Staying productive is hard to do when you’re working from home. We’ve got some tips that will make a real difference in your lives! Share them with your teammates!

Updated on May 5, 2020 with more information about chat channels for teams and managing interruptions.

This blog post is part of our Working with Virtual Teams series. You can find all of the content here.

Whether working from the office or working from home (as has become the new normal), we are continuously attempting to be productive in a world that wants nothing more than to interrupt you as much as possible. There are some skills you can learn that can help make you amazingly productive. They take a little discipline, but you’ll really appreciate the results. If you’re on a team, I recommend sharing these idea with your teammates and see how they might want to incorporate them into your daily lives.

  1. Plan Your Day in Advance – Before you start working (or maybe as the last thing you do the night before), PLAN YOUR DAY! What are the one or two most important things that need to be done and focus on them first! Put them on your calendar as non-negotiable appointments with yourself.
  2. Work in Time Boxes – The human brain is really good at heads-down focus for about 90 minutes (in fact, I’ve been running my training events — CSM, CSPO, Advanced CSM — with about 90-minutes between breaks since 2006). Break your day into time boxes of 90 minutes or less and give yourself reasonable breaks in-between to clear your head and reset for the next task.
  3. Create Video Conference “Rooms” For Your Team’s Work – Since we’re all trying to work from home, we’re also now dealing with the reality of virtual teams, which practically require the use of video conferencing. Applications like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams can be set up with multiple active “rooms” at the same time. As your Scrum team works on backlog items, make sure they have a place to work together — in other words, set up a different “room” for each backlog item that you’re team is working on. Team members can join the room when they are collaborating on a backlog item and, when necessary, jump to another room when they need to work on a different backlog item. Think of it like having a couple conference rooms that your team gets to use all day and you break up the work so that team members on one backlog item use one room and team members on a second backlog item use a second room. Here are some more tips for video conferencing!
  4. Avoid Interruptions – I know that a lot of people will disagree with this, but having easy ways to interrupt each other is NOT a good idea. It encourages interruption which invites context-switching. Context-switching is a productivity KILLER! You want to avoid unwanted interruptions during your day as much as possible. In fact, the very nature of Scrum’s Sprint is to create a content forecast and a place for getting it done and then going heads-down, with few interruptions, to get it done. Check email a couple of times a day; try to respond to chat or IMs when you take your next break, and if something’s really important — well, those few issues will require you to interrupt your work.
  5. Avoid Interrupting Others – Consider looking at every question you have, instead of being VERY important, as falling into three levels of importance. The first category is filled with questions you need answers to sometime day or tomorrow (or longer). For these, send a brief email. The second category is made up of questions that you’d like to have answered as soon as possible (for example, “Hey, I’m done with my work, does anyone need help?”). For these, go ahead and use a chat channel of some kind. The third category are the RIGHT NOW questions where damage occurs to the business or a customer if you don’t get an immediate answer. For those, grab the phone or start walking/driving (as appropriate).
  6. Avoid Multi-Tasking – Technically, there’s really no such thing as multi-tasking as the human brain is incapable of consciously doing multiple things at the same time. Perhaps “multi-switching” is the right term; that’s what the human brain does, it switches between contexts as quickly as it can. Studies have shown that the human brain takes an average of 23.5 minutes to get back to what it was doing when interrupted. When you combine this with another study that found that the average worker was interrupted every 3-5 minutes, you have the beginnings of a big problem. Shut down your email client, turn your smartphone on its face, ignore everything that doesn’t have anything to do with your task and get it done. If you want to be REALLY productive, plan your day and FOCUS on one thing at a time.

Share these concepts with your teammates. Recommend limiting the number of backlog items your team is working on at the same time (each backlog item is a separate context) and ask your team to figure out how they could “attack” one or two backlog items at a time and finish them. Suggest 90 minute “dev-sessions” when teammates working on the same backlog item get on the same Zoom meeting and work together to get work done. Use Slack or other chat capabilities for sharing non-critical information, but recommend that people ignore Slack except in-between “dev-sessions” (information critical to the dev-session should be shared F2F in the Zoom meeting).

We at Artisan hope all of you, your family, friends, and coworkers are healthy and safe and wish for you, in these times, serenity and happiness. Be well!

You’ll find our entire library of Working with Virtual Teams content here.

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