We work in a thriving tech office. We’ve gone from seven employees in a living room to more than 200 people covering four floors of our downtown HQ. We’ve got a great culture, an awesome vibe and quite possibly the best team. BUT.
We’ve got a ton of hustle and bustle going on, which means the workload is ever growing and in constant fluctuation. And it’s not always easy to get down to the most important task at hand—there’s often an eager coworker who wants to share ideas, or a steady stream of people hitting the pong and foosball tables right. By. Your. Workspace.
Through most of our team retros, someone brings up that it is difficult to focus in a shared workspace. In our weekly content meeting, the team got together to share some of the ways each of us overcomes these challenges with our favourite productivity hacks. So, from our marketing team to yours, here are some productivity hacks to help you turn down the noise and turn up the awesome.
Each of the productivity hacks comes from a different team member, which is what makes this post especially fun.
Parallel stories (Nykea’s tip)
Reading about marketing is useful, for sure, but some of my most inspirational stories come from unrelated fields. Having the ability to tell stories in tandem is useful for creating content and thinking strategically. One of my favourite podcasts is Radiolab, and I get a lot of inspiration from their stories. They have an excellent episode called Patient 0, which tells the stories of Typhoid Mary, AIDS and the inception of the high-five. Although it may not be the most appropriate comparison, I equated being Patient 0 to being an influential content sharer within our company, using the Patient 0 story to illustrate how one person can have a huge affect and reach many people. Have you ever heard the story of Williams Sonoma and the breadmaker? TL;DR Sonoma imported a breadmaker and tried to sell it for $275. It didn’t sell until he brought in another breadmaker and put it on the shelf for $429. Then the $275 breadmaker started flying off the shelves. That story framed the way I look at pricing for Saas based companies, as well as the new juicer I’m eying up 😉
Work exchange (Jamie’s tip)
Bite the bullet and ask the experts in your organization for help. There’s always someone at your company that knows more than you. Let’s say you’re a content creator and you need help with HTML or plugins. Ask a developer or an IT person to set it up for you. What takes you half a day to figure out, takes them 20 minutes. Think of it as an exchange, the favour will come back around where you’re the expert. Work has a way of balancing out.
Exercise (Zach’s tip)
One productivity tip that I find the most effective is exercising, especially if it’s a long walk or bike ride commute to work. Let’s face it, it’s never easy to get rolling right when you get to your desk in the morning. I find that if I sleep extra long, or don’t get moving early in the morning before work, my productivity suffers in the first hour of the day.
It’s important to get off to a productive start each and every morning to set the tone for the rest of the day, and exercising is the answer for me. When I bike to work in the mornings, I have a lot more energy at my desk. I am ultimately much more awake than I would be if I drive to work or catch a ride.
“When you exercise, you are also increasing blood flow to the brain, which can help sharpen your awareness and make you more ready to tackle your next big project” (Livestrong).
That’s exactly it for me—when I exercise before work I am much more alert, and as a content writer, I make far fewer writing errors. Content writing takes a lot of focus and undivided attention—your brain has to really be in tune with what you are writing about. If you are distracted or tired, your writing will suffer.
This goes for more than just content writing, though. Exercise will stimulate productivity in any work environment. If you can’t exercise before work that’s fine, but be sure to give yourself breaks throughout the day that give your body time to stretch and move. A study from AceFitness showed that a 10-minute stretching program among assembly-line workers showed significant improvement in joint flexibility, fatigue, anger, depression and overall mood.
So whether it’s biking to work or getting a stretch in during the day, I believe that the best way to increase productivity in the workplace is to exercise.
Take a flex day (Nykea’s tip)
Work from home when working on bigger projects like research and content, if your employer allows. Some of these tasks are far easier to do when you can spread out your materials and cozy in for long periods of time.
Brain Breaks (Heidi’s tip)
A practice that has stayed with me through my university years and beyond is what is referred to in the educational field as “brain breaks.” When studying, I was told (and this is backed up by multiple studies) to study for twenty to twenty five minutes, and then take a short break (lingholic.com). Used by many entrepreneurs and professionals who often wear multiple hats, this helps us make the most of our memories and attention spans without burning out our brains.
