Easy Questions to Maximize Productivity

December 4, 2023・12 mins read
Easy Questions to Maximize Productivity

Determining how to maximize productivity to get more done isn’t always easy. Your organization’s HR team can help coach employees across other departments to become individually more productive by asking them to answer these six simple questions.

When a workplace allows for a certain amount of autonomy, it’s up to each individual to arrange their workday to meet their agreed-to goals. But determining how to maximize productivity to get more done isn’t always easy.

This is where a little help from the professionals – also known as your human resources department – can go a long way.

Six Questions to Unlock Your Organization's Productivity

Your organization’s HR team can help coach employees across other departments to become individually more productive by asking them to answer these six simple questions:

1. When Do I Have the Most Energy?

We all know a coworker who may seem sluggish at morning meetings, yet appears to be productive later in the day, maybe even submitting emails and reports long past midnight. Our energy levels ebb and flow at different times, impacting productivity levels throughout the day, and we don’t all follow the same energy pattern.

“Individually, employees tend to be at their most productive at varying times of the day — some thrive first thing in the morning, others in the evening hours,” says Dana Case, the director of operations and overseer of hiring and human resources at MyCorporation, an online business filing service.

Case suggests asking employees to identify the times of day when they’re most alert and able to focus so they can get their main work done at that time. “By pinpointing the hours of the day where you’re most productive, you can fill in the remaining time by prepping for these hours, taking meetings/calls, or wrapping up loose ends that might be forgotten about otherwise.”

Being able to choose how to arrange daily schedules has a variety of benefits. A recent study found that giving employees more flexibility to schedule their own work days not only benefits productivity levels but also leads to increased job satisfaction and lower levels of burnout.

2. Urgent or Important?

When employees work under a manager’s thumb, they may receive a “to-do” list each morning of prioritized activities. Yet in a workplace that affords more autonomy, when each member of the team knows what his or her goals are, it’s up to each individual to prioritize activities.

Colette Ellis is the founder of InStep Consulting, a firm which creates training and organizational development programs for businesses. According to Ellis, employees can fall into an endless loop of not really knowing what’s important, feeling like they have to do everything, and feeling stressed. Ellis says they need to “shift their mindset towards a more productive focus,” and begin to distinguish between important and urgent activities.

“Important activities contribute to their purpose, values, and priorities,” says Ellis. “Urgent activities are those that require immediate attention.” Ellis says employees should look at each task carefully to identify the tasks as important or urgent.

The tasks can then be delegated, skipped, completed, or prioritized to move towards greater productivity.

3. When Do I Have the Most Distractions At Work?

When an employee has the responsibility to arrange their work schedule in a way that maximizes their own productivity, encourage them to track the pattern of interactions with others each day. Distractions and interruptions reduce productivity because they add to the time it takes to get things done. A George Mason University report found that interruptions and distractions “degrade the quality of people’s work.”

The solution? Your employees should use the time periods when most distractions and interruptions occur to work on short, non-urgent tasks or light busywork. If, for example, the hours between noon and 2 pm tend to be full of meetings and questions, use those two hours to do small tasks, such as returning a phone call or email. Schedule high priority tasks that require a greater time commitment and focus (such as highly creative work or detailed calculations) for periods that have fewer interruptions. During these times an employee may also want to put their phones on silent and avoid answering email to complete their high priority tasks.

4. Which Tasks Can Be Scaled Up?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says when something is scalable, it is “capable of being easily expanded or upgraded on demand.” And when an employee identifies a small task, which can be replicated through a template or outline, scalability boosts productivity.

Scalability works particularly well for sales and customer-service roles. For example, try creating a sales template for customer projects. Include all potential tasks, activities, and relevant information of a typical job and include it in the sales quote. This reduces the likelihood of revising the quote and saves valuable time that could be better spent on connecting with other potential new customers.

Employees can track how much time they spend on tasks they repeat daily. You can help them find ways to scale those tasks by investing time in creating a reusable template or outline to save time in the long run.

5. Can I Batch Any Part of This Work?

Similar to scaling, batching or grouping similar activities together, may help productivity according to several studies. A Wharton Business School productivity report based on interviews with undergraduate students found that working on projects which are grouped according to similarities actually improves productivity.

On a practical level, this means autonomous employees should try to change the way they actually complete the sequence of their work to boost their own productivity. For example, instead of completing Project 1, then turning to Project 2 and then Project 3 separately, suggest employees try completing the similar first step for each of the three projects, then tackle the second step for each, and so on.

6. What Am I Doing That Someone Else Could Do?

One simple question employees should ask themselves is whether they are the only ones who can complete the task they’re spending time on; this goes for employees at each level in an organization.

Promotions typically come with more autonomy and more responsibility. However, some employees may find it difficult to let go of tasks that were part of their previous roles. This lack of reorganization can have a negative impact on productivity, according to Katie Rasoul, business and leadership coach at Team Awesome Coaching.

“As a former HR executive and now leadership and culture consultant, one of the best questions that I ask managers and leaders is ‘at which level of involvement should you be for this task?’” says Rasoul. “ When people are promoted and take on leadership roles, it is typical to hold on to tasks or tactical work too long that could be better delegated to a more junior employee. In turn, these tasks can also help the junior employee grow and develop.”

Rasoul says it might be important for that leader to continue giving guidance and oversight, but a hindrance for him or her to actually continue doing the work. “For example, instead of spending two hours doing a task, it might be better to allocate one hour to teaching someone else the skill, then later following up to ensure completion.”

