Productivity is critical. Not only will it keep you employed, but being smart about how you approach your day-to-day job can help you avoid stress and keep from overworking yourself.
Many don’t consider how to be productive; they ignore the process and focus on results. We’re advocating for something more. Here are five ways you can stay productive and on-point.
Keep Meetings On Track
If you walk out of meetings unsure of your next steps, chances are your meetings are terrible.
Sadly, we can’t avoid meetings. In theory, they’re the most efficient way to make sure everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction. In reality, they’re often treated as an hour-long (or worse) break from work or an opportunity to schmooze.
Take that time back. Come prepared to meetings. Have questions ready, and a result in mind. If you need to understand your role in a project, make sure you know what it is before you leave the room; that means timelines, assignments, milestones, responsibilities – all of it.
We like the ‘GIGO’ method for meetings: Get In, Get Out. If you sense the purpose of the meeting has ended, don’t hesitate to politely suggest the meeting end so everyone can get back to work.
Tame Your Manager
There are two kinds of bosses that we really dislike: the micro-manager, and the helicopter-bomber.
A boss who micro-manages likes to watch you work, and asks a ton of questions. All those quick interactions disrupt your flow. Their heart may be in the right place (maybe they just want to understand how you work, for exampl), but their methodology is frustrating.
The helicopter-bomber drops in randomly to tell you everything you’re doing is wrong. They have no respect for your process: it’s not how they would do it, therefore it’s wrong.
Taming any boss is easy by being proactive. Tell your manager what your goal is, and let them know you’ll seek them out once it’s done. Draw a firm line in the sand. If your micro-manager comes around, politely remind them that you’ll come find them when it’s time. If the helicopter-bomber drops in, tell them to hold their ammo for code review.
Productivity Starts With Environment
Companies love open offices almost as much as tech pros hate them. Just like meetings, the open office can be a distraction. And just like meetings, you can make the open office work for you.
Don’t get all Rorschach (see that GIF above, ‘Watchmen’ non-fans) about working with others in the same building, but you should feel free to find a way to make your desk area one that helps you focus. Who knows, those around you might actually be okay with makeshift cubicle walls around your desk!
There’s also no shame in working from a common area that’s rarely used. Chances are, people will begin to recognize you tend to work in those small meeting rooms nobody uses and just sort of let you do it. Maybe you can’t set up full-time shop in there, but it’s a good place for a respite from conversations and calls.
We don’t think relying on headphones is always the best solution, so consider how to make your working space your own so you can get things done.
Know Your Role
Don’t get all ‘not my job’ about stuff, but also – get all ‘not my job’ about stuff.
In many team settings, a few bad eggs will try to shuffle responsibility off their plate. Sure, they might be unable to proceed until someone else does something… but it’s just as likely that they just want someone else to handle something they can easily do.
Similarly, helping a coworker can get you roped into a different aspect of a project, which distracts you from your core tasks.
Once you leave that meeting you totally owned and know what your job is, stay true to it. Helping others is always great, but don’t ignore your own tasks. Resist taking ownership of others’ work if there’s more for them to do (and don’t fix their work for them!).
Write. Everything. Down.
My favorite comment when working in Xcode is
“Me right now” knows “me ten days from now” will have no idea what I was thinking, and I’ll get lost in my own code. Then I’ll feel dumb.
So, I’ve learned to document myself. All of my classes and methods and initializations (and everything else) have notes. It’s pseudocode and probably too verbose, but at least I’ll know what I’m doing later.
Document your code, and also document your meetings. The simple practice of taking notes will keep you organized, and let everyone else know you’re on your game. Things can get muddled over time, and notes help keep you centered.
You Can be Productive & Fun!
At this point, you may think, “I’m not sure I want to keep my nose down all the time,” and that’s fair. But even when achieving optimal productivity, you don’t have to be constantly serious.
Identifying the points in your day or week when you’re more unproductive, and treating them differently, is the key. Challenge the laissez faire meeting agenda. Manage your manager. Keep coworkers in their lanes, and take copious notes.
We’re really advocating for less wasted time and more of a focus on when ‘downtime’ should happen. Master that, and you’ll be more productive, which opens the door to a lot of opportunities and a better work-life balance. It can also make you a leader on your team, and help you better enjoy those moments when screwing around with coworkers is the best use of your time.