Productivity hacks to manage your (really busy) dev team

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Let’s start at the beginning. Before you attempt to help your team of developers (or IT pros or any team, really) become more productive, ask yourself: What does greater productivity actually look like? For some, it means getting more things accomplished during work hours. Or, maybe for you, being more productive means producing higher quality code. Or, it could even mean getting the job done fast enough to leave early. But, what truly matters before we go too far here is the one thing all of these goals have in common: time.

We talk about time as if it were money, because, well…it kind of is. We even apply the same verbs to these two concepts. We spend it. We invest it. We waste it. We save it. However, our coffers of time are fixed. We can’t really replenish time, or add more of it. Which is why the following productivity hacks come with a brief warning. Many quick fix productivity tools and strategies you’ll find online simply won’t work for you; unless, honestly, you decide to change the way you organize and spend your time. Read on to hear what has worked for me and my team, and determine for yourself if these hacks can help redefine the way you allocate the time your tech professionals spend each day.

Hack zero: Consolidate your inboxes

Your ‘inboxes’ are multiplying. Often, they include more than just your email inbox. If you manage a team of developers, they include your texts, phone calls, Kanban boards, operations dashboards…the list goes on. No matter which tool you think is going to solve this for you, the bigger issue is this: consolidate everything into one place. Not 10. Not 20. This new place is now your one and only to-do list. Using this master to-do list, your team can limit the amount of time they spend figuring out what needs to happen next, who’s looking for them and what’s coming down the pipeline.

Next up? Change how you interact with each of your many inboxes. Rather than checking them all day long, set aside time in the day to actively process your tasks. This one change is huge. As you go through your tasks, you get to choose between two options:

1)    Deal with it now?
2)    Deal with it later?

If you can handle a task in two minutes? It falls under category one: do it now. Any longer than two minutes? Put it on the to-do list for later.

Hack one: Schedule everything – If you want more time, schedule more time.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Jim, is it really that simple?”

Yes. Yes, it really is.

Is your calendar full of the secondary things that aren’t work? Are you hoping that your open time doesn’t get filled with meetings and obligations that take you away from, well, your actual job? You may be suffering from a condition known as calendar fragmentation, a phenomenon where your day becomes so full of meetings that you’re left with short, crappy 10-15 minute “work” blocks [heavy air quotes] in which you’re expected to get important tasks done. If you’re a developer and you need to dig into code or focus on solving a problem, just forget it. You may as well spend the afternoon flying a helicopter drone around the office. You’ve got to start treating yourself like a very important client—and your team does too.

Block out busy chunks in your day to get things done. You don’t have to be a jerk about it (i.e. you can’t block out the whole day, every day.) And have your developers do this too. This way, when your coworkers are looking to set up a meeting with you, they’ll automatically find an alternate time to schedule that meeting. The end result is blocks of contiguous time to write code, which is crucial. So, schedule it.

Hack two: Do the thing

OK, OK, you’ve drilled down your daily to-do’s into a master list in hack zero. In hack one, you freed up enough time to begin doing your to-do’s. So, now, it’s time to start to-do-ing it.

But, first make sure that you can pay attention and focus on the work you’re about to do. Your team wants to do good work. I promise they do. But, part of the reason they ransacked their inboxes and blocked out time to work was so that they’d have enough distraction-free time to begin working. And those are just the office distractions. Things like Facebook, text messages, Slack and the YouTube attention-sucking black holes are always going to be there. The problem? We’ve all been fed a lie that multitasking is a skill that belongs on our resume.

Multitasking is a big myth. Mental exhaustion is not to be confused with feeling like you’ve accomplished a lot of work. Short sprints, like the pomodoro technique, work because they force us to fully commit to the task at hand while shutting off any and all distractions.

Hack three: Retrospect, adapt and automate

The above three hacks are the basics that you and your team—any team, tech or otherwise—can use to get started on a path to productivity bliss. However, it’s easy to slip up, fall behind or revert back to your comfortable habits. So, I like to take time periodically and review my methods. Here’s what I’ll ask myself to discover whether or not the specific tools I’m using are working for my team and me:

1. What have I dropped recently?

Am I failing to complete tasks with less precedence lately? Do certain projects keep getting pushed back? Often, low priority tasks fall victim to the “tyranny of the urgent.” Can I schedule time at the end of my day to tackle these regular, low priority tasks? Is there anyone I could delegate these to?

2. Are there any inboxes that are occupying an inordinate amount of my time?

There will always be one or two inboxes that fill up faster than others. But, remember: my first decision for any inbox should be: Do it now/Do it later. Does my email client support an API that could help me automate my tasks and shuttle them to my to-do list? After all, there are tons of online products (flowxo, ifttt.com) that can accomplish this for me.

Productivity isn’t a matter of tooling. You could spend a fortune on fancy inter-office systems to help your team function and engage, but you’ll probably only add one more inbox to their already full workload. Productivity is a matter of time management. And time, like money, is a fixed resource. Good luck.

Learn more about how to make your team more efficient with this short webinar.

Watch now: 3 productivity hacks for your tech team

 

Contributor

Jim Christopher

is the Curriculum Director for Enterprise Content at topwallpaper. He has over 18 years of experience developing software for aerospace, education, gaming, and business. Jim is a multi-year Microsoft MVP, avid speaker, topwallpaper author, and general lover of life. You can follow him on twitter, where he's known as @beefarino.