Conquering productivity in the remote world

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10 min

We focus on being productive as a team, but we also don’t pretend it’s easy. Meeting deadlines, organizing your calendar, answering messages, working on massive projects, collaborating with other teams – efficiency is in the details.

Research shows that working from home has a potentially negative impact on productivity, so we asked Lukas Mačėnas, our Product Owner and productivity enthusiast, about his insights into individual and team productivity and how to keep it going.

What is productivity?

Productivity means different things to different people. Though I often find myself scrolling through Reddit for productivity tips, which is, ironically, very counterproductive, I do have a lot to share. 

So, what is productivity? Identifying the goals you’re trying to achieve and then managing your focus towards those goals. It doesn’t matter how you structure your day or what techniques you use: if you’re not focusing on what you need to focus on, then it’s not productive. 

How to build a productive workflow that suits your needs?

If you don’t have any workflow in mind, read about some frameworks online or in books and use one way to organize your day. See what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t work for you. My advice is to not stick with one approach: see if it helps or creates additional friction, and change it as necessary. You can go back at any time. 

It’s important to learn new habits and break old routines. Change is part of life. When changing my workflow, I sometimes even write it down and follow it like a checklist until it becomes natural.

For example, my workday starts with gathering all the tasks for the day in Asana. I try to plan for a week, with a more general objective, and for a day, with a more detailed agenda. I block my calendar from 9 to 10 a.m. every morning just to read all the messages I have received and plan my day accordingly. 

Reflect on your productivity

Another point is finding time to reflect. Set some time to look back on how your week, month, or quarter went. It’s essential to create objectives for the week and then see if you’ve managed to achieve them or not. When keeping track of those feelings, you can spot some tendencies. For example, you’ll know that you might need to block more time for tasks or, on the other hand, leave more timeslots for unplanned things. If you keep reflecting on your productivity, you see patterns and eventually arrive at solutions. Even if you can’t solve a particular problem now, you can keep the list and always come back and try to improve when you have the resources. 

Approaching big projects

When you keep track of many tasks and fast-moving projects simultaneously, everything might seem to fall apart. One thing that works for me is to close all of those apps Asana, Jira, Slack, everything. Instead, I take a post-it note and write down the top 3 things I have to do right now. I focus on them and then return to the rest of the list in my tools. When everything becomes too much, this helps a lot. 

When you have a big project with a huge scope, breaking it down helps. Really, just open a note and type out all the small tasks that go into it. Even if the list turns out to be huge, at least you see the progress you’re making. 

How do we become more productive in teams?

A few suggestions here. The most important part of being productive in a team is empathy with others. I find that working with others is very difficult when you don’t understand each other's work ethic or scope. You can think that people are lazy, don’t do their part, and get all worked up over other people’s performance.

We need to understand that people have different objectives and approaches to time management and productivity. Realize that everyone is doing their best! It is rare that people intentionally want to do a bad job. Empathize with people, trust their process, and it’ll become much easier to stop stressing about small details. 

Setting the correct expectations is another important point. Often, you find that different teams have different expectations. When a person messages me, do I reply immediately? In a few hours? In 24 hours? 

There’s no correct answer, but you have to keep this in mind and set similar expectations across teams, negotiate on them if necessary, and meet them. 

In our department, we have documents and guidelines covering a lot of team productivity, from how fast we reply to messages to how we use our calendar. That way, it’s super easy for a new person joining the team to adjust and for the current members to stick to a common framework. Creating documentation like this is also a fun team exercise: do you really have the same expectations and unwritten rules?

Think about your role within the team and structure your productivity with that in mind. I block out hours when I need to be very focused, but it’s also important to make myself available to my team members. If it is a no-meeting Wednesday, how can my coworkers reach me to communicate if something urgent comes up? Is it Slack, calling, messaging? Working this out with your team is essential. 

Lastly, make your work visible to others. When you are using shared tools within the team, like Asana, having that visibility is crucial – others see that you’re working on something and have an opportunity to give ideas and feedback. That small detail embraces collaboration, which is priceless. 

What tools do you use to be productive?

There’s no better way to find out what works for you than trying. I tried a lot of apps, and now I look at the tools in categories. Keep it simple – don’t overwhelm yourself with productivity apps. If you can skip some steps and achieve the same results – please do! You can always make it more complicated for yourself. 

Collaboration apps and communication channels

This category is usually whatever your company sets up to be the standard. For example, at Interactio, we use our Broadcaster for meetings, Slack and email for communication, Miro and Figma for brainstorming and ideation. The list goes on, but the main point is this: if you can’t change those tools (and you often can’t), embrace and learn how to use them to your advantage.

Tasks and lists

Here, you can finally experiment and choose the right tools for you! For example, I use Asana for all the tasks I have to do. So, every morning, I gather and sort all of my tasks for the day and put them into Asana. Keep in mind that more features don’t mean more productivity.

Notes

Take it as your digital notepad and use it for note-taking and writing. I have fallen in a love-hate relationship with some note software before and have tried a lot of it, and for me, it came down to a scaled-down yet very productive app called Obsidian. It doesn’t have any distracting features, and you can build a network of pages you create.  If the features are distracting – they are not helpful. 

How to keep being productive?

If productivity is how you set goals and reach them, another important point is how you actually keep going. If goals that you set for yourself are meaningful, it will be easy to keep up with them. So my advice – find meaning in what you do, and the rest will follow. At Interactio, the goal of connecting the world and enabling everyone to speak in their language is what motivates our team. These grand visions help you to keep going, so find yours!

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Published on

Feb 7, 2022

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Lukas Mačėnas

Product Owner at Interactio

Lukas is the Product Owner of the team, working on Interactio’s Interpreter console. In this role, he connects different internal and external stakeholders while maintaining enough focus to transform those conversations into product specifications and prioritize the team’s backlog accordingly.