Productivity is contagious
It’s the reason I joined a coworking space when I started working remotely nearly four years ago. There’s something really motivating about being immersed in a group of hardworking people.
Every time I grabbed a coffee, I passed ten productive people along the way. That always made me want to come back and buckle down on whatever I was doing.
The cool thing is, you can transmit this feeling to your team, too, whether you’re beside them or not. As a team leader (if you’re a DPM, you’re a leader) your actions set an example. If that example is one of focus and productivity, you can bet it’ll trickle down.
On busy vs. productive
Before we totally dive in too deep, let’s clear something up. This post is not about how you can be busier. If you’d like to add more noise, motion, and to-dos in your day, disregard everything beneath the next header.
I guarantee you you’ll be more busy than you hoped.
But if you’d rather complete more purposeful, priority-driven work—if you’d rather be more productive—then you’re going to want to hear the next bit.
Setting up your “to-don’t” list
It’s likely you’ve heard some good productivity tips, like set priorities and focus on your goals. That’s great advice.
Another huge part of it, though, is what you don’t do. To achieve a high (or higher) level of productivity, there are some things you’re going to want to stop doing. Those things make up your productivity “to-don’t” list.
1. Don’t Check Your Email First Thing
This is especially important if your energy levels peak in the morning like mine do. Using up your best brain power and momentum by scrolling through your inbox? That’s a bit of a waste.
Instead: Set a reasonable time you’ll log in to email every day. Some of you might get away with 11 am, some of you might need to check in earlier. Whatever time is reasonable, try and knock out one hour of focused work before you fall into the inbox. “Eat the frog,” as they say, and tackle the update that has your fingers all twisted, before you open the email.
2. Don’t Be Available On Slack All The Time
There are some glorious things about instant communication. Constantly receiving notifications is not one of them. I know, because I have ten workspaces in my desktop Slack app (yes, I realize that’s excessive). Keeping it open is a surefire way to lose hours out of my day.
Instead: Check Slack periodically. If you share a calendar with your team, block off times to tackle some deep work. Update your Slack status to reflect that, too, so coworkers are less eager to ping you.
Another idea is to use Slack in browser and only open a workspace when you need it. Since I have several clients in several workspaces, I use this technique often. Opening workspaces as I need them helps me safeguard my focus. It also ensure I don’t fall into latest link in #random.
3. Don’t Keep Your Email Open.
You know the beautiful thing about an email? You don’t have to respond immediately.
Yes, communication is part of your job, and it’s the backbone of some of the most important PM skills. Unless it’s a launch day or a similarly demanding scenario, don’t keep your email open. Otherwise, each time that inbox number creeps up, you’re going to get pulled back into it.
Instead: Check your email periodically. I normally check mine three times a day (mid-morning, after lunch, before end of day) and a few times in between. Your frequency will depend on your team culture and workflow, but few days should require all-day email.
Whatever frequency you choose, make sure you communicate it to your team. This way coworkers can alert you to any urgent group emails (“DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS 404?”) that pop up while you have your head down.
4. Don’t Use Your Computer For Every Task
I love how easy tools make it to plan and communicate these days. But just like some designers are refreshed by sketching with pencils, I’m refreshed by writing out timelines and ideas, before I put them online. Nothing removes distractions like removing my computer altogether.
Instead: It may feel like heresy but take your computer off your desk sometimes. Identify a few things you could do analog and give those a go without your computer beside you. Your focus should definitely intensify.
Some things I do analog, preferably with a purple pen:
- Draft timelines
- Sketch information architecture
- Outline page hierarchy for the design team
- Create my day’s to-do list
- Learn about project management (old school style, with books)
5. Don’t Keep Your Phone Beside You
Did you know that just having it in sight distracts us? Yikes!
Instead: Place your phone somewhere you can’t see it. Preferably somewhere you can’t reach it either. Unless I’m scheduled to take a call or am expecting one, I hide my phone behind my computer or in another room. My productivity always skyrockets (If you do this, make sure you keep your phone on silent and remember where you hide it—that second part is important).
6. Don’t Multitask So Much
I know, “rockstar multitasker” is in almost every DPM job description. And it’s true, to manage multiple projects, reports, and clients, you do need to be able to multitask. But that doesn’t mean it’s how you’ll do your best work. Juggling tasks has a cost, and that cost is usually our focus and ability to perform well.
Instead: Prioritize your tasks for the days. Then systematically work through them, focusing on one at a time. Use the tips above—like closing slack and email—to ward off unnecessary multi-tasking.
If you need help prioritizing, check out the Eisenhower matrix. It’s not the only way you can prioritize, but its simplicity makes it my favorite.
7. Don’t Assume You Have 8 Hours Of Work
You know this when you’re managing resources, but I bet you forget to apply it yourself on occasion. DPMs are a tribe gifted with the extraordinary organization and management skills. Yet we still spend more time than we expect on things like getting coffee, staring at opened tabs (“Why did I open this again?”), and getting tied up in conversation.
