Productive teams means happier clients. Happy clients means income which keeps your team employed and also happy.
While this seems pretty obvious, it obviously isn’t easy to accomplish. One reason: Many marketing leaders were trained in archaic productivity techniques, such as meeting madness can kill enthusiasm and creativity and/or non-stop daily nagging via Slack. (That’s if they were trained at all.)
I’ve also seen lots of my clients implode due to a lack of focus on productivity measures – not only with their own marketing departments but with their entire staff. This is a major downfall for agencies – because of their lack of productive habits, they failed internally and lost a client.
Old habits die hard, especially when productivity comes into play. Managers learn managing from their own experience of being managed. That makes it easy to pick up bad habits and to not know there are, in fact, best practices when it comes to increasing productivity.
So whether you’re leading a team of writers, SEOs, or social media influencers, these 21 productivity hacks will help your agency succeed.
And the more you repeat good habits, the stronger you can build on these, making you and your staff outrageously productive.
1. Know the role
In two decades of working with hundreds of agencies and companies, one of the most common problems I’ve come across is not understanding roles.
Undefined roles and responsibilities cause things to fall through the cracks because no one knows who is responsible for them. On the flip side, well-defined roles rein in managers’ natural impulse to give the most work to their most productive staff. Doing this creates bitter resentments in your best people.
That’s why it’s essential to define your work processes and clearly delegate roles and responsibilities. This needs to include even minute details like who takes notes at meetings, who schedules them and all other types of grunt work.
2. Leverage your team’s strengths
In order to assign these now well-defined roles, you have to understand what each person is good at. This can mean looking at skills and not just job titles. Say there’s someone in SEO who is really good at communicating, consider making them responsible for client relations.
It’s very, very rare for an organization to have all the skills it needs. Outsource your weaknesses. Hiring freelancers or white labeling services is a great way to fill labor gaps without overwhelming your team or hiring new individuals.
Your job as a leader is to put these individuals in the best position possible to succeed.
Capitalize on your team’s strengths. Delegate the rest.
3. Incentivize productivity
Even if responsibilities are assigned fairly, some employees may feel like they are taking on more than their share. Therefore, to prevent any sort of hostility and to incentivize greater production, it makes sense to tie compensation to productivity.
There is no better work incentive than basing pay on performance. If that’s not possible (and even if it is) give workers the freedom and flexibility to work on their schedule (including remotely). If you don’t trust your employees to do their jobs if you can’t see them, then you’re the problem – not them.
4. Is this meeting necessary?
Meetings take up big chunks of time and interrupt people’s momentum. That said, there are some meetings that have to happen. That’s the key here: Make sure you only have meetings that are absolutely necessary. Also, make sure that only people who have to be there go to them.
Cut out wasteful meetings, but make the most of the meetings you do need. If you need to tell everyone something ask yourself if it can be done via email or Slack instead.
Here are some guidelines to make your meetings as productive as possible:
- Set a strict time limit (I keep meetings under 20 minutes as much as possible).
- Create a plan beforehand to keep the discussion on point.
- Share the agenda to prepare questions and remarks ahead of time.
- Explain important topics as thoroughly as possible to avoid doing the same later.
- Ask a colleague you trust for feedback on how well you run meetings: You may find out you’re doing a great job of it or that there’s something you’ve overlooked or both.
5. Structure your day strategically
Do you tend to be more productive in the morning, even without a cup of coffee? That’s the case for most people, who have energy levels which naturally spike after waking due to circadian rhythms and cortisol levels. However, there are plenty of people – especially those with attention deficit disorder (ADD) – whose most productive time is in the afternoon. There’s no right or wrong to this, it’s just how your body operates.
I’m a morning person, so I try to schedule tasks which need the most focus, like writing and strategy planning, for then. Be aware of your body rhythms and schedule around that. Perform essential tasks when you’re most alert and mindless tasks for when you’re crashing a little bit. This can significantly improve productivity without the need for a couple of espressos to stay focused.
6. Block hours and prioritize tasks daily
To follow up on this, it’s important to plan your day ahead of time. In fact, I like to take time on the weekend or early Monday to block off time for tasks throughout the week to keep my schedule on track.
By using a project management software or Google Sheets, you can track progress throughout the week, spend extra time working on tasks when you’re falling behind on, and even gain a little hustle trying to beat the clock on tasks where you are falling behind.
For example, blocking off time for something like looking at emails is a great way to reduce distractions and condense tasks into a small, manageable chunk of time without being overwhelmed.
I check my email only three times a day on my “creative” days, which are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and about seven times or so Tuesday and Thursday when I plan the bulk of my meetings and more administrative work.
7. Daily breaks
Of course, don’t forget to block off downtime throughout your day and week for breaks. While breaks seem unproductive they are anything but. Taking 15 minutes here or there will actually make you more productive throughout the day overall.
Not only do breaks make you more productive, they make you more alert and a better decision-maker.
For example, a famous study of Israeli judges found that judges who took two breaks in the day prior to granting detainees parole were more likely to grant parole. On the other hand, judges who had not taken breaks typically chose the safest or most simplistic answer of just denying detainees parole altogether.
In addition, this study from Stanford showed that writers and other creatives who were stuck with writer’s block benefited tremendously from taking walks to clear the mind.
I also cease all work duties at 6 p.m. every Wednesday, and spend alone time either in the woods hiking, riding motorcycles, or in my office reading with a glass or two of wine.
I shut off completely, and reset myself for the rest of the week’s duties. This means no computers or checking work emails or social media from my phone. I also do the same thing for all Sunday, which is mostly spent with family to recharge.
