As we live and work through a global pandemic with all of its uncertainties and stresses, it’s all too easy to get stressed over our to-do lists. From team members to project managers, the general theme heard from everyone these days seems to be “overwhelm.” We know that stress and anxiety are two of the biggest threats to workplace productivity—and right now, many of us are experiencing both.
If you’re struggling to get things done, you’re not alone. Today’s work environment is challenging. How do we stay productive when the to-do list keeps piling up? How can we keep our team members motivated when the future feels so uncertain? As we work from our home offices, most likely leading virtual teams, life as a project manager isn’t so easy right now.
I don’t believe all hope for productivity and successful projects is lost though. Here are seven strategies to improve project productivity.
1. Ask for Feedback
The best leaders are the ones who ask for feedback from their team members—and truly listen. Asking to hear from the people working for you is a strategic way to find out what’s working for your team members and what isn’t. It’s one of the easiest ways to know how things are going and what improvements can be made on a project. Ask for feedback at regular intervals. For example, when onboarding new team members, when you feel interest waning from your team, or after a deadline has been met. Listen to the feedback given, and implement changes that make sense to improve productivity. Remember, a team that feels respected and heard by their project manager is typically more motivated to work hard and meet deadlines. Keep in mind that what works for one team member may not work for another.
2. Examine Your Current Productivity
What are you doing now that’s working? What’s not working? Meet with your team members to ask them what tips they have or use for personal productivity. Try to get everyone involved in the conversation. This can be particularly helpful if you feel your project ‘ship’ sinking. Asking your team members what works for them (for example, perhaps someone is using the Pomadoro method effectively) can inspire others to adopt these strategies to keep them on track, too!
As PM, if your project is delayed or you’ve noticed some team members are less productive than normal, it’s time to find out why, and then look for solutions. Is the person responsible for ordering supplies ordering them early enough? Are you assigning tasks to people who may not be the best fit for the job? Does your team need a ‘fun’ meeting where you blow off some steam together and boost morale?
3. Keep Clear and Accessible Schedules
Whether you’re at the beginning of your project or in the middle, deadlines are a priority. It’s important that everyone knows when deadlines are approaching and when tasks are assigned. A shared task list and schedule should be accessible to everyone on the team. This could be a shared Outlook calendar, a Trello board, a schedule app, or a shared project spreadsheet.
Everyone on the team should know when project deadlines are approaching, when their individual tasks should be completed, and when they can expect the ‘next steps’ from others.
Transparency goes a long way in not only meeting deadlines, but helping everyone understand how each of their tasks and responsibilities are linked to each other and the project as a whole.
4. Boost Morale
Being a good project manager doesn’t mean just doling out work and calling it a day. Project management involves a lot of connecting with your team members, and listening to how they’re doing. Be sure to give credit where credit is due. If a team member feels like their contribution isn’t valued, they likely won’t be all that motivated to continue being productive and giving it their ‘all.’ Public acknowledgement of accomplishments can work wonders. It can also inspire others on the team to do and/or continue to do their best. This promotes a healthy work culture, which in turn boosts team productivity.
Schedule team meetings that are purely for ‘fun’—pre-pandemic, this may have been shared lunches or drinks on a Friday afternoon. Giving kudos and seeing your team members as individuals who matter and deserve thanks can go a long way in boosting their productivity. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Simply sending everyone a gift card for a free coffee or Amazon purchase may speak louder than just thanking folks for meeting an important deadline.
5. Know the Strengths and Weaknesses of your Team Members
As project manager, part of your role means discovering and appreciating the talents of your team members. Keep these strengths (and weaknesses) in mind when allocating tasks. Knowing your team members’ skill-set(s) is the backbone of a productive team. If you know you have an out-of-the-box thinker on your team, for example, you can ask him/her to pitch ideas in front of your project sponsor and/or stakeholders when the situation calls for implementing change.
It’s your responsibility to help your team members feel ‘seen’ and appreciated for who they are. Acknowledging their talents and efforts helps them see they are making the best use of their expertise, talents, and know-how. In turn, they are more likely to feel motivated to be productive. You wouldn’t assign accounting tasks to your communications officer (in most cases!). So, knowing your team members’ strengths and what they can do—and enjoy doing—can go a long way for improving productivity.
6. Try Timeboxing
Timeboxing is a technique that involves scheduling a task and assigning a designated period of time to that task (for example, the 45 minutes between 10 and 10:45 am) and then focusing on that task (and nothing else!) during the allotted time. This is a fantastic tool to use for effectively planning out work across your workday. It’s something your standard fare to-do list won’t do.
Timeboxing provides a visual breakdown of what you plan to accomplish during a day (or week) and helps you prioritize tasks to meet deadlines. Workers are 20 percent more productive when information they need is displayed visually. So, putting your timebox plan on a shared calendar/schedule can go a long way in boosting team productivity. Other team members may be inspired to adopt the strategy. Timeboxing also serves as a record for what you’ve been working on.
7. Motivation through Open Communication
Working on a project can be stressful, hectic, and demanding, and a little motivation can go a long way in helping push through the tough parts. Individual and team motivation is one of the leading factors affecting project productivity. As project manager, you set the tone for the communication that takes place. Be open and clear about an open-door policy (even when working remotely!) and truly listen to your team members when they come to you with concerns and ideas. By communicating freely and frequently with your team, you will boost morale and productivity.
No matter the size of your team or the scope of your project, managing a project maintaining productivity is no easy feat. Using a good mix of open communication, motivation, and transparent scheduling can empower your team members to take ownership of their work and stay productive. Though there is not one clear-cut way to do things, the strategies and tactics you utilize as PM lay the foundation of a productive work environment.
Regardless of what approach you take, providing your team members with support, feedback, and encouragement can lead to a rise in productivity. What are your go-to’s for boosting efficiency and productivity on a project? I’d love to hear you share your experiences in the comments below.