An immediate win for most digital agencies when it comes to improving margin is to increase productivity. This doesn’t mean just cracking the whip harder over staff and forcing them to work longer hours. Often, improving productivity comes down to making better use of time.
For me, there are 3 key areas for increasing both personal and team productivity:
- Creating clear prioritisation
- Improving time management and scheduling
- Removing distractions
Being productive comes down to knowing what needs to be done, understanding how long it will take and creating an environment that allows you to get those things done. And of course, getting your head down.
Productivity shouldn’t be just about getting more done. It’s about getting the right things done in the right order and at the right time. With that in mind, you absolutely need to be organised and accountable.
The most important thing you can do is to write everything down somewhere. For me, the best option is a to do list app. I’ve used Microsoft To Do for years, but recently switched over to Focus To Do because it has an integrated Pomodoro timer. Like most To Do apps, both allow you to create multiple lists, change the order of tasks, group sub-items together and importantly, view your plan on multiple devices.
Being able to access and add to your lists wherever you are is a major benefit if something new comes up.
If an item has a deadline, I can set reminders of when it needs to be completed, and if I’m reliant on a piece of work from someone else before I can get started, I can add sub tasks to send a reminder over email so I’m not being held up by someone else.
At the start of every day, I create a list of every task I need to get through on that day inside the app, put them in order of priority, and get going.
Timers and Timing
There’s sometimes a giant difference between how long something should take and how long it does take. It’s essential that you give yourself enough time to get things done. Err on the side of too much time for a task so you’re not over committing on a given day.
I know that if I need to write 500 words on a topic that I’m familiar with it will usually take around an hour and a half to get the writing and editing done. If it’s a topic I’m less familiar with, adding more research time is important, so the same task might take two and half hours.
In the process of setting a schedule for the day, I assign an amount of time for every task that needs to be done.
I mentioned above that I use the pomodoro technique when I’m working (this breaks my day into nice 30 minute chunks with 25 minutes of uninterrupted work followed by a 5 minute break) and I stick pretty religiously to these for focused work.
This approach means that even large jobs can be broken down into smaller chunks and subtasks that I can aim to complete as a single block – going back to the example of writing, this might mean the first chunk is the research (25 mins), the second chunk of time is writing the first draft (25 minutes), and then the third chunk is editing and refining.
As I get each piece of work complete, it gets ticked off the list and I move on.
My typical working day has 8 hours, of which I will normally spend 5 hours working under the clock.
Avoiding Squirrel Moments
Unwanted distractions when you’re trying to get something important done can completely derail your day.
During focus sessions, my phone and email notifications are turned off. I tend to schedule a 15 minute break after every 2 pomodoro cycles and use that time to get through any fresh emails that have come in. As far as possible, remote meetings have a lot of benefits because the time lost from your day is limited to the meeting itself and any prep rather than including a tonne of travel.
I try and book any morning meetings between 9:30-11AM so that I can get organised before and get through any urgent actions immediately after. For afternoon meetings, I try and book everything from 2:30 and 4PM for similar reasons.