Tech Tuesday: Top 5 Productivity ‘Hacks’
1 August 2017 |
Olli Drury | About a 6 minute read
At AND Digital many of our people are what I like to think of as ‘specialist generalists’ – we spend a lot of time juggling a lot of different types of work to achieve short, medium and longer term goals for our clients and for our internal projects and initiatives.
Being a good generalist means being able to be productive, often in chaotic and changing environments where context switching is the norm.
We all have our different productivity ‘hacks’ to keep on top of our workload and ensure we are doing valuable things all the time – I’ve listed my favourites below including some ‘Pro Tips’ to accompany each one. Many of them are informed by the Agile/Lean mindset we apply to everything we do at AND. Some will be familiar, some maybe not so much – I guarantee all are useful, even if they simply get you thinking differently about your daily work.
Build your inventory
Capturing your work to be done is the first step to managing it effectively. Getting your tasks out of your head and into a list will help you to visualise your work, create sequences between tasks and eliminate the dependencies and blockers stopping you from making progress. It will also reduce the ‘cognitive load’ associated with keeping all those things you need to do in your head. Think of your list as an external hard drive – a place for you to backup and store all those things taking up space in the front of your mind. Don’t separate your work and personal tasks, keep them in one single place and prioritise accordingly. Your to do list should be a single source of truth for everything you need to get done now and in the future.
Pro Tip: Use a cloud based tool like Trello with a simple, uncomplicated workflow. Having the ability to quickly and easily record tasks on any device in any location is incredibly helpful when that important task fleetingly passes through your head and needs recording.
Make your tasks small and independent
When our Product teams translate inputs like business requirements, tasks and work requests into User stories to be worked on by our teams, we make sure they are small enough to be delivered in a small time window and ideally do not depend on the delivery of other tasks to be completed. The same is true for tasks on your to do list. Ensuring your tasks are ‘atomic’ and represent the smallest increment of work for you to make progress toward a goal allows you to quickly gather momentum. ‘Find my closest language school’ is far more effective as a task than ‘Learn Spanish.’ The former is immediately actionable and has a clear and definite end state, whereas the latter is more of a goal that has no obvious next action that you can do right now.
Pro Tip: If you are struggling to break down a goal or objective into small enough tasks, try to think of a two min (or less) task you complete to move you a step closer. Completing this small task will give you a boost and will generate momentum.
Manage your distractions
At AND Digital, we often work in open plan, busy and changing environments. While this can be great for communication and collaboration, it’s easy to get distracted. Add to this the many digital apps, notifications and services we all use and you’ve got a lot of things draining your attention and stopping you from being productive. One tried and tested approach to manage these distractions is the Pomodoro technique, which essentially advocates doing your work in short, focussed timeboxes followed by a shorter break. The technique suggests 25 mins, followed by a 5 min break with a longer break after 4 ‘pomodoros’ of 25 mins. The goal is to work solidly for 25 mins and ‘bank’ all your distractions and interruptions to be addressed in your breaks. There are many free tools you can use to manage your pomodoros, I like to use tomato-timer.com because it’s simple and gives you a gentle, non-invasive prompt at the end of the pomodoro.
Pro Tip: During a pomodoro, put your phone away out of site, kill any messaging or email apps that might tempt you and listen to some music to isolate your brain from the environment around you.
Limit your Work in Progress (WIP)
One of the key principles of Lean thinking is limiting your WIP to focus on getting a smaller number of things completed to a higher quality. You can apply this to your own tasks and projects, whether in work or in your personal life. It’s always tempting to drop what you are working on and start something new when you get bored, distracted or de-motivated. The challenge comes when you realise you are juggling lots of half finished tasks and have actually completed very little. One way you can minimise your WIP is by limiting how many tasks you are going to pull into your to do today/this week/this month list. By focussing on a smaller number of tasks you’ll be able to make more progress towards an overall goal or objective, and you are less likely to get distracted by feeling you need to be working across multiple items. When you’ve ‘earned’ that goal or objective by completing it to a good standard, you can then move onto other things safe in the knowledge it’s actually done.
Pro Tip: Reduce the usual number of tasks in your ‘to do today’ list by about half. You’ll have effectively reduced your WIP and made the completion of your task list more realistic.
It’s very easy to over commit on the volume of tasks you can complete in any given period, whether that’s a day/week/month or even a year. When you’ve got requests coming in left right and centre it’s also very easy to say yes to everything, even when you know deep down you don’t have the capacity. It’s important to remember that your actual productive time in any given period is far smaller than the total amount of time available to you. In a typical 8 hour day, you might only spend 5 hours or even less actually working on things after you’ve factored in all the meetings, tea breaks, checking emails, checking messages and interactions with colleagues that absorb time and often generate even more tasks. In a similar vein to the limiting WIP point it’s important to keep your task list small and achievable.
Pro Tip: Get good and saying ‘No’ to things. Initially it will feel uncomfortable but you’ll quickly gain more control over your workload and your colleagues will respect you for only committing on tasks you have the time and energy to complete to a good standards.
With workloads increasing and technology placing ever greater demands on our attention, it’s never been more important to find clever ways to cut through the noise and stay productive. You can use these techniques on their own or in unison with others to keep on top of your work and keep getting s*** done!
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Senior Full Stack Developer (London)
Champion software quality and technical vision for AND and our clients, work on large-scale projects and help junior and mid developers grow in their roles.I'm Interested
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