PART 1: Productivity 101 — Motius’ approach to more productivity
In offices all around the world, productivity has been becoming a more important concern than ever. No matter if people just play buzzword bingo or actually care about productivity, they can find tips on how to be more productive everywhere. Naturally, we read such productivity tips too at Motius. That’s why we got curious and wanted to know more about the most popular productivity approaches at Motius. Not to write a general “How to be more productive”-guide but to find out more about our own employees and our company culture. In this blog post series, we’ll show you what we found. We’ll start off with some important background information and then dive deeper into our first productivity approach.
Before we can start talking about how to be productive, we need to clarify what productivity even means. Basically, productivity indicates how much output is produced with a given input — the more output, the more productive. It’s as simple as that. In the modern business world though, it’s oftentimes hard to measure productivity.
Of course, theoretically, you can measure pretty much everything. But setting up a measurement system for your work productivity? This probably makes you less productive after all. To simplify productivity, at Motius we say that it is about doing the right things while feeling less stressed. That means that we want to stay on top of our to-dos, get things done and feel good about it. As a fast-growing, successfully bootstrapped company, at Motius we have always been focused on effectiveness, efficiency and prioritizing what really matters. We don’t just want to be busy and feel bad about it after all. Actually, this personal feeling of not being productive is a risk that we all encounter from time to time.
Can you relate to the following? Based on our sometimes deferred ideas about productivity, you tend to shift into the “let’s just do something”-gear. Thinking that being busy equals being productive, you put our heads down and do whatever there is to do. Then, after a day of countless emails, calls, and meetings, you still feel like you haven’t been productive at all. Why is that? That is because you probably didn’t do the right things. As Robin Sharma would have said, you confused activity with productivity.
Sometimes, we don’t do things to get further with important projects but instead, we focus on things that actually just make us drown in to-dos. In other words: things that don’t (or shouldn’t) really matter too much. That makes us feel frustrated and might even lead to a whole negative cycle of being unproductive and feeling stressed about it.
So how do can you avoid this? At this point, it’s important to mention that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for productivity. There is no perfect approach, so we all have to test different tools ourselves. We all need to build our own individual productivity toolbox. Hopefully, the Motees’ productivity toolboxes give you a hint of what your toolbox could look like. As we said earlier, at Motius we use several popular approaches to keep productivity up. We’ll start with a method for people who love classic to-do-lists.
Method l: Be smart about it
Based on the ideas of the bestselling book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, a lot of Motees set up a to-do-list-system and try to keep it up. This is a very popular approach to organizing and prioritizing tasks at Motius, people here tend to like it. Ultimately, this system aims to reduce the feeling of stress. By putting all the things that we wanna do into a list, we reduce the risk of forgetting tasks, doing things at the wrong time, etc. As David Allen says, “your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”
One important aspect of this approach is to structure to-dos in projects. Since a project is not really a to-do itself, it needs to be broken down into several different actionable tasks. As long as a task is not actionable, you don’t really consider doing it in the first place. If so, you can put them into different boxes:
- the trash box — don’t have to explain what this one is
- the someday/maybe box — like a notebook with things that you might wanna have a look at later
- the reference box — all the things that will be actionable at some point, so you can access them when you need them
If the tasks are actionable, you take the following steps. First, you sort out big projects and break them down into multiple to-dos with concrete actionable tasks. Then, right away, you do tasks that take less than 2 minutes. That way, you save yourself from piling up a bunch of mini-tasks that keep adding up to a stressing amount of different to-dos. Finally, you organize the remaining tasks — they’re actionable but take more than 2 minutes. Here you have two options: either delegate or defer them.
Then, you follow the coming steps for the remaining tasks.
Within this approach, there are some things you need to consider. For example, you need to take time to actually organize your to-dos. One popular approach among Motees is to set one or two blockers per day that you use to sort out your mail or message inbox. According to your own system, you simply put all the upcoming tasks in your structured to-do list. This way, you always keep your head on top of your to-dos.
Additionally, you need to take the time to actually do your to-dos. Approaching this is a very personal matter but in the scope of this model, a lot of Motees use the so-called “Pomodoro” method. In this method, you set a 25 minute working slot for a task, followed by a five minute break in which you walk around the office, get some water or something like that. Then, you get down to another 25 minute working slot. After four working slots, you take a longer break (30 minutes). This is a great way to stay productive if you have a lot of different to-dos. Keep in mind that the exact time slots are highly individual, e.g. another popular way is 50 minute working slots combined with 10 minute breaks. To make things more tangible, let’s quickly consider an example of the “Getting things done”-approach.
It’s Monday morning and you set yourself an 8 a.m. blocker to organize and prioritize your to-dos. You still have some actionable to-dos from other projects but new ones are coming too. Among others, you get a finished data analysis that you asked for a while ago, a short question from a colleague and a research task that’s necessary for one of your projects. What do you do now?
First, you wanna find out what is actionable. Clearly, the data analysis is not actionable but you will need it at some point in the future. So you put it into the reference box. Both the other tasks definitely are actionable. Answering your colleague’s question takes you less than two minutes, so you just do it now. The research task takes way more than two minutes but it is actionable. Luckily, you have a research guy in your company who handles all of this stuff. That means you delegate the task. Et voilà! You’re done with organizing your to-dos and can get down to being productive. Usually, you then choose a task from your project plans box.
While this example might be a bit too simplified, basically this is how the approach works. The second method that we’re going to introduce you to is for less structured people who tend to forget about time and tasks. The next one is a good approach for all the procrastinators out there.
Find out what suits you best
When it comes to productivity approaches, there are numerous ideas, concepts, frameworks, etc. Definitely, it is a good idea to take some time, inform yourself and consider which ones might suit you best. But in the end, it all comes down to trying.
It’s on you to put in the (productive) work of finding an approach that works for you. Based on our experience, that can take a while. You might experience some setbacks, get frustrated or simply can’t decide which one to try first. But don’t worry about it, just keep going. Put in the effort every day and eventually, you’ll find an approach that works for you. If you wanna talk to us about this topic in person or if you have any approaches that are worth a try, comment on this blog post or just contact us! We would love to hear your ideas!