We essentially give our brains a second to rest and focus on something else before getting back into the task at hand. In some European cultures, business people take extended lunch hours and have a completely different view on time vs. productivity as well as work-life balance. While we maybe can’t completely adopt European culture, incorporating mini breaks into our day can help prevent fatigue and give our batteries a quick recharge (entrepreneur.com). Whether you take a quick trip to the washroom, glance at your phone, play some foosball or whatever helps you take a break from what you are doing and recharge, do it. You will come back to your task at hand more refreshed and productive. Of course, if you are doing something that takes tight concentration and you are afraid to lose your spot or train of thought, by all means, take some notes or finish what you are doing before taking a brain break. My brain is now trained to tell me when it needs a minute to recharge and I comply.
Say No! (Taylor’s tip)
“Yes” is a workplace epidemic. We say it because we think it’s the nice, polite thing to do (or at our office, maybe just because we’re Canadian). Either way, this yes disease has got to go—it’s killing our productivity. When you say yes to more and more work, the quality of all of your work is impacted. Saying yes generally results in letting people down because the more work you take on, the longer it takes you to finish anything.
Saying no, can be empowering. Imagine Oprah giving away new cars to her whole audience—you’ll feel that good! It takes practice, but once you’re used to it, you’ll be cured of the yeses forever. Weekly goals will actually stick, and at the end of a long week, you’ll feel like you got s$*t done. Just don’t find yourself emulating your two year old and saying it to everything—there are some injected tasks that are necessary to keep your company rolling (and your boss happy)!
Let thoughts incubate (Jamie’s tip)
Distilled thoughts/ideas are clearer and easier to communicate. Trying to force inspiration usually doesn’t work, so when you have an idea, sit with it for awhile. Make notes, sleep on it and come back to the project when you’ve had time to coherently gather your thoughts.
Collaborate and share (Andrew’s tip)
Working independently for too long on a single project (four hours or more) without showcasing what direction you’re heading can lead to disaster. Remember the game Snake? Think of a project as a real life game of Snake. Everyone is trying to eat the apple, and after every apple they eat, they grow and grow. But what happens if there are 10 snakes growing on the same board without an exit strategy? Disaster, that’s what!
Start every day with you, yourself and your brain (Amy’s tip)
Also read as: No technology! Drop your bag, take off your coat, put your homemade vegan lunch in the fridge and sit at your desk with a hot cup of java to think. What do I want to accomplish today? What is my main goal? What are my top three deliverables? If you don’t already know this, there may be a larger (organizational) problem, and that’s another blog post altogether.
I start off every morning with my dollar store notebook, favourite Twitter pen, Starbucks iced coffee and make a prioritized list. Does that mean I come into the office a little earlier each day? Yes. Does that mean that I’m calm, organized, focused and in #getshitdone mode for the day? Absolutely. And what feels better than checking items off a list? NOTHING. (You know you’re “adulting” when…)
Now, since email rules our lives, I do agree that you can’t just ignore the mounting pile of unreads. I recommend that once your technology free list is complete, take a quick look at your email. Quick as in five minutes, maximum. Use this time to determine if there are any emergency situations, last minute requests or huge projects being dumped on your plate that you need to add to your list. Injected tasks are commonplace, but those can be prioritized too! If needed, add to your prioritized list items that may have surfaced during your quick email scan.
Every day, my goal is to #getshitdone. What shit? List shit! And there’s nothing better than getting it done. Taking ten minutes every morning to really think about what’s most important in the day helps me when the most annoying sales person ever asks for an updated graphic. I can take a quick glance at my list (which I’ve usually memorized because I’m crazy like that) and easily let them know that while their request may be valid, it is nowhere near as important as planning tomorrow’s webinar content for 150+ attendees. But I say it nicer than that, sometimes. 😉
Dedicate time to focus on your team by implementing quiet time (Bonnie’s tip)
Being part of a marketing team that is constantly collaborating, in an environment of rapid change, it is easy to find yourself getting pulled into one vortex or another, only to find that by the end of the day that you have dedicated more of your time to researching what “grass fed butter” is than solving that lead acquisition problem you are having.
One hack that I highly recommend for any size team to adopt is something that I call “Quiet Time.” Remember when you were in kindergarten and your teacher would turn out the lights, all the children would find their special little mat, and everyone was forced to close their eyes for 15 minutes, with no talking? By the end of the 15 minutes, the teacher would have to gently nudge some of the children awake. I was never one of those children. I used my quiet time for planning—I was a planner even back then. I would get comfy, close my eyes, and visualize all of the things I was going to do that day. I believe my best macaroni artwork came out of those moments.
I suppose this idea has stuck with me, and that was the catalyst behind Quiet Time. Quiet Time is dedicated “collaboration-free” time for every team member to focus. Unless there is an urgent matter that needs to be dealt with immediately, there are no team questions asked loudly across the office, no messages, no emails, no random conversations and for those brief moments, no pang of guilt for not obsessively checking email and Slack channels to make sure I haven’t left any request hanging.
