How do you stay productive during a long workday?
You know you should be deeply focused on the task at hand and not pay attention to anything else. But at some point ignoring that Slack message you just received or the (5) next to your inbox is just too much…
You probably know it all too well - distractions and productivity killers are all around us in today's open office environment. And while that's all great for exchanging ideas and staying updated on how your colleagues are doing, it can ultimately hurt your productivity.
To help you fight back against distractions and to stay productive during your workday, we reached out to our Partners to get their best productivity tips, tricks and hacks.
The question we asked was:
"What are your best productivity hacks to get more work done?"
- Matt Sage, Head of Design at Yoyo Design
- Malin Nilsson Tunner, Marketing Manager at Toxic
- Andreas Laust, Project Manager at Novicell UK
- Pim Busker, Marketing Manager at theFactor.e
- Luke Critchley, Marketing Assitant at CSI Media
- Chetan Mistry, Development Director at NetConstruct
- Jonathan Sedman, Development Director at SteadyGo
- Ryan Scott, CEO at twentysix
- Trish Tothova, Marketing & Sales Manager at Enjoy Digital
Saying no and staying structured - Matt Sage, Head of Design at Yoyo Design
Don't be afraid to say no
Staying on task is essential to productivity. If you're working to an agreed deadline, try not to get sidelined. This doesn't mean put your headphones on and ignore everyone around you, it means be confident and assertive enough to say “I'd be very happy to help, but I'm afraid I just don't have the time to right now.” Doing this will allow you to get on with your tasks, whilst still setting expectations.
Use your toolbox
We love to spend time designing bespoke website components for our clients' websites. Most get implemented and really add to and enhance the digital experience. So why not use them as a framework for another great idea? Adapt and adjust your ideas, but don't be afraid to build on some of the great foundations you've already made.
Challenge your process
Have you got your company's process nailed? Maybe. But time passes, things change and grow rapidly in agency environments and what once may have been the best solution, isn't necessarily still sustainable. Be bold and challenge/question the process if you don't think it's working for you and your team anymore.
To be truly efficient, our teams need to be closely aligned to each other's expectations. Using checklists help to make sure that when delivering work internally, we've covered off exactly what each department needs for the next part of the project. For example, we have a design checklist that covers off all the key things that must be included before development, so no nasty surprises or workarounds needed when it comes to build.
Have you ever designed a really great animation or specific transition that's been signed off by the client and your internal development team, but when it comes to implementation - the exact way you planned for it to work hasn't been truly reflected. This is where prototypes are essential. Creating a prototype may mean you spend a little bit more time upfront but the amends time this can save during concept refinement is huge.
Decline meetings that don't have a clear objective or requirement. Be strong enough to say no to a meeting or ask why you're invited if you don't think it's going to be of value. Maybe the requester will have a valid reason, but a lot of the time, meetings just get overbooked unnecessarily and waste time.
Be flexible and open-minded - Malin Nilsson Tunner, Marketing Manager at Toxic
At Toxic no day is like the other, we all work on different projects with different goals, people, requirements and deadlines. We therefore need to adapt our work processes to suit the project we're in and not at least the customer. How do we stay productive? I think there are a lot of tips and tricks that can help us on the way, and different tricks work differently for everyone. But we stay productive by being flexible and open-minded to those different needs. So, whatever makes you productive today continue doing that! Or start trying some of our tips.
Is always a key factor. Get help to prioritize, set goals and make sure your expectations are in line. But also let your teammates know what works for you and what you need to stay productive.
Try different areas in your workspace to see where you feel the most productive. Maybe you're the most creative when you bring your computer to the kitchen, and you could be the most effective on the sofa.
We can't talk about productivity without mentioning consumption of different energizing drinks - I mean coffee is always a good idea.
Go outside get fresh air, look at a video that makes you happy, play some video game, listen to music or just take your eyes off the screen for a couple of minutes and meditate.
We love it! Super easy to assign tasks, follow up and see workflows.
Our everyday go to communication tool. It's a great way to spread information or just stay connected to colleagues in other offices.
One thing at a time
Be in the moment (fuzzy, but effective) listen, engage and put your focus into one thing at a time, you will get so much more out of it and your colleagues / customers as well.
Dedicate time for emails
Set a time frame (or two) during the day that you dedicate to emails.
When you really need to focus, turn all notifications off.
Noise reduction headphones is a winner.
Ask for help!
It's in everyone's interest that you succeed so don't be afraid to ask for help.
Celebrate every tiny victory
It's so much more fun to achieve your goals and stay productive when you celebrate together with your team and customers.
