes? I’ve certainly been there.
Pocket is an app that allows you to save anything you come across that seems interesting and come back to it later. That means you can add that article your coworker sent you about your favorite new band and return to it later when you’re taking a well-deserved break. If you’re one to get distracted easily, you should consider this bookmarking app to help you stay on task.
If you’re still with us, then congratulations! You’ve successfully wasted an hour of company time.
Don’t worry; I’m just kidding.
In reality, I’m thrilled you’ve made it this far, whether you read this guide at work, or in your free time.
This has been a lot of information. Since Chapter One, we’ve covered time management tips, the importance of building a productive team, why processes are critical to your success, and so much more.
I invite you to bookmark this page and share it with the rest of your team – maybe send it over to that chatty coworker we talked about?
There will always be new innovations to support productivity, so check back soon, as we’ll continue to update this page in the future!