When you’re building a business, you don’t have the resources for extra people. Maybe someday you’ll have a generous budget, but today you need to get as much work out of your current team as possible.
Getting the most out of your team doesn’t mean working them to death. If you overwork your employees and cause them stress, you’ll struggle retaining talent. Plus you’ll build a reputation as an employer who doesn’t care about employee happiness, which can make hiring problematic.
However, you can make a few optimizations to your workflow, office space, and process to squeeze out a bit more productivity.
1. Schedule Everything
Most of us use a calendar to keep track of our lives, but we don’t use it for everything. You probably mark down important meetings, phone calls or deadlines, but you don’t schedule 15 minutes for household chores or 3 hours to have dinner and watch a movie with your spouse.
Scheduling everything is a critical way to make sure everything gets done, including your personal responsibilities and a bit of healthy entertainment. You want your team to have balanced lives so they can give you their focus at work.
2. The (10+2)*5 Formula
Taking breaks is critical to working productively, but those breaks have to be timed properly. If your breaks interrupt key moments of thinking (like when you’re interrupted by someone else), they can actually inhibit your overall productivity. This is because it takes time for your mind to orient itself to a problem, even an old one.
The (10+2)*5 formula is simple: Work for ten minutes and break for two minutes. Do this five times consecutively before taking any longer breaks (like lunch or quitting for the day). You’ll find that the reward of a two minute break keeps you on track during those 10 minutes.
3. Productivity Colors
We’ve known for a while that colors impact our brain’s performance and motivation. A study by Science Daily discovered that red and blue impact productivity.
Red increases attention to detail and focus. It’s great for reviewing documents, editing materials, or studying proposals. Blue ignites creativity and inspirational thought. Use it when you’re trying to solve problems or write messaging or software code.
4. Look for Shortcuts
Working more productively doesn’t always mean working harder. In most cases it means finding ways to automate tasks. Do you find yourself completing a regular task that doesn’t take much brainpower? Find a way to automate it. It’s not worth your time.
Most importantly, encourage your team to do the same. Tell them openly that you would rather them spend time on creative problem solving, not paper-pushing. If you don’t already, consider investing in licensed software designed to solve your specific administrative problems.
You should also look for tasks that can eliminated from your workload. You should only be working on projects that provide value to the business. If you find yourself doing low-value work… just stop doing it.
5. Assign a Task Master
This is a lesson taken from software developers who use a system called Scrum to organize team activities. A Scrum team has a leader who organizes a task board. The task board has columns for “upcoming,” “in progress,” “ready for review,” and “complete.” Post-it notes are used for each task and moved through the columns.
The Task Master’s job is to prioritize the tasks, assign them to team members, and manage the task board. This is a useful technique when you have a lot of work to do that can be completed by anyone, or are working under a tight deadline.
6. Ban Gadgets from Desks
A study by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers found that the average person checks his/her phone 150 times per day. We don’t think that checking out notifications takes long, but it quickly adds up. Leaving the phone on the desk makes the device almost irresistible, but it’s easy to forget about when it’s put into a drawer.
You can eliminate the distraction by creating a policy that requires phones or tablets to be put away during work hours. This could be a challenging policy to enforce and you might actually struggle retaining talent if you come across as a micromanager, so you’ll have to decide if this is right for your company.
7. Quick Morning Workouts
A few minutes of exercise is proven to boost productivity throughout the entire day. Some companies even direct their employees in a bit of morning calisthenics.
You don’t have to suffer through an hour at the gym early in the morning, but you should implement a daily 10-minute workout. Take a brisk walk or a bike ride, or do some of these quick, no-equipment exercises.
8. 15-Minute Meetings
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This means that if you schedule something for 30 minutes, it will take 30 minutes. If you schedule it for an hour, it will take an hour. This happens often in meetings because people feel compelled to stay to the end, even if the meeting functionally ended early.
“Make meetings more productive or don’t have them,” says productivity coach Ciara Conlon. “Meetings waste an enormous amount of money each year for organizations. Too many people are in attendance that don’t have to be there, and most of them are replying to emails and focusing on something other than the meeting.”
If you find yourself sitting bored in meetings it’s because you don’t need to be there. Our brains can only focus on a single topic for 10 to 15 minutes anyway. After that, you’ll start doodling and looking at your phone. Give meetings a short duration. If you meet its objective early, disband the group.
9. Batch Your Tasks
Batching is a form of time management where you dedicate blocks of time to certain task (or tasks that relate to a theme). It allows you to maximize concentration, creativity, and of course, productivity. It also suppresses fatigue and stress.
You see, we struggle to switch between tasks. “Multi-tasking” is nonsense. We can be more effective if we combine similar tasks that require similar resources so our minds can operate in one state at a time.
“Batching tasks works because you’re maintaining the same frame of mind for all the tasks involved,” says self-improvement expert Steve Scott.
Many people like the Pomodoro Technique, but it doesn’t allow for much variation. Instead of sticking to a hard rule, just plan your day to group similar tasks together. Do all of your financial work at one, all of your software coding at another, all of your phone calls at yet another.
10. Turn One Task into Many
Sometimes a big project can be overwhelming. Instead of trying to keep everything sorted in your head, break down large tasks into manageable pieces. Don’t be afraid to drill deeply. For instance, instead of putting “Complete financial report” on your to-do list, add the following:
- Gather sales data from Tim
- Gather retention data from Janice
- Pull online purchase data from dashboard
- Find report from last month
- Format financial report
- Get sales team comments on report
- Send report to Mike
Listing projects like this may seem like more tasks, but they’re far simpler because each item is pretty basic. There’s little thinking required. Plus, you have a high level view of the project so you can get multiple pieces moving, like requests for more information (which may take time).
Optimizing Your Team
Productivity is a fickle thing. What one person does to stay productive might distract another person. People are different, so it’s your job as a manager to uncover what makes your team productive and steer them in that direction.
Furthermore, you can’t be productive working out of someone’s basement or meeting in coffee shops. You need office space that’s easy to set up and move into. Search for offices today.