Increasing the productivity of yourself and your team

In the past 3 months of working on, this week was the only week where we managed to hit our deadlines exactly as planned. So I decided to dissect this further and tried to understand what we did right this time that we kept missing in the past few weeks.

On Dwelling deeper I found a few things that seemed to have really helped. The include

  • Breaking up a week into simple and complex tasks.
  • Breaking up your day into time slots.

Breaking up a week into simple and complex tasks.

After speaking to our founding engineer Akash, I realised something which should have been very obvious but somehow slipped past me. In the past few weeks we have been trying to knock off as many difficult tasks as possible, and by difficult I mean the tasks that had many unknowns and the quantum of work required to finish them was not really predictable. The idea behind this was that if we finished these types of tasks first, we could do the easy and predictable tasks at any point of time.

Turns out that this was not the correct way to approach things. In order to boost the morale of the team, there needed to be a few tasks which did not have any unknowns and therefore an ETA can be accurately established. As a result of this, finishing these tasks early in the week gives a feeling of achievement and fuels the desire to get more done in the remaining days of the week.

After this initial boost in morale, a complex task which requires a lot of research and deeper thinking can be undertaken more easily and confidently. This seemed to be the key to meeting our deadline for the week. We had two easy and predictable tasks this week that got done in two days. Post that Akash took up one complex task which took the remainder of the week.

Breaking up your day into time slots.

As Co-founders, Preetam and I have many things to do including development, meetings, writing content and many miscellaneous ad hoc tasks which come up. If we plan to be productive we would have to apply the above concept not only to the week but to every single day. Preetam suggested to me to divide the day into these 4 parts.

  • Distraction free time to undertake complex and high priority tasks.
  • Time to complete a few easy tasks which might not be entirely distraction free.
  • A buffer time for any ad hoc tasks or meetings that might come up.
  • Time to relax

So the full week must be divided into a few easy and a few difficult tasks, but each day within the week must be divided into the above 4 time frames.

Distraction free time

If you want to be be devoid of any distractions, you and your team can agree upon a certain period of time during the day where nobody is supposed to message each other on slack or call each other. We tried doing this in the initial stages but it was hard to pull this off because there could be pressing issues that cannot wait till the specified time window is over.

So I decided to change my strategy a little bit and do this during a period where our team is not working or at least is not expected to work. This only left me with 2 options - late night or early morning. I choose early morning because it feels healthier and it really helps to accomplish something early in the day because that will determine your mood for the rest of the day.

A while back I read this article about how the military mandates you to make your bed as soon as you get up and the idea behind it was for you to feel like you finished the first task of your day successfully and the result can be seen in the form of a clean made up bed which sets the tone for your mindset for the rest of the day. The other advantage of this is that if the rest of your day turns out to be bad, at least you can look forward to sleeping on an already clean and made up bed.

Time to complete easy tasks

After the early morning period has passed, the team is fully awake and active on slack, so you can no longer expect to be fully distraction free. Which means that the next few tasks that you do must be planned in a way that they do not require too much concentration and are mostly labour intensive.

An example of this is UI development work that involves minimal business logic and mostly assembling of components. This way even if you get distracted, you can context switch and get back into development quite easily. Obviously this is not always possible but one can prioritise their tasks in a way that whatever tasks require the least amount of brain power can be planned during this time frame.

Buffer time for ad hoc tasks

There are many such occurrences where a previously defined and agreed upon task can no longer be done in the way that was discussed because some new information has come to light. This may lead to more development or changing of the feature set to accommodate this new information. Either ways this requires your full attention to get through.

There could also be occurrences where a teammate wants to discuss or clarify something with you without which he/she is not able to proceed and therefore his/her time is blocked. This is not something that can be avoided because for the smooth functioning of any team, there must be no blockers or dependencies.

It is therefore important to dedicate some time during the day where you can schedule all of such ad hoc requests. Even if you receive these requests while the other time slots are in progress, you can schedule them for this time slot.

During this time slot you cannot expect to get much work done of your own, but at the same time you can’t just sit and wait for a teammate to message you about something, so you could use this time to browse the internet for some articles/resources that you always planned to look at for various purposes but never found the time. You could also use this time to work on some backlog tasks that have been pending for a while but lower in the priority list.

Time to relax

In my experience, out of all the above time slots, the time spent on ad hoc tasks is the most exhausting due to the amount of context switching needed and the lack of predictability. Therefore it is natural for one to transition from the ad hoc tasks time into relaxing time.

Unfortunately I do not have the luxury of always being able to have some time to relax. There are some days where this particular time slot gets skipped due to the workload but I try to clock in at least 45 minutes a day for a workout which for me counts as time to relax. I also have a hot bath right after my workout which really elevates the experience.

Closing notes

It has only been 3 months since Preetam and I started running a team and we are very much still learning. So it is entirely possible that we change our strategy in the coming days to accommodate the workload, the personalities of the new folks who join our team and our product roadmap.

But I feel like regardless of what happens, I can totally see the early morning distraction free time as something that I will continue to adapt for the foreseeable future. The benefits of doing this are too many to ignore.