Be sure your team members are also taking breaks and doing what they need to stay sharp.
8. Prioritize well-being
The more mental clarity your team has daily, the sharper the focus and productivity.
While you don’t need an entire yoga studio or massage center like those found at Google headquarters, some tips to improve mental clarity and reduce stress throughout the day include:
- Giving people adequate breaks (including lunch).
- Giving staff flexible work hours or remote options.
- Providing stand up desks to boost productivity.
- Blocking off time for meditation.
- Providing healthy snacks.
- Creating a calm environment.
- Acknowledge the outside events – pandemics, etc. – that have an impact on us all; pretending they don’t is bad for your mental health.
9. Reduce distractions
Creating a calm environment involves reducing distractions. Whether you have an open office layout, cubicles, or are remote, there are a few ways to reduce distractions throughout the day, which will help your team focus:
- Keeping any music at a reasonable volume.
- Blocking off time for breaks.
- Providing areas for recreation and relaxation separate from work.
- Training staff to avoid online distractions, such as looking at emails, Slack messages, or social media.
10. ZERO multitasking
Humans can’t actually multitask. We think we can, but we can’t. Computers multitask because they can allocate parts of their processing capability to different tasks. Humans can’t do that. We can only focus on one thing at a time. What we usually mean by multitasking is focusing on one thing for a moment, then on another and another, etc.
Focusing on one thing at a time is actually one of the hardest things for a human to do. Try five minutes of meditation – sitting still and doing nothing – and you’ll understand this. Also, a ScienceDirect study found that college students who multitasked during homework and class assignments took longer to complete their homework and had a worse GPA.
Train staff and yourself to focus on single tasks, even if it means blocking off points of the day for communication, like email and Slack.
11. Create project management sheets
One way to help your staff’s productivity is giving them the proper tools and training they need. For example, project management software and calendar apps have led the way as a resource for individuals to plan out tasks in advance, set due dates and block off time to complete tasks.
If you’re looking to save money, I also like to set up simple project management spreadsheets with tasks, checkboxes once a task is complete, due dates, and employee signatures to track and assign tasks. These tools also provide a transparent view of staff members’ productivity and help you identify distractions or tasks they struggle to complete.
Other tools to consider: Semrush for general keyword research, backlink audits, and topic research. In addition, my team also uses Grammarly to cut down on editing times and provide clients with a polished finished product.
12. Explain projects thoroughly
Furthermore, there is no better way to set your staff up for success than by explaining tasks thoroughly to avoid confusion. Many employees struggle to ask questions at work when they are confused about a task. To prevent confusion and anxiety, give detailed explanations – verbally and written – and hands-on teaching to help staff master tasks quickly.
13. Trust factor
Transitioning a little bit from individual productivity hacks, the culture you create at your company will be a massive determinant of success and productivity. This article from Harvard Business Review outlines the importance of building a high-trust culture and how it boosts productivity:
“Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.”
If employees are motivated to come to work and feel happy at their job, they are more likely to work harder and contribute as much as they can to improve their workplace. Contrast this to toxic work environments where individuals are most likely to slack, gossip and complain, often not fearing if they will get fired or let go.
As many studies have shown, a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and opinions contributes to knowledge sharing, boosting productivity and the efficacy of projects. And, since most employees demand diversity in the workplace, this improves your overall culture and the well-being of your employees. Again, happier employees are more productive ones.
15. Gratitude for all
I’m a big proponent of positive reinforcement and its efficacy in forming positive habits. While discipline is effective at curbing bad habits, rewarding productive members with gratitude is a great way to reinforce positive habits, improving productivity.
16. Constructive feedback
Discipline for the sake of discipline is rarely effective. Rather, if you want to curb unproductive habits at work, you need to provide constructive feedback with solutions for employees to improve their habits. For example, if I come back to you and say this article is poorly written without any feedback, how are you supposed to address my specific criticisms or improve?
Make feedback constructive and a learning process.
As previously stated, high-trust cultures tend to be more productive. Well, one way to build trust is to be authentic, open and honest with employees. Building trust with your employees and establishing a positive company culture starts with your actions. Admit your mistakes, give credit to others. Being genuine and transparent with employees cultivates trust, builds their confidence and boosts their productivity.
18. Establish vision
A major part of building trust is transparency and being on the same page as employees. Establishing a shared vision for company growth and branding is a great way to build trust across your organization and also make employees feel like they are a part of your agency, not that they just work for it. Actualizing your company’s vision will require tons of hard work, which is where proper time management and productivity hacks come into play.
19. Set realistic goals
To bring your vision to life and improve the productivity of your employees, you need to set goals.
Goal setting can increase employees’ productivity by 11 to 25 times. Most importantly, big goal setting has a huge impact. That’s because when employees feel they are working for something, they are more committed to seeing it through. Even in an immediate sense, goal setting makes you one step closer to your goal just by setting expectations and tracking progress.
2O. Challenge employees with stretch goals
Stretch goals are high-risk, high-reward goals that require a lot of effort and creative problem-solving. While wellness and proper guidance are all nice ways to boost employee productivity and happiness, sometimes it takes adversity to see what employees are made of.
So challenge leading team members with ambitious tasks to push them out of their comfort zones. Not only will employees learn more through this, but they may even come close to reaching these goals, thus improving your agency’s efficiency.
Build a culture and train employees on good habits that lead to better business outcomes
Reinforcing these habits through continued education and guidance forms long-lasting habits that will help make your agency operate the leanest possible. And lean means higher profit margins, which equates to a sustainable business.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.