10 ways to get more done in a day
When it comes to being productive on projects, even small changes can make a big difference. Here are ten tried-and-true tips for making the most of each day.
BY EMMA HAAK
For quick, clear questions or short directives, email is king, says Sean Whitaker, PMP, project management lecturer at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Christchurch, New Zealand. But if you find yourself going back and forth with team members in an effort to resolve an issue, it's time to talk, not type. “I’ve learned that one phone call can often replace 10 emails,” he says.
Talking isn't only faster—it can iron out miscommunication before it manifests into major problems. “Whenever I detect an undertone such as sarcasm or anger in an email, I never respond by email,” says Maja Ferle, PMI-ACP, PMP, a Ljubljana, Slovenia-based project management practice leader at software maker SAS. “I usually telephone the sender and ask him or her to clarify, which allows me to get a clearer understanding of his or her motives. We can resolve minor issues in passing, not having to explain them in lengthy emails.”
“Whenever I detect an undertone such as sarcasm or anger in an email…I usually telephone the sender and ask him or her to clarify.”
—Maja Ferle, PMI-ACP, PMP, SAS, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Barreling through a project's to-do list might make you feel hyper-productive, but research shows that you may actually be more efficient if you build in breaks for fun. In a study at the National University of Singapore, participants were asked to complete a rote 20-minute task, then were assigned to one of three activities: completing a 10-minute task, sitting quietly or surfing the web. When asked to complete another assignment, the group that had spent unfocused time online was significantly more productive than the other two groups. Its members also reported lower levels of mental exhaustion and boredom.
Seated meetings are longer
by an average of
than standing meetings, without
being more effective.
Source: Journal of Applied Psychology
To keep project teams focused and efficient, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of online retailer Amazon, established a two-pizza rule: Teams are limited to seven people— generally the number of team members that can split two pizzas for lunch. His rule of thumb has since spread to other tech companies.
“On a large team, project managers typically have more diversity to manage, as well as many more lines of communication that can get crossed,” says Colin McCall-Peat, PMP, a consultant for the project portfolio office at Post Vision Technology, Johannesburg, South Africa. “It's also far more difficult to keep everyone up-to-date with all aspects of the project, simply due to the logistics and costs of regular feedback meetings with a large team.”
Take a tip from many agile teams and ditch the weekly sit-down status meetings in favor of short, daily check-ins where everyone stands. Seated meetings are longer than standing meetings—by 34 percent, on average, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology—without being more effective.
Projects that require more than a handful of team members may benefit from being broken down into sub-projects with sub-teams.
“A large team makes communication rather inefficient,” says Neda Akbarzadeh, PMP, operations performance analyst for the U.S. Department of the Navy in Annapolis, Maryland, USA. “Instead, assign team leads to groups of five or less, and stay in constant communication with the team leads to address unresolved issues.”
Team leaders should meet regularly with the project manager for overall feedback and direction, Mr. McCall-Peat says. And a monthly all-team meeting with the project sponsor can help ensure cohesion across sub-teams.
“Every interruption in your day can cost you 20 minutes of productivity.”
—Shari McGuire, PMP, an independent consultant, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
When it's crunch time on an important task, send all incoming calls directly to voicemail, suggests Shari McGuire, PMP, a time-management consultant in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. “Every interruption in your day can cost you 20 minutes of productivity—that's an hour lost to just three interruptions,” she says. “When you allow voicemails to accumulate for a few hours, you also respond faster because you get in the groove of hammering out answers.”
Sleeping in on Saturday might seem like the solution to work-week fatigue, but clocking those extra hours in bed can hinder your productivity. In a University of Leipzig study, participants who reported little variation in their waking times were more proactive in their work than those who woke up later on the weekends.
If you're planning a tactical meeting, aim for early morning, suggests Mr. McCall-Peat. “Lengthy planning sessions should be scheduled to start 30 minutes after the official work time. This gives the team time to handle any critical emails before the meeting starts, so they're not distracted.” And don't mistake “lengthy” for “marathon,” he says—anything longer than three hours should be broken up over two days.
When it comes to brainstorming, though, the early bird may not catch the innovation worm: A study at Albion College and Michigan State University found that the most insightful, out-of-the-box thinking happens when people are less alert. In the study, the less alert group solved an average of 42 percent of the problems, compared to 33 percent solved in the control group.
The researchers say the random thoughts that come to mind when people aren't fully focused may yield novel solutions. So if the team is bright-eyed and ready to work first thing in the morning, save creative problem-solving for those slower afternoon hours.
An employee walking program would yield
productivity increases annually.
Source: Body-Brain Performance Institute and Swinburne University of Technology
Beyond brightening the day, looking at pictures of cuddly critters and adorable babies can make a difference in how the job gets done.
At Hiroshima University, researchers found that looking at “awww”-inducing images before completing a task boosted participants’ focus by as much as 10 percent. The researchers believe the boost in focus can be attributed to the positive emotions the images inspire.
In the midst of a project, working through lunch might seem like a smarter option than abandoning your desk, even for a moment. But to keep productivity at its peak, step away from the computer, says Mr. Whitaker.
“I find that time I spend exercising gives me breathing space to think of more creative solutions to work issues,” he says. “The effort I invest is returned several times over with increased productivity.”
In fact, a joint study by the Body-Brain Performance Institute and Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia found that enrolling employees in a 10,000-steps-per-day walking program would yield productivity increases worth AUD2,500 per employee annually.
“Taking a walk during lunch is great, but it's a luxury most project managers don't have,” says Ms. Akbarzadeh. Still, she says, a recharge is possible on even the most hectic schedule. “A five-minute walk in the hallway can be a good start to feeling energized and focused.” PM
If you're swimming in a sea of should-have-answered-that emails, consider these suggestions to keep yourself afloat:
“Use the email application to establish a rule that automatically sends all emails on which you're cc'd into a separate folder. These can be reviewed during down time. Everything else should be delivered directly into the inbox, so they're easier to address at the earliest convenience.” —Neda Akbarzadeh, CAPM, PMP, operations performance analyst, U.S. Department of the Navy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA
“If an email requires less than two minutes to respond to, do so immediately. If it requires more time, use a color-coding system, such as red for high-priority, orange for medium-priority and yellow for low-priority. Create a special folder for informational emails—and move those emails as soon as they come in. Taking 15 minutes at the end of each day to streamline your inbox can save you significant time.” —Imad Mouflih, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, PMP, project manager, Mobily, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
“My staff knows that if they have an urgent matter to be addressed, they email it to me and then send me a text message. I typically look at my email many times per day, but I don't always reply until later in the day—or even the next day—when I have time. A text message alerts me that there's a situation I need to address in short order.” —Michael D. Falkow, PMP, assistant city manager, City of Inglewood, California, USA
PM NETWORK JULY 2013 WWW.PMI.ORG