An Essential Soft Skill for Project Managers: Recognizing and Beating Productivity Killers

Based on your experience, what soft skills do you think a successful project manager should possess? Some aspects that are frequently emphasized within our industry are leadership, communication, problem solving, mentoring, and more. I completely agree with the high importance of these skills, but I would name one more that deserves to be in the top 5: recognizing and beating productivity threats within your team. It’s equally important whether you’re leading just three employees, or managing a large global team spread across several continents. In either situation, a project manager needs to spot the threat to the team’s efficiency as early as possible, before it affects more people, and be lightning-fast in addressing the problem. Different teams have different challenges, so it’s hardly possible to outline a one-size-fits-all action plan to handling them. But let’s take a look at the ways to fight the productivity hindrances that employees find the most dangerous: interruptions, procrastination and inaccurate plans. , one of the key questions was “What’s the biggest productivity killer?” With 40.5% votes, interruptions were the most popular answer. Procrastination was the runner-up – it’s seen as the biggest productivity threat by 21% of respondents and inaccurate plans ranked as the 3rd (16%). At first glance, the first two look like personal problems that everyone needs to tackle individually. But, as my experience shows, in many cases working habits require some extent of managerial help, whether you’re reforming some unproductive old habits, or creating something totally new. Productivity battle 1: Interruptions According to Dr. Donald Wetmore, founder of the Productivity Institute, an average person gets an interruption every 8 minutes. The most unpleasant thing about this is that any interruption might get you unfocused, making it hard to get back to the previous task. When answering the question about productivity threats, one of the survey respondents added a remark that interruptions force him to multitasking, which, consequentially, makes it hard for him to prioritize things and he literally gets lost! Actually, this is a natural way for our brains to react to such influence. In “The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing It All’ Gets Nothing Done,” Dave Crenshaw says that in such situations we’re actually switchtasking. We jump back and forth from one task to another very rapidly. If this lasts throughout the entire day, stress accumulates, and we start experiencing problems with focus. According to Crenshaw, no matter how quickly you’re able to switch, this has a high cost for your efficiency. One of the most important things in dealing with interruptions is being able to evaluate them “on the fly”. Compare these two situations: Someone found a critical mistake in the monthly report and asks his colleague to fix it, or, a designer can’t decide which shade works better for the brochure background and collects opinions across the entire marketing department. So, suggest that your team members instantly prioritize the incoming interruptions and filter those that can be deferred, delegated to someone else who is available now, or those that don’t even deserve attention and aren’t relevant to work. For those who need 100% concentration on a big, important and/or urgent assignment, it might also make sense to share some kind of an “availability schedule” with their colleagues. Some time might be allocated during the day when peers can ask questions, request quick feedback, etc. As an option – the team can schedule a brainstorming session when they can all exchange questions and comments that accumulated in the previous working hours. Minimizing the negative impact of interruptions is an important prerequisite to reaching the state of flow while you work. Let’s say you came up with a bright idea for your important task. You started implementing it with enthusiasm, and you feel your productivity is at its peak. In other words, flow is completely focused motivation when you’re not just getting something done, but you’re totally consumed by this process, and you’re enjoying it. And nothing should knock you off this course now. So, the simple, yet effective weapon for arming your project team against interruptions would be described as Prioritize-Filter-Plan. Do you feel that interruptions slow down your own or your team’s performance? How do you handle this challenge? I’ll be interested to hear your stories in the comments. Stay tuned for the next post of this series where I’ll share my methods of fighting procrastination that might be a common hindrance for project teams. To be continued…

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