It is very easy to bring this type of focus to your team. First, we got some guidelines together so that everyone had a chance to weigh in with their own ideas, and so that it would easily fit into everyone’s unique schedules and routines. How long was the right amount of time? How much time could we really spare during the busy workday? What time of day was the best? How often can we implement this during the week? Once we sorted through these details, we put it to the test, and immediately our productivity jumped, ideas were thoroughly fleshed out and we saw more strategic results from all of our marketing efforts.
Quiet time is still my sacred time, and it is always my most productive time. While I have moved on from macaroni art, I can attribute my best sales and marketing strategies to Quiet Time.
Define the goal (Andrew’s tip)
If I asked you to travel to Korea, go for a great supper, navigate Seoul and make friends with everyone you meet, do you think you could accomplish that task without planning? Well, maybe our graphic designer Cara could, but most of us might struggle a little bit. Defining your end goal will provide you and your team with a roadmap to successful project completion. If the goal is large, break it out into attainable pieces so you can clearly track progress.
The 20 minute blog post (Nykea’s tip)
Drafting content takes time and is not an easy task, but you need to produce lots to build your web cred. No matter your team size, big or small, working together to create content can be a quick way to develop a blog. This works especially well for list type content, as it is less essential that the voice be consistent. For example, our marketing team drafted this post together in a short amount of time—everyone on the team has had to figure out a way to make better use of their time, so why not share it?
The Wall of Sound (Josh’s tip)
The universal symbol for “leave me alone, I’m in the zone, jabrone” is hunching over your laptop, headphones in. Since science has proven the size of your headphones is inversely proportionate to the likelihood someone will come tap you on the shoulder anyways, I recommend getting bigger headphones. The biggest headphones, in fact. Those lil’ buds just won’t deflect impatient task-injecting co-workers as effectively as those over-ear Princess Leia buns. Forget about style, forget about getting a weird band across your hair… you need to be productive, dammit.
Now that you’re jacked in and hiding in the storage closet, what music will make you most productive? I recommend something that strengthens your don’t-you-dare-interrupt-me defenses with a combination of ear damaging loudness and mentally stimulating intensity. I call it the Wall Of Sound. That’s right, listen to something that is so destructively pummeling that no one will dare approach. Not only will you never hear anyone calling your name, but the maniacal glaze over your eyes will deter even the boldest of interrupters.
Here’s a good 20 minutes of Norwegian post-metal-jazz-hybrid band Shining to start you off in the right direction.
Don’t work overtime to be more productive (Cara’s tip)
Studies show that overtime hours don’t lead to higher productivity, but actually have the opposite effect. Spending too many hours at work will drain your spirit and decrease motivation. The attention span of a human is limited. Going beyond the point of clear, quality focus will enable sloppy, non-productive work that will cause you to lose passion for the project.
Don’t open chats and emails as they come in (Blair’s Tip)
Whether you’re writing a web page, blog post or marketing email, you need to be in the zone. Chats and emails are major distractions that not only hog your time, but they also kill your creativity.
Close your chat program and email altogether. Imagine that nothing exciting is going on in there (it’s probably true).
Every couple hours, check to see if you’ve received something new—or better yet, schedule a time to check your emails. For me, it’s kinda like a daily ritual. I check my email as soon as I get into the office, right after lunch and at the end of the day.
And don’t worry—if it’s an emergency, people will call you on the phone, come find you in person or set off a couple flares. Until then, get in the zone and stay there.
Caveat: If your job absolutely requires that you respond to your email—as in, you would get fired if you don’t—then please don’t take my advice. I will not take responsibility for your poor decisions.
Stimulants ala Coffee (Adam’s Tip)
Let’s face it, everyone else is going to say “take a break to clear your mind”, “make a list of priorities” or “don’t skip meals.” Nothing is better for productivity than a cup of coffee. You might not drink coffee, in which case you’re probably not very productive.
The only challenge you’ll need to learn to mitigate when it comes to the consumption of stimulants like coffee is the onset of anxiety or brief bouts of rage that overwhelm you whenever the coffee pot is empty. My personal strategy is by using a form of meditation called mindfulness. It can help you ground yourself in the moment and say “it’s alright, I didn’t really need a fifth cup of coffee.”