Instead: If you’re not already, start tracking where your time goes each day. After a few weeks, you should have a good idea how many actually-doing-work hours you average per day. Once you know what those hours are, you can start to optimize them.
For example, I thought each day in my week looked like this:
For those of you not already laughing, I found most of my days actually looked like:
Seeing this laid out prompted me to get better about how I work. Applying all the “To-Don’ts” above are the biggest ways I’ve increased my productivity since.
Other counter-intuitive productivity tips
If you’re new to productivity strategies, I’d definitely recommend you read this post and listen to this podcast. Then come back here. Those posts are full of stellar advice on how to prioritize, especially if you’re not sure where to start.
For those of you already leveraging effective frameworks and the “To-Don’t” list above, here a few more things you can consider:
8. Set Arbitrary Stupid Goals
Part of your job includes doing things you hate. I know this because it’s, in fact, what everyone’s job includes. To motivate yourself through those things, set arbitrary stupid goals.
For example: If I’m really dreading something (it usually involves a calendar), I’ll bribe myself with a diet coke. I’ll say to myself, “If you do this thing, you can treat yourself to a diet coke afterward.”
Stupid? Pretty darn effective? Absolutely.
That’s the magic of giving yourself something to look forward to. Some arbitrary goals you can make your own:
- Take a walk around the block or building
- Visit a fun website (swiss-miss is my favorite)
- Dial up a friend for a 10 minute chat
- Read a short chapter in a book
- Grab a snack
- Work out
- Visit a local shop
- Grab a midday coffee/tea/smoothie
- Research your next vacation
- Get ice cream
- Check Twitter
- Hit up a happy hour
There are endless options, really. Especially since the goal is supposed to be stupid.
Note: These should be in addition to actual, non-stupid goals you’ve set for your workweek and career. Please don’t make all your goals arbitrary.
9. Aim For Velocity, Not Speed
Doing something quickly (speed) isn’t the same thing as actually getting somewhere (velocity). Think of this as running laps around a track vs. running from your house to the grocery store. With the first, you end up where you started, no matter how fast you go. With the latter, you arrive at a destination, even if you walk some of the ways.
That sound obvious, but it’s pretty tricky in practice. You can speed through an entire to-do list without moving any closer to your team goals. I’ve done this plenty of times.
To combat that, I take 30 minutes at the end of my day each Friday to write down goals for next week. Then I keep them somewhere prominent on my desk. This routine helps me keep goals—and velocity—in mind.
10. Be A Productive Procrastinator
Trying to eliminate procrastination is likely trying to eliminate bad hair days—it’s not going to happen. You can have strategies for dealing with them, but you won’t eliminate them completely. My favorite strategy for managing procrastination is to be a productive procrastinator.
What that means is, if I’m trying to put off a dreaded task, I’ll organize my desk or prep for dinner. I’ll procrastinate, but by doing something productive.
This provides two benefits: (1) I get something useful done and (2) I take my mind off the dreaded task for a while.
Ways you can productively procrastinate:
- Clean out your desk
- Read through email backlog
- Go for a walk
- Draw up a meal plan
- Journal about your week
- Write a letter to a friend
- Read a chapter of a book
- Keep reading this post
All of these tasks give you permission to procrastinate a little, while still providing a benefit.
11. Remember Productivity Isn’t Your Goal
The goal isn’t productivity. The goal is the goal, and productivity is a means to your goal.
For example, your goal may be to have time to hold regular 1:1s with teammates each week. Or to hit 90% of your deadlines.
Being productive can help you do both of these things. However, if you find yourself checking off To-Dos for just to make checkmarks, you’re probably off course.
One way I combat this is by categorizing my to-dos. At the top of my list is priority. These are the 2-4 things I have to do that day. The rest of my To-Dos are organized by client, career, or business goal. That way, when I consider a To-Do item, I immediately know to what end I’m working.
12. Give Yourself A Break
You won’t be mind-blowingly productive every day. When you’re in a funk, give yourself some grace. You’ll rebound a lot quicker that way.
Speaking of breaks, take those often. Five minutes of focused breathing or stretching your legs will not sabotage your day. Periodically refresh yourself so you can come back and focus.
13. Acknowledge You’re More Than A DPM
You’re a human, too. This means that:
- how you eat
- when you eat
- water intake
- sleep amount
- light exposure
- stress levels
all affect your ability to focus and get things done. So don’t forget to take care of your whole self, not just your DPM self. If this means you need to put down your mobile device and use less social media for better sleep and productivity, then you have to make that sacrifice. Social media can be addictive, and it can steal many hours of sleep from you in a week if you’re not disciplined enough to step away, resulting in less productivity in the workplace and at home.
You’ll be more productive because of it.
What do you think?
What’s your favorite technique? Let me know in the comments.