Let’s be honest. It doesn’t matter if you run Google, a coffee shop, or a cheese-sculpting studio where you create unbrie-lieveable cheese installations for international food festivals, there are only so many hours in the day. For the majority of us, improving productivity is an ongoing challenge.
It’s amazing how many small workplace factors can disrupt productivity when you sit down and really think about it. The most obvious culprit is email. You can spend all day answering emails, and subsequently feel like you’ve been productive, but you haven’t really. More distressingly, that dent you made in your inbox will most likely fill back up overnight.
In fact, according to Atlassian, the average employee checks their email 36 times an hour. Yikes.
It gets worse. Apparently, the average worker spends 13 hours a week on emails alone, which means 28% of the workweek is swallowed up by email.
But email’s not the only thing to blame for low productivity levels. Poor management and a team of disengaged employees also have a role to play. Research from the McKinsey Global Institute shows that productivity improves by 20-25% in organizations with connected employees.
So how do you get actively engaged employees, boost productivity across your business and turn your own dwindling levels of motivation around? Well, now that I’ve scared you with a few stats, I’m going to tell you.
Sit back for five easy tips on how to get you and your team to work more productively – regardless of what line of work you’re in (the shipping address for my cheese sculpture will be at the end of the post).
1. Have clearly defined goals
Having clearly defined marketing/business goals may sound clichéd, but you know what they say: clichés exist for a reason (plus, they’re a dime a dozen!).
If you and your team understand what it is you are actually trying to achieve, it becomes much easier to target those goals continuously.
Next, understand that documenting your goals and sharing them with your employees isn’t enough to drive real productivity. The end goal is to make your personal goals align with your business goals (and have the same apply for your employees).
According to the Harvard Business School, only 7% of employees fully understand their company’s business strategies and what is expected of them to achieve these goals.
Aligning personal and business goals is an ongoing process that requires lots of communication and engagement between management and employees. Here are a few tips to make it happen:
- Make sure your team members understand their part in achieving business goals.
In addition to explaining your business’ overall strategy and goals, take time to make sure every employee understands the individual tasks they’re responsible for. Many task management tools will make this easier by helping you set up and track team goals (more on this later!).
- Provide consistent feedback.
Regularly provide feedback on employee performance and you will find that employees will inevitably be more focused on their assigned tasks and goal achievement. Feedback doesn’t always have to be critical – it can also serve as a reminder to stay on track and not get caught up in everyday tasks.
- Recognize people for their contributions.
If you want employees to stay focused on achieving your business goals, recognition is a must. When you recognize people’s contributions, it makes them feel more like a part of a team. ‘Employee of the Month’ is pretty cheesy, but there are plenty of other ways to show gratitude, like a simple ‘thank you’ gift or a small note that says ‘job well done’.
2. Learn to say no to opportunities
I used to say ‘yes’ to every single job opportunity that was offered to me. In fact, I shouldn’t really be using the past tense here – saying ‘no’ is still something I struggle with. However, it’s really important to learn how to say ‘no’ from time to time as it can significantly boost your productivity.
How, you ask? Well, it means you deal with less chance of work overload, therefore the goals you set seem more achievable. Plus, you feel like a bit of a badass when you put yourself first. Every time you agree to do something you do not really believe is your responsibility or actually want to do, it beats you up mentally, so learning to say no can be profoundly liberating.
Still, saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to mean being rude or looking like a non-enterprising person. It’s not a cue to burn bridges, be an asshole, or ruin important relationships. Follow this three-step system next time you need to say no to someone you like:
- Thank them for the offer.
- Politely decline (offer a good reason why, if possible).
- Provide them with an alternative (offer to introduce them to another person who can help them).
Of course, you shouldn’t say ‘no’ to every opportunity that comes your way, either – that wouldn’t be very prudent. Just be prepared to carefully evaluate your needs, challenges and deadlines (in advance, if possible) so that you can identify what’s actually worth saying ‘yes’ to and what isn’t.
- Does this opportunity align with my long-term business goals?
- Will it slow me down in achieving my targets this month?
- Does it conflict with another goal or deadline?
- Will it create extra stress or an inefficient production cycle?
Over time, you’ll get better at differentiating between worthwhile opportunities and ones that just distract you from what you want to achieve.
3. Have a good digital system in place
If you use remote workers as part of your team (or even if you don’t), it’s essential to have a good digital system in place to help you communicate and track your goals, tasks and deadlines. Many marketers end up using a bunch of different tools to do this, using email for basic communications, task management tools like Google Drive for file transfers and cloud-based software platforms like Dropbox for high-res photos.