Suddenly you’re in Aesop’s fable with the fox and the apple. You are the fox and coffee is the apple. It’s a classic case of cognitive dissonance and the grounded connection you’ve made to reality has broken your need for that liquid death. No longer will it rule over your every waking moment causing shivers and shudders of terror whenever you close your eyes. You’re free at last. Take a deep breath. You’re awake and conscious—a highly productive individual with no vices to exploi—wait! I see another pot of fresh coffee sitting in the corner! It’s time for that fifth cup.
I’ll leave you with a poem for mornings:
Coffee, coffee, coffee
Everyone shut up.
Go outside (Nykea’s tip)
Getting some fresh air can help you focus, and has always worked for me. This doesn’t even need to mean stepping outside of the office in the middle of the day, but can be outside of work hours. Having a dog has forced me to get my fresh air quota, which has been for the better. I’ve discovered a park on the edge of the city that is perfect—an open prairie path that leads to a wooded trail that opens onto a vast beach on the river. Not only does this help relieve my tension from a hectic work day, but I get a better sleep and am ready to tackle the next day with more vigor.
Don’t say “yes” too often (Cara’s tip)
If you’re a yes person, then you will constantly be behind in the game. If you’re busy helping everyone else with their work you, will fall behind on your own. There just aren’t enough minutes in a day to do work for everyone else. Not to mention if you gain the reputation of being a “yes” person, then your colleagues won’t hesitate to bug you for help.
Delegate responsibilities (Andrew’s tip.)
Not everyone is great at everything. Take Michael Jordan for example—amazing at basketball, not so much at baseball. Once you have defined the end goal of your project you can begin the divide and conquer process.
Celebrate (Nykea’s tip)
When you and your team hit targets and achieve success, celebrate! There will be plenty of time for you to pout about not hitting your numbers—when things are going right, be sure to enjoy it.
Adjustable Standup Desk (Jon’s tip)
An adjustable standup desk offers many benefits. I find switching from one position to the other gives a quick mental boost—it is like a fresh start with renewed focus. Research over the last few years has uncovered the serious health hazard of prolonged sitting. Some have even dubbed it “the new smoking.” An adjustable standup desk can help prevent the physical consequences of prolonged sitting. I find it also helps alleviate the mental stress of knowing prolonged sitting is unhealthy. Being in control of your daily working position is great for both physical and mental health, and knowing that makes for a happy, healthy workplace.
Don’t be a perfectionist (Cara’s tip)
Spending too long nitpicking over every detail will suck an indefinite number of minutes/hours out of a project. You know that quote that done is better than perfect? It’s true. Very, very true. While it’s good to take pride in your work and put your best foot forward, there are some projects you could tweak forever. It’s essential not to get sucked into that vortex. Set a deadline and make sure you hit that ship date.
Lyric free music (Nykea’s tip)
Though I love it, you will rarely catch me listening to music with vocals at work. The words in the song distract me, so I seek out instrumentals or natural sounds to help me focus. Storm sounds, crashing waves or a “deep focus” Spotify playlist resounding through my headphones help me block out the constant distractions of a bustling office environment. So even though Beyonce is hitting the radio waves, I’m hitting the beach. Mentally, of course.
Hackathon (Andrew’s tip)
Devote a full day to one project with a set goal. Think of it like mowing a lawn. Would you finish two thirds of the job and walk away, or would you stick it out and finish the job? This full exercise gathers multiple people together with one goal in mind. Nine times out of 10 your goal will be complete and everyone involved will be satisfied with the progress made.
Presets (Jon’s tip)
If the tools you use every day have an option for creating custom presets, do it. They take some thought and varying degrees of effort to set up, but once they are in place, future work becomes much easier. In my world, I use custom presets when editing the company portraits I take, for exporting videos, for workspaces within my video editor and more. I highly suggest creating presets for your most frequently used tools.
Showers (Adam’s tip)
When asked “what daily habit do you believe has the largest positive impact on your life?” Elon Musk replied “showering.”
While his response could be considered a bit of a joke (seriously, how could anyone determine the single habit with the most positive impact on their life? What about sleeping?), showering is still a high ranking contender for the best daily habit. There are a number of studies (let alone the countless anecdotal recollections) that some of our best ideas come to us in the shower. The concept in psychology is called incubation, which “is defined as a process of unconscious recombination of thought elements that were stimulated through conscious work at one point in time, resulting in novel ideas at some later point in time” (Wikipedia).
I think we’ve all been there. Now if only they had showers at Vendasta…
What productivity hacks do you have? Share them with our team in the comments section!