Throughout 2020, we’ve talked a lot about what a typical work environment looks like now, and the “how” and “where” we work has dramatically changed over the last 9 months. We’ve also addressed how the new work normal will look once the pandemic slows and some employees return to the office.
Different industry experts will give us their take on the Future of Work, but what if the future isn’t drastically different than what many technology advocates (like us at BITS) have been searching for, even before Covid?
As business leaders and technology experts, we’ve been searching to give our employees, teams, and customers a good balance. We don’t mean just trying to find a balance of your work life and your personal life, but also the balance of achieving how to do more with less.
When we look at the key aspects of the modern employee experience, technology drives almost everything, and let’s be honest, technology creates unknowns and can cause anxiety at times from trying to handle so many things from so many places, while confined to a laptop or workstation.
The real questions are: How can we embrace this? How can we create productivity out of the chaos? How can we inspire our teams and ourselves to be more productive every day?
Ryan Patrick, Chief Technology Officer at BITS, shares his journey here in hopes that you may be able to take away a few tips or ideas to create your own unique path from chaos to productivity.
To start, every day, many of us find ourselves tasked with juggling too many balls (both at work and at home) and wearing a lot of different hats. I suffer from this, and I’m sure many of you reading this do, too. We use these expressions all the time, but in reality, they are simply used as an excuse as to why something didn’t get done. Instead, you must prioritize exactly which balls to juggle or which hat to wear first, and then change them out, and don’t put more on, because then you’d just look silly. Focus on accomplishing the project or task at hand, and then move on to the next. Like wearing more than one hat at a time, multitasking isn’t stylish.
The 3.3 Approach
What’s the 3.3 Approach? First, I made it up. Why, because sometimes coming up with a something creative is the first step in opening your mind. Logically speaking, it’s three paths with three points each to help streamline us from chaos to productivity.
Path 1: Get Things Done
David Allen is credited for unleashing this method for getting organized and staying productive in 2001. He has some great books, videos, and podcasts you can check out on this concept. When the technology revolution started, we were all inundated with emails (and 20 years later, we still are!).
The basic concept is this: move along your to-do list. Clear it, schedule it, do it.
Clear it: Reduce the email pollution and move or delete items. If it’s not sent to you or not something you are working on, get it out of your way and file as necessary.
Schedule it: Not every email or thing needs done as it comes in. Outlook has this great feature to change an email into a meeting or appointment (just for yourself).
Do it: Leave time in your day to respond to email and keep your inbox manageable. My goal is less than 30 emails in my inbox at the end of the day.
I started following this method around 10 years ago, and I’m still working on fine-tuning it today – and also encouraging others to use parts of it to help them in their daily tasks.
Path 2: Time
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings. Right now, with many people still working remotely, it seems like we are in meeting after meeting, including meetings to plan future meetings or talk about other meetings. When you’re in meetings nonstop every day, when do you have time to get your tasks and projects actually done? It creates an over-structured work environment where meetings monopolize everyone’s time and ultimately kill your productivity.
Planning Time: Set up time in your calendar to plan out what needs to get done and when. You need to plan your day, week, and month and then build that into your routine.
For example, I block off at least 2 hours a week just for planning and action items and follow ups. On Monday morning, I block off time to plan out my week and schedule time for projects. Then, on Friday morning or afternoon, I set aside specific time for finishing up the week with any last-minute follow ups or action items I need to get out, as well as regroup with my team. Regardless of what needs to get done, the time is blocked into my calendar, and people won’t schedule meetings during this time – it’s my time.
Unstructured Time: This is new to me this year. I heard about it on a LinkedIn post back in February, and it’s made a huge difference in my productivity. Schools encourage kids to have as much unstructured time in their day as they can because it’s shown to spark creativity, curiosity, and innovation. Why should it be different for us adults?
So, what exactly is an unstructured work block? It’s exactly that – it doesn’t have structure, it’s not a set list of things. It’s simply time you set up to work on what you want or need to do that day…without interruption. Many times, I’ll go on do not disturb on Webex Teams, close email (unless that’s what I‘m working on), and likely ignore phone calls unless I’m expecting a call on something.
Having unstructured time to work on what you feel like that day can provide a great mental boast and allow you feel less overwhelmed during other parts of your more structured schedule.
Chaos Time…or, let’s be honest, ‘Shit Happens’ Time: I don’t know about you, but if my calendar shows back-to-back scheduling all day, I get stressed out, then when there’s an issue (at work or at home), I’m stuck trying to move things around.
While this is probably the hardest one of the three, try to leave time in your schedule when you can. Don’t be afraid to propose other times for meetings, or if you are the one scheduling a meeting, don’t put it on the back of another meeting. Meetings don’t need to start or end on the top or bottom of the hour. Look at ways to add in extra time into your day – if your meeting is only going to take 30 or 40 minutes, only schedule it for that much time. If no emergencies come up or no fires need to be put out, this extra added time becomes allows for unstructured work to actually get something done.
Finally, Path 3: Simplify (and reduce your omni channel overload)
How many apps do you use to help with your own productivity? If you’re like me, I’ve found that way too many apps promise to help you be more productive, but, do they really help?
Sometimes, less really is more, and I suggest looking for ways to simplify how you communicate, organize, and get things done into fewer apps or tools. The average worker spends 60 minutes a day moving between multiple apps, and often, it’s easy to lose focus when you’re opening and closing multiple windows throughout the day.
Communication: Find what works for you or your team and go with it. Our team here at BITS really uses three main communication/collaboration tools.
2. Webex Teams/Meetings
3. The good, old telephone
Train your team on all of them, use as many features and capabilities you can with each tool, and leverage integrations to streamline communications and productivity.
Notes and Documents: Same theme here, find what works and stick with it. From OneNote to Sharepoint, streamline collaboration by having resource “Share” links that teams can use to work on files together, not sending them around in emails guessing which is the latest copy. Notebooks can also be shared so notes and feedback can be provided in real time.
At BITS, we encourage shared documents or notebooks across teams when working on projects and to make sure that everyone is using the most updated version of a file.
Don’t forget Pen and Paper (kind of): For years, I have tried to create to-do lists in Evernote, OneNote, Outlook Tasks, and Microsoft ToDo, but it never gave me the same sense of accomplishment that I get from physically crossing off a completed task on a piece of paper. There’s actually apparently some science behind that connection between the pen crossing it off and your brain feeling a sense of pride that you got a task done.
Lately, I found an approach using a reusable notebook (like RocketBook) has been working best for me. With writing out my day (or the days and weeks ahead), listing out my priorities and tasks, and then checking them of as they get done, it’s clear to see what’s been accomplished and what outstanding tasks need to be moved to another day.
Lastly, I get asked how do you measure your productivity? Is there a special formula?
You need to start small and simple: Did I get things done today? Does my checklist look better today than yesterday? At the end of the day or week, did I get everything done that I planned and then hopefully some more? Do I feel good about things as I walk away from my desk for the day with a clear mind free of what else I need to do?
Not every day, but most days I can answer with a ‘Yes’, and that’s all I can ask for. When you start to feel a sense of accomplishment then you are on the right path!