The holy grail is finding a holistic tool that offers an all-in-one-approach and keeps everything you need in one place. When everyone’s using the same work management tool in a workplace, you’ll find everyone’s productivity improves immensely.
Basecamp is a great option for team collaboration. It offers a centralized place to keep all your communication, projects and client communications. In a similar way to Slack, it makes it easy to connect employees with certain apps, services and resources they need to get work done. But it also includes other features, like automatic check-ins to ask people to update what they’ve been working on, and email reports that summarize your team’s activity for you.
Having these features makes it easier to keep everyone on track and can improve workplace transparency.
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter which tool you use – just have some sort of solid digital system in place. Otherwise you’ll find yourself flailing around looking for emails, invoices and contracts right in the middle of crunch time. It will kill time as well as productivity.
4. Plan ahead (scrupulously)
There’s no point in having articulated business goals and a great digital system if you don’t plan ahead. Sorry, not sorry, because it’s true. Being organized is highly underrated.
Start by developing a well-defined marketing strategy that ties in with your business goals. You will need to determine:
- What content you will use
This is likely to be based on your own market research and the different customer personas you have developed. Think about where your audience hangs out and what marketing format is most relevant to them. For example, if you plan to focus on social media marketing to gain clicks/customers, you’ll want to create lots of blog posts and visual content (such as videos and infographics) so you have plenty of material to post. Alternatively, if you mainly want your target audience to find you through search keywords on Google, you’ll need SEO-optimized website copy and a solid PPC strategy.
- How you will promote your content
This is linked to the point above, but a separate entry because it requires so much finessing. How you use your marketing materials to attract traffic to your site is linked to how each individual format behaves. Each content type you produce should have a unique promotional strategy to optimize its overall effectiveness. There is no paint-by-numbers approach. You should therefore create a detailed checklist of how you’ll promote each piece of content you produce.
- Who’ll be in charge of different content marketing tasks
Clearly define who will create your content, who will promote it, who will engage with audience comments/messages, and who will monitor overall campaign performance. It may be one person; it may be several. Don’t forget about the need to track data and analyze reports either! A lot of this can be auto-generated using the above-mentioned web tools.
Once you know how you’re going to implement your strategy, you can then create a timeline for it which includes specific dates for launching different aspects of the campaign. For example, start by defining roughly when you’ll plan, launch, and promote using months or quarters.
You might also want to dig deeper to define specific launch dates and a timeline for your content creation and promotion strategy.
Our FlypChart calendar is a great place to plan, collaborate on, and eventually post all of your marketing content:
5. Show focus and discipline
Nothing can kill your productivity more than a slapdash, slipshod work environment. Believe it or not, it is possible to run a tight ship and still maintain a positive atmosphere. When you improve your focus and harness your self-discipline, you automatically increase your productivity and actually become more approachable because it’s clearer exactly what you’re trying to achieve.
Productivity is contagious, so if you lead by example, you may infect others with it as well.
As I mentioned earlier, reporting and feedback are crucial to help keep your team focus on your core business goals. Again, Basecamp can help with this. Its automatic check-in feature makes it easy to follow what individual team members have been working on every day, week, month and quarter. You can even ask employees to write mini diary entries or reports.
But make sure hold yourself accountable to the same rules as everyone else. This will have the bonus ripple effect of increasing transparency across your business.
The main thing to remember is, these check-ins aren’t about finding deficiencies in anyone’s work practices. They’re simply about maintaining and managing group productivity. Regular check-ins on work processes will help everyone stick to shared goals as outlined above, and maintain high standards for content creation and promotion systems.
Merriam-Webster defines focus as ‘a state or condition permitting clear perception or understanding’, while discipline is defined as ‘control gained by enforcing obedience or order’.
So focus and discipline are not intangible concepts – they’re just about pragmatic reflection which allows you to form powerhouse habits.
Improving productivity is an ongoing challenge for the majority of us – whether you’re working solo or with a team of more than 20. What you and those under your watch need to make yourselves more productive may change from week to week or month to month, so flexibility is important as well as continuous, honest monitoring of productivity levels.
It’s vital to be self-aware and know what either improves or interferes with your ability to get things done. It really will help if you do the following:
- Document your goals
- Learn to say ‘no’ to opportunities
- Have a good digital system in place
- Plan ahead like a ninja
- Show focus and discipline
These tips give you a framework to adhere to, and help you drive your bottom line in the process.
Let me know what you think of this blog post in the comments section. Is there anything else that you’ve found provides an ongoing solution to productivity woes?