This technique demonstrates to leaders that their involvement doesn’t have to be all or nothing. “Instead, they begin to see how they effectively spend their time to train and develop others and lead at the appropriate level.”

Depending on your organization’s size and your HR department resources, these questions could form the foundation for personalized one-on-one coaching. Alternatively, your HR team could maximize their own productivity levels by creating a simple worksheet to share with their employees to help maximize productivity throughout the organization.

Is Slack Making Your Workers Less Productive?

With the rise of workplace productivity, messaging, and virtual meeting applications, owners can feel concern about the increasing number of distractions in the workplace. Apps like Slack can make a positive impact, but creating training and other proactive measures can make a significant difference in helping strike a healthy balance.

Workplace communication tools like Slack, Trello, and Asana were supposed to revolutionize work. They promised to save us from countless emails and instant messages. But have these tools really saved time and increased employee productivity in the workplace?

During the pandemic, you couldn’t check in with most of your direct reports in person. Collaboration tools like Slack and video conferencing software such as Zoom helped bridge the remote work gap. These apps became so popular that they are now a permanent part of most organizations.

These apps and software programs let you keep in touch with your employees. Anyone can check messages from corporate headquarters to their home office. But there are also disadvantages and downsides to relying too heavily on these tools.

Learn about some of the pros and cons of using Slack, and whether these tools impact workplace productivity.

How productivity tools like Slack changed work

On the surface, Slack and other productivity tools are great inventions. They keep everyday work tasks organized, and also let you sync your calendars and share Google Docs with other team members. A collaborative culture encourages the sharing of information. This goes a long way toward enhancing productivity.

These productivity tools are crucial to coworker communication when communicating with remote and hybrid teams working away from the office. Among Slack users in the United States, 87% mention how they use the tool to help improve collaboration in the workplace.

However, the survey also reported that paid users stay connected with the app for over 9 hours per day. This also includes an average of 90 minutes of daily active use. That’s a lot of time spent commenting, uploading documents, and interacting with Slack integrations such as Giphy.

Further, according to Slack cofounder and CEO Stewart Butterfield, the name is also an acronym. Slack stands for “Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge.” Some may interpret that as almost a type of corporate surveillance.

4 potential Slack problems

Overreliance on these employee productivity tools can actually make your workplace less productive. On the surface, these apps look like an efficient way to help remote teams better know and collaborate with their coworkers — and for many organizations, they are. But it’s also important to be aware of their impact on time and resources.

1. Apps can lead to decreased productivity

Slack apps such as Donut let employees schedule meetings to get to know each other better. However, too many virtual coffee dates and watercooler chats can eat up huge chunks of time spent away from daily tasks. According to a Workgeist Report, employees are wasting up to 59 minutes every day. The research notes that the wasted time includes the activity of looking through message channels.

2. Apps give you another inbox to check

Notifications that you have a new message in a Slack channel are a constant distraction. This notification overload leaves many employees feeling like they need to respond right away. It almost becomes a type of FOMO for workers (the fear of missing out).

3. Messaging tools can be distracting

Without boundaries in place, productivity tools can cause your team to lose focus on priority tasks. Slack sends users an audio ping anytime they have a new message. This can result in your team spending too much time checking messages. It can also mean they spend less time doing actual work.

The RescueTime blog reported that on average, knowledge workers check their collaboration tools, instant messages, and email every 6 minutes. And, over 35% of workers are checking messages every 3 minutes or less.

4. It can be hard to keep track of conversations

When multiple people are posting to the same channel, it can be hard to keep track of a particular conversation. Newer updates push down older posts. This makes it hard to scroll through endless messages to get back to the initial thread you were following. This can result in a time sink, with minutes of lost time hunting for a specific conversation.

The Workgeist Report mentioned that 54% of workers say apps often make it more difficult to locate the information they need. And, 48% of employees say they have trouble keeping track of all the information stored in different apps and online tools.

Top 3 ways to boost productivity and find balance with Slack

How can you use these workplace productivity tools more effectively? Here are a few tips on using these tools while setting appropriate boundaries.

Set up online hours

Setting up the hours you work online is a way to make sure you only receive Slack notifications during your normally scheduled work hours. Each member of your team can block out time on their calendar to automatically set their status to unavailable or away when they’re in meetings or out of the office.

You’ll also want to make sure you set the correct time zone so all your coworkers know your local time. This is a great feature for globally diverse organizations to put into action. For example, if your headquarters are in London, your U.K. sales team will see that the U.S.-based marketing department is 5 hours behind when attempting to schedule a meeting in Slack.

Slack channels vs. DM

Put a limit on the number of direct messages you’re sending to team members. Instead, use Slack channels to message everyone working on a particular project. Use a dedicated channel to contact everyone working on a specific project. This eliminates the need to send the same or similar message to 4 or 5 different coworkers.

Show, don’t tell

Have your HR team offer a Slack 101 training session for all new hires. This lets you educate employees on the proper usage of collaboration tools as part of the onboarding process.

The goal is to show each member of your team how not to overuse or even abuse productivity apps. The training can be as simple as an on-demand webinar showing workers how to turn off Slack notifications before and after their normal working hours.

The future of workplace communication tools

Multi-tasking collaboration tools such as Slack will continue to dominate the workplace. As long as these apps don’t become a constant distraction, they can actually help improve employee productivity. Rather than continually accessing these tools throughout the day, show your team a better way to use them.

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