I will be honest with you. I'm not a productivity guru. If you need one, you need to look for someone else. This said - for more than 20 years, I work with great professionals who are putting a lot into upping their game. I've adjusted.
Why writing about productivity? It started with a simple reply to Nadir's Debit tweet about him being overwhelmed with many communication sources and a load of signals.
I responded with a couple of things I do on my own to avoid it and keep sane in day-to-day work. Over 11k people saw this tweet, with people in hundreds saying it is something new for them; I had this "aha" moment. I thought everyone does what I do, but apparently, it isn't the case.
Here it is. Regardless if you use Teams, Slack, you are an email junkie or IM addict, those simple tips will allow you to remain sane, be productive and keep everyone happy. Those are simple tactics I deployed years ago based on various books and recommendations I read. They work great for me; they work great for others I work with. They will work for you.
After the tips themselves, I put some thoughts on why we need them and what to do about it - stay with me till the end of this post.
Tip #1 - Disable all notifications, both on desktop and mobile (and watch or other devices you have)
Really. That simple. Just do it! Yes, I know you need to be up-to-date, and people might need something from you at this very moment. It is your FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) speaking. Stop listening to it.
Every notification is someone taking over your time and attention. If you are from the computer industry, you might be familiar with an interruption in the CPU. Interruption tells the CPU to stop what it is doing and take care of something very urgent.
Notification on desktop, mobile, watch are your interruptions. Kill it.
What works for the CPU isn't working for you. You know why? Because CPU was designed for fast context switching and you are not. That simple. Context switching is killing your brain and your productivity.
You will not miss anything, and people will not be bothered with it if you will follow the next tip.
Tip #2 - When at work, shut it all down. Email, Slack, Teams ... just shut it down.
Work doesn't happen over email or Slack. It is communication. Communication is part of the work and can keep you busy, but communication is mostly a distraction. To communicate, you need to produce something - thought, design, ideas, plan of action.
To produce something, you need a chunk of not interrupting work. To make it non-interrupted, get rid of things you use to interrupt your work - email, Slack, Teams, Discord, WhatsApp. Whatever keeps you checking it and feeds your FOMO, shut it down.
Not put in a system tray. Shut it down! Make sure you will not "accidentally" open it while switching windows.
The same applies to your hundreds of tabs. Shut it down.
Tip #3 - Set boundaries and expectations. People will respect it (or teach them to respect it)
People hate uncertainty. Sending you an email or IM makes them tick - when will you respond. Manage it and set the right expectations at the same time setting your boundaries.
Set a specific time for managing your communication and let people know about it. Example - handle your email twice a day, let's say at 10AM and 3PM. Inform others that it is what you do. Set OOF status on Teams or Slack with this message - I check it every 4hrs, your message will be handled.
If it is urgent, they will pick a phone and call you. In other cases, they will wait as they know what to expect, and they will switch their context to something else.
Sure. Some people will be pissed off. Take a moment and explain to them why you do it.
Tip #4 - Set your communication SLA (in ideal case team or organization-wide)
You can start with a personal SLA, but it works best if your team has the same rules. Email is not an synchronous tool. It is asynchronous. It is not an invasive tool. It is invasive for your time, only because you keep checking it. Stop.
Set SLA for a type of communication and response time. At my company, Predica, we set communication rules which cover:
- Medium (how to communicate)
- When to use it
- When not to use it
- How to use it (which covers the SLA part).
Here is what it says on email usage:
|Medium||When to use it||When not to use it||How to use it|
|* Minimize internal use!
* To inform about something - no discussion needed or just a YES/NO answer with no urgency.
* Something which is not either urgent or important and can be answered within 1 business day
|* Do not email entire company or large groups of people, unless absolutely necessary (in such case consult your manager, use a distribution list/O365 group or BCC)
* To - people who need to take action or voice in the thread
* CC - people who need to know (be careful not to put too many)
|* Keep it short and concise
* Use links to ON or other systems
* Use bold to underline most important things
* IF there is more text, put ACTION items in bold or at beginning of email.
* If the e-mail thread is 5 messages or more, call the person instead of continuing to mail
* Do not send attachments internally instead use links so people can collaborate online on documents
* Read twice before sending
* A good rule is to delay send from outbox by few mins to reflect on your message in case of emotions:)
Notice SLA in it? If you send an email, you can expect that it will be answered within 1 business day. Wait. No urgency flags will fix that. No ASAP in the title will make it faster.
Set your personal SLA on what you check, when, and what people can expect from you when it comes to replying time. If they are aware of it, it will keep them calm, and nothing will happen. They will wait.
Tip #5 - Live a happy and productive life
Yes, it is that simple. Those four tricks will do the job and will make your life easier. There are many other simple things you can do to improve your chances of staying sane in this over-communicating world.
Put blocks in your calendar for in-depth work sessions.
It works for me like a charm. I used to keep a block on my calendar with the title "Do not book anything here without asking," if someone sent me a meeting request for this block, then I rejected it.
Reject meetings with no objective or plan unless you are expecting it (you asked, and you know what it is about
Again, effortless thing. If you are getting a meeting request without someone asking you about it first and there is no plan and objective - reject it. Add a comment to rejection why you did it. Education helps.
If using Teams, set "Focus mode."
I use Teams (It is OK if you don't like it, I still keep using it). There is a nice feature in Office 365 that puts a chunk of blockers on your calendar for "Focus Time." When in "Focus time," your Teams will switch into "Focus mode." Even if you forget to shut it down, nothing will get through it: no calls, no IMs, no notifications.
Nothing fancy but works like a charm. There is one caveat - you need to apply it. Guilty as charged, sometimes I forget about my own rules, and then my productivity plummets. How do I know it? I keep track with Rescue Time and see a number of tasks in ToDoist which are outstanding.
Few final thoughts. I kept a draft of a blog post about Slack for a long time and how it was supposed to kill email. I keep hearing people saying how email is killing their productivity.
It is not a tool that kills your productivity. Be it time spent on email or time spent on Slack, even if you think it is more effective, it is not a tool that does it; it is how you use the tool. Do not search for a new tool to boost your productivity. Look at how you use what you have right now. New tools are distractions from the problem.
With that - productivity is not the ultimate goal. It can become a trap. It is OK from time to time to do nothing. Your brain needs to be bored to think!
Remember. You are not a CPU, you were not designed for some tasks, but the CPU has an idle time.