Be organised and question procedures - Andreas Laust, Project Manager at Novicell UK
I could write a whole essay on the various theories and technical approaches to productivity, but sometimes a few simple tricks can have the biggest effect. Here are my three quick-wins for productivity:
This one is pretty simple: when I'm disorganised, my mind clutters and I feel unproductive.
So the first thing I do when I need to get my brain back on track is spend five minutes tidying my desk, shutting unused Chrome tabs and closing any emails I'm done with.
It's incredible how much difference a nice and tidy workstation can make in terms of productivity and overall peace of mind.
A little challenge for you: for the next week, start each day with five minutes of tidying, and see if it has an effect on you.
Allow yourself time to be somewhere quiet
I want to pre-empt this by saying that being in a social work environment is by far my preferred way to work – an engaging environment is not only mentally stimulating, but also an amazing place to collaborate and learn from each other.
But sometimes you simply need some peace and quiet to get on with your work. Some tasks require that extra degree of focus, and being distracted can easily throw complex calculations, heavy reporting, etc. out of your head – and then you have to start over.
Doing tasks like these in a quiet environment could be the difference between a well-executed or a mistake-ridden report/piece of code/unit test/etc.
Try to also silence Slack, emails and phone calls – you want to minimise all avenues of distraction.
So next time you have a very detailed piece of work due, why not book yourself a meeting room for a few hours to allow yourself some focus time?
Question unnecessary procedures
Having procedures in place is, of course, paramount in securing consistent results. When procedures are implemented correctly, they assist in making life easier for everyone.
However, while some stand the test of time, most procedures require ongoing updates as your company grows and evolves.
You shouldn't be afraid to ask why things are done in a certain way, especially if you don't feel that it makes sense, or if you see a more efficient way. Be prepared to offer an alternative approach and to allow time for your suggestions to be discussed, evaluated and implemented.
Test early and focus on one job at a time - Pim Busker, Marketing Manager at theFactor.e
Test in an early stage
Our first tip wouldn't be to get more stuff done, but to get the right stuff done. At theFactor.e we believe in early stage testing of concepts (or: Lean startup). Before we spend a lot of time developing great (Umbraco) apps, sites and platforms we like to test concepts for viability, for example by using our rolling lab Billy. There are a lot of methods (like context mapping, value proposition canvasses, focus groups, card sorting, paper prototyping, user testing and pilots) that can be used to get valuable insights from the end users in the different stages of innovation projects. This is how we make sure we are getting the right stuff done and eliminate wasting valuable time and resources.
Focus on one job
Our second tip would be to focus on one job at a time and not let people and machines interrupt you while doing your job. This asks for discipline. There is always somebody asking for your attention, there is always an app calling you in and there are always a lot of things to think of at the same time. If you really want to get more stuff done you should eliminate all of these distractions.
So: turn off all notifications on desktop and mobile, don't check your mail more than 3 times a day, let people know you are not available for interruptions, plan what you want to do (and what the outcome of this job needs to be) and most important: have a system in place that helps you thinking of the right project on the right time (and not all the time). I'm using the Getting Things Done system myself to put all my projects and tasks in. It works fine for me. The most important thing is to find the system that works best for you.
Music, Tag Helpers, To-do lists and pizza - Luke Critchley, Marketing Assistant at CSI Media
A lot listen to music or podcasts on their headphones - our team has a pretty eclectic, "interesting" taste in music. Paula loves her dance tunes, whilst Martin's keen for a bit of heavy rock. One of the guys loves his theme park soundtracks, but I shan't be naming him. 😳
One of our Tech Leads uses Tag Helpers in large .Net Core projects to help speed up the development process. He reckons this helps with his team's productivity.
Our Creative Lead writes a list of tasks every morning, and marks three as “must do today”.
Fresh fruit - and pizza
Finally, sometimes you just need that wee snack to keep you going and, well, the healthier the better, so we have two baskets of fresh fruit delivered to the office every week. Honestly, it is popular with the team, although not quite as popular as Pizza Fridays…
Tips for developers - Chetan Mistry, Development Director at NetConstruct
It's impossible to work at 100 percent all the time. Everyone needs a small break or a distraction at some point in the day to refocus and work as effectively as possible. Our in-house development team have shared their top productivity hacks for staying focused on the task at hand:
Set yourself up right for the day
Every morning, create a priority task list to keep you focused and avoid getting side-tracked with other projects. We also recommend arranging small jobs, client calls and internal meetings for the first or last hour of the day allowing you to focus on client work without having to start-stop throughout the day.
Send a signal with your headphones
Putting your headphones in can indicate when you're "in the zone" and headphones off shows you're ready to handle questions and distractions. A great playlist is another way of keeping motivated or calm depending on your mood.
Step away from the screen!
It may sound counter-intuitive but taking a few minutes away from your screen and stretching your legs can help you refocus, reduce eye strain and feel less lethargic.
Set yourself up with the right tools
If there's a specific laptop or mouse you prefer, request it from your company. If you're going to be spending eight hours a day coding, you must ensure your tools are the best for you.
Automate the deployment process
Automate the deployment process to UAT and production environments by utilising the build and release pipelines features within Azure DevOps. Using these features, developers don't have to manually build and publish projects. As a result, productivity is increased, and human error is decreased allowing you to work on other tasks while waiting for the project to build and release.
Publish pull requests on your preferred channel
We use Slack to allow code reviews and approvals to be picked up by any developer.
Visibility of work
Screenshot or record evidence when completing tasks so the next person in the chain has visibility of work and doesn't waste their time identifying or proving it works.
It's inevitable, everyone loses their focus at some point. Whether it's catching up with your colleagues, thinking about what you want for lunch or just sheer frustration with the project you're working on. We hope our first-hand experiences help you plan, prepare and refocus, enabling you to work as effectively as possible.
Not everything has to be done NOW - Jonathan Sedman, Development Director at SteadyGo
My name’s Jonny, I’m software development director at a boutique digital agency called SteadyGo. We’ve worked on just about every digital project you can imagine and have learned along the way how to stay productive despite all the usual agency issues!
Noise cancelling headphones
I work in a pretty open office space with some chatty colleagues, which 99% of the time is great for collaboration and ideas, but sometimes when you really need to knuckle down and concentrate it can be distracting! Even if you’re not listening to music a decent pair of noise cancelling headphones does wonders to cut out the background noise!
Azure Devops (or similar)
A devops platform is invaluable for managing code, deployments and multiple team members. Build and deployment automation takes the stress out of the situation by making annoying and repetitive processes standardized and automatic. You can build sass, build code, run unit tests, deploy to servers, run regression tests and much more! If any part of the process goes wrong, you can be notified, and the code doesn’t get released. Having peace of mind and confidence in your build and deployment process means you can concentrate on other things.
Understand the tools you use
This one seems simple but I’m very guilty of using just the obvious parts of tools I work with. That could be my desk phone, Microsoft Outlook, my code editor or the actual programming language I’m using. Spending a bit of time reading the documentation and having a play around will save you precious time.
Make your team independent
As a manager it’s your job to help team members and give them the benefit of your knowledge. One of the most important skills you can teach junior team members is not just how to do something but how to solve a problem in general using the tools available to them. Rather than just telling them the answer go through the steps of how you would solve the problem and reinforce the need for them to exhaust their own research and demonstrate how they have tried to solve the problem first.
Not everything has to be done NOW
It can be easy to fall into the habit of jumping on any task or issue as soon as it arises. Being reactive like this is sometimes necessary but for the most part it can hurt your productivity. Create a task list, add the new task to it and prioritise what needs to be done first. Most importantly communicate back to the wider team!
Keep it simple - Ryan Scott, CEO at twentysix
I like simplicity.
We're always so busy all the time with a whole bunch of stuff that's full of unnecessary distractions. We accidentally absorb all this chaos and inject it into our working ways, adding obsolete processes and actions into the mix which makes it hard to get anything important done.
We need to simplify and get back to what's important – "the simplest solution is most likely the right one".
I think that's the real solution to getting your productivity going. Get stuff done by making things simple. Get your working day running efficiently by focussing on the simple parts of any project. Get your momentum back by achieving those simple successes.
I love the concept of the combination of lots of people doing simple things to achieve great work; after all, my favourite maxim is: "do the simple things well, and amazing things happen".
Work & Hangout Sessions - Trish Tothova, Marketing & Sales Manager at Enjoy Digital
We have introduced 'work hangouts' twice a week in the afternoons which allows any member of staff to join a Google Hangout whilst working for a two-hour period. This is an effort to make it feel more like an office environment whilst we are all working from home. You don't have to have your camera on or even your mic, it's just there to act as background noise and occasional chit-chat or ask any questions to people if you fancy it.
We wanted to tackle the level of loneliness you can experience when working from home all day, and make it feel like you are in a collaborative environment so you can feel more productive and also easily talk with people if you need them. They are completely optional, but are going down a treat!
That's all, folks!
I hope you enjoyed reading the tips from our 8 Gold Partners and who knows - maybe you'll even start using one of them to increase your own productivity?