One of the best things you can do to improve team productivity is make sure you are working in a strategic way, using your resources and tackling problems effectively to avoid burnout and wasted time. You need to work smarter, not harder.
While this catchphrase seems like a no-brainer, there are lots of teams out there that get so deep into the trenches that they lose sight of their original goals and stop working efficiently. It’s easy to do, but fortunately, so is turning things around and improving your team’s work and output.
Download our 2017-2018 State of Enterprise Work Report to find out how automation is shaping the future of work, allowing employees to work smarter.
These three tips aren’t difficult to implement, but they have the potential to take your team from amateur to rock star status.
1. Stop Wasting Time on the Wrong Work
When you hear: “Stop wasting time on the wrong work,” you probably think, “Well, of course I’m not doing that!”
But, if you ever find yourself spending big chunks of time in your inbox several times a day, sitting in a two-hour meeting that could have been accomplished in 30 minutes, or digging through endless folders just to get to the file you need, you are wasting time on the wrong work.
In fact, in a survey conducted for our 2017-2018 State of Enterprise Work Report, we found that over half of workers say “wasteful meetings” and “excessive emails” both get in the way of their work.
Things like email, meetings, administrative tasks, and managing work all need to get done, but if your focus and time is spent on those things, you could be working smarter.
In a recent webinar, Nick Scholz, solutions marketing manager at Workfront, explained:
“Email is critical to the way we do all the work that we’re doing. But, it also comes with an extremely high cost.
"Emails and other administrative tasks—like endless status meetings—if they’re not well organized and set up, they just eat up so much time that it’s almost impossible to find time to do actual work.”
He suggests scheduling out time in your calendar to check email a few times a day. He even recommends blocking out time to focus on getting your work done. This is time when you won’t switch between tasks or allow yourself to get distracted with emails.
He said, “You don’t want to have to refocus when you’re checking through 15 tools. You want to be able to focus on doing work that really makes you feel good, that helps you deliver on time, every time.”
Jess Ostroff, CEO of Don’t Panic Management, uses this method of time blocking, but tries to remain flexible for critical things that come up.
She recently said, “I don’t recommend blocking out every single hour necessarily, because you want to make sure your whole day doesn’t get screwed up if something catches on fire. But blocking at least half your day I think is really useful.”
Ostroff also said that she keeps her standard meeting length to just 30 minutes and likes the fact that scheduling time for emails, meetings, and focused work on her calendar signals to everyone on her team whether she is available or not.
It may sound like a simple trick, but making sure you are focusing on the most important, high-value tasks rather than things that can easily drain your time is a great way to make sure you are working smarter, not harder.
2. Communicate Every Step of the Way
When you’re busy and focused, it’s so easy to become blind to what’s going on around you, and that can cause some major problems when you’re working with a team. For example, you may not recognize problems that need to be addressed or realize that the time you are spending on something is redundant.
Communicating every step of the way when executing a project will save everyone time and frustration, and make it easer to meet deadlines and create your best work.
Ostroff discussed how many times the issue isn’t that a project block has come up, but that it isn’t communicated:
“We may experience a block or a challenge that we couldn't have anticipated. And I think that’s okay, but when we don’t tell anybody about it, that’s when you get into trouble.”
For teams who use Agile principles, there is already a built-in method for keeping the lines of communication open: Daily Stand-up Meetings. In these meetings, teams meet for 15 minutes to discuss progress and any potential challenges they are facing.
This keeps communications streamlined and efficient, which often means teams don’t have to have special meetings just to discuss issues.
“The Daily Stand-Ups alleviate having to have those kinds of conversations because you’re talking every day anyway and you’re talking through what the challenges are. And anything can happen through the course of a day,” Ostroff said.
It’s also important that communication happens as soon as a problem arises or an issue needs to be discussed, because often waiting until later means pushing back deadlines, missing opportunities, or keeping a project from reaching its fullest potential.
Full and open communications, that happen regularly, are key to making sure your team isn’t wasting its time when it could be working smarter and getting better results.
3. Celebrate Your Wins and Help Your Team Enjoy Work Again
Motivation goes a long way in making people want to do their best, and when people are doing their best and focusing on working as a cohesive team, they are working smarter.
Scholz said celebrating wins benefits workers, managers, and companies, so it’s something you just can’t afford to skip. He said:
“The results are well documented. You’re going to reduce attrition rates for some of those people on your team that are so valuable.
"You’re going to increases employee engagement…you’re going to encourage creativity when you recognize people for doing what they’re doing, and you recognize it in yourself too.”
Recognition doesn’t always have to be big and flashy, either. Giving compliments, writing thank-you notes, and treating someone to lunch shows workers you recognize their efforts and appreciate what they add to the team.
Ostroff gave a simple rule for recognizing good work:
“I always like to remember the two-for-one rule with giving feedback; always give two pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of negative.”
Keeping this in mind can help managers balance out critical feedback with positivity and ensure they aren’t forgetting to recognize efforts.
In recent research, we found that praise from a boss or manager was the number-one external motivating factor for knowledge workers. Recognition is powerful, and making sure wins are celebrated and team members feel valued is a simple—but extremely effective—way of helping your team work harder, not smarter.
You’re already busy, and you know your team is too. That’s why it’s so important that you find ways to work smarter, not harder.
When you focus your time and energy on the right work, keep communication flowing, and celebrate wins, you aren’t just getting more done; you are saving yourself time and making your team more valuable.
To see the full webinar that these insights came from, watch "10 Marketing Hacks to Deliver Work On-Time, Every Time" featuring Jess Ostroff and Nick Scholz.
About the Author
Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner