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6 Tips and 8 Tools for Greater Workplace Productivity

Posted February 22, 2017by Mary McCoy

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Do you ever struggle with work piling on and on that you feel like you’re playing an endless game of catch-up? Our frustration peaks as productivity plummets and we're left with only one thought: "Where did the day go?"

We've all been there, right? We stare at our list of to-do items for the day knowing full well we can't cross them off until we buckle down and eliminate distractions. But let's face it, sometimes this works better in theory than in practice.

So, what are some ways around this? Here are some tools and actionable tips you can leverage to increase your productivity at work.

1. Measure Your Productivity and Efficiency with a Time Tracker

This kind of tool is ideal for people who aren't sure how long their tasks may actually take them. Budgeting your time is only effective if it's realistic, and we can often underestimate the amount of time little things like checking email, making phone calls or conducting research take.

Here are two popular time tracking tools to try out, as listed in a WordStream blog post about productivity tools:

Now, you might be thinking, "Why can't I just use the stopwatch on my phone or schedule this time out on my email calendar?" While receiving an alert when you've exceeded your budgeted time to complete a task may keep you on track for the day, tools like Toggl and Rescue Time offer so much more insight.

For instance, Toggl features weekly snapshot reports of how much time you spend on each task. It's one thing to prioritize your time poorly in a day. It's quite another if this behavior persists and you're none the wiser.

Rescue Time is also unique because it monitors what programs and websites you spend the most time on. You may think you haven't been checking ESPN.com that often, but the data doesn't lie. And speaking of data, Rescue Time also reports what hours are your least and most productive, so you can plan your tasks accordingly. 

2. Embrace a White Noise Generator 

If there is one thing I swear by, it's office noise cancellation. I might be in the minority here, but I have difficulty concentrating on meaningful solo work when other people are having conversations close by. For one, I'm tempted to join in and two, I don't feel fully present in my work when my attention is being shared or split. So why not just listen to music? If it works for you, do it! Depending on the activity, however, listening to music can still be too distracting for people. Think about the time it takes to search for your favorite songs and discover recommended artists. Then, there's the chance your attention will be diverted when you’re tempted to sing along. I know I’ve been there before!

If you find that you're unable to ignore background music and need a suitable alternative to create a sound barrier, try a white noise generator! Here are some popular options:

With a simple google search, you’ll see that there are lots of options to choose from, but my go-to and forever a tab open on my desktop is SimplyRain. Clearing my head and increasing my focus, I've gotten so used to the app's soothing, oscillating sound that I prefer to listen to it even if it's quiet in our office.

Now, I should mention that these tools are only helpful when you need to work on something individually. Although they don't help productivity during collaborative sessions with colleagues, we all have time we need to book for ourselves...

3. Schedule Time for Yourself (Before Others Steal It from You)

Admittedly, I didn't catch on to this trick for quite some time, but it's genius! To prevent people from booking too many meetings with them in a given day, my peers block off time on their calendar to show as "busy." Now, this is useful in two ways: 

  1. You give yourself the amount of time you need to complete your work for the day.
  2. You give yourself the right allocation of that time. 

First, when booking meetings with others we often overlook how valuable their time is. We look for our availabilities to overlap and then tend to pick the earliest time and date, even if that person already has several other meetings that day. Don't give someone that option if you can help it. Additionally, sometimes there's very little that can be accomplished in 30 minutes or less. If I'm writing a blog post for instance, I need to block off chunks of time. Otherwise, I lose my train of thought as I play musical conference rooms. 

Simply use your email provider's calendar to schedule "unscheduled time." Borrowing from MSP consultant Andrew Moon's tips on how to manage workplace interruptions and increase productivity, you can also apply what he refers to as the Batch Process and bundle all of your smaller work day tasks into one time segment. Bottom line: You won't have time if you don't make it... or if someone else takes it.

4. Try a Task Management Tool for Increased Team Productivity 

While this post mainly focuses on ways you can increase your own productivity, it goes without saying that as the leader of your company, you should set the same precedent with staff. One way of ensuring that you're all operating efficiently is by implementing a task management tool, if you've not already done so. 

Here are a couple of ones we recommend:

Both Meistertask and Trello act as digital Kanban boards, which are used by many companies for workflow visualization at the team or individual level. Along the same lines as Toggl and Rescue Time, Meistertask also features time tracking technology so you can see individuals' progress and determine how quickly your team is able to close out certain projects—allowing you to more accurately plan workloads in the future. 

The Continuum marketing team leverages Trello for project completion transparency, workflow management and overall team alignment. Our MSP Blog editorial calendar even lives on one of the boards! This is really helpful when working with several internal writers. After inviting them to view the board (in Calendar view, which you can add as a Power-Up from the menu), we can tag them to cards pertaining to their individual blog post assignment. Then, we can add all of the information they need to know or even tag them in the card comments in case anything changes. One of the benefits of this is that it cuts down on email clutter and prevents you from having to sift through separate chains you may or may not have been copied on.
 

5. DeClutter Your Inbox

When I first heard about Inbox Zero, I laughed. I'm what people would call a "digital hoarder," or at least that's the title my team has so lovingly bestowed upon me. On any given day, I have approximately 9,875,490 tabs open (Simply Rain being one of them), a desktop littered with screenshots, 7+ programs or applications open and an inbox that's anything but clean. Indeed, writing this post is empowering me to change my ways. First item of business post-intervention: using email more efficiently. Now, as I can't pretend to have all the answers when it comes to this, I did a little digging and found best practices that the pros use.

Unsubscribe

You read all of your essential emails, but you still have that pesky red bubble tied to your email app because you're receiving emails that aren't even worth reading. First step in getting to Inbox Zero is unsubscribing from anything that isn't providing value. Set aside time to dive in and clean out these addresses. The CAN-SPAM Act requires an unsubscribe mechanism in all commercial emails so scroll until you find the link to opt out of receiving further communications.

Archive

I can't stand to delete any work-related emails but as this Mashable article recommends, archiving is the perfect compromise. Though these messages don't appear in your inbox, they're searchable. So keeping an email that you've already read in your inbox really only serves as a visual reminder to do or wait for something—hence why a task management tool helps your inbox stay slim.

Download an Email Management App

Inbox by Gmail—not the same thing as Gmail—offers four main features to help you reclaim control over your inbox:

  1. Bundles
  2. Highlights
  3. Reminders
  4. Snooze

Bundles functions similarly to how you might naturally sort emails into separate folders. In addition to setting bundles, Inbox lets you customize your own labels to sort email into. With Highlights, you can see the contents of an email at a glance without having to open the email. Reminders lets you set a list of to-dos. And finally, Snooze lets you dismiss less-pressing reminders or messages and save them for a later date.

Learn how to get set up with Inbox by Gmail here!

6. Work with an IT Management Platform That Makes Work Easier

Between ticket overload, remote monitoring and management (RMM) maintenance, backup and disaster recovery (BDR) verifications, technician churn, finding new skillsets, etc., there are countless challenges you face each day as an MSP. Work with a platform that can cut through the noise, enhance organizational performance, improve operational efficiency and scale your growth. In turn, you'll create stickier employees by fostering a company culture that promotes having a health work/life balance and yield unparalleled service delivery to help you create and protect a more loyal client base. 

The Continuum IT management platform was built from the ground up to take your MSP business to next level and evolve your operations into the most efficient and profitable they can be. It’s more than just technology; it’s a new way of looking at your entire operation. Continuum’s fully-managed model allows you to better allocate your skilled, experienced workforce to take on greater responsibility while leveraging our smart solutions and capable technical personnel to absorb the myriad tasks that can bog down your staff. And of course, because resources can be scaled at the NOC to take on clients of any size, there’s no limit to the operational feasibility of a Continuum MSP. No matter your growth targets or the plan for the road ahead, a partnership with Continuum is your most strategic choice for making work easier and achieving operational efficiency.

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Meet Mary! Mary McCoy is a Demand Generation Programs Manager at Continuum, where she's worked for over two years. Mary primarily manages the MSP Blog and has consulted with hundreds of partners, lending website, blog and social media support. Before that, she graduated from the University of Virginia (Wahoowa!) with a BA in Economics and served as digital marketing intern for Citi Performing Arts Center (Citi Center), spearheading the nonprofit’s #GivingTuesday social media campaign. Like her school’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, Mary believes learning never ends. She considers herself a passionate, lifelong student of content creation and inbound marketing.


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