While we know in our hearts that the start of a new year is an arbitrary date, it’s still tempting to think of it as a chance for a do over. On the work front, it’s a good time to reorganize habits in the name of productivity, but it takes some real effort to get past, say, buying new pens (mmm new pens) and making pie-in-the-sky promises to do X more and Y less and Z, I swear, never again.
Here on the Editorial team, we decided to skip the search for tips in the wild and design our own experiments, each tuned to stamp out old ways and try out something new. What if we hold ourselves to some pretty rigorous routine changes for a month? Will we become healthier, happier, shiny new superhero versions of our working selves?
Or will it be distracting and infuriating and lack the sticking power to make any real difference? Who knows!
Near the end of 2016, we each came up with a 30-day individual productivity experiment, and then one to do together as a team.
We’ll start today and report back in a month or so with the results. Here goes nothing!
1. Swallow the claims about coffee and productivity (Matt Haughey)
I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life — it smells and tastes like old cigars and dirt to me. But! It seems the entire working world runs on the stuff, often claiming they can’t truly hit their stride without it, so I’ll pledge to jump in, whole hog.
Experiment: For one month, I’ll start every day by having a coffee drink at 8am. I’ll try everything I can—talk to baristas and shop owners, and figure out what kind of coffee drinks I can stand. Then I’ll settle into a regular routine of drinking coffee each day for a month and see what happens to my energy and concentration throughout the day.
2. Work, but on a school day schedule (Lima Al-Azzeh)
I cannot keep to a routine to save my life. However, I was always a diligent student, and did great in school, which is all about structured periods of time to get things done. There must be something about the way school days are organized that keeps me engaged and productive.
Experiment: I’m going to go a full month on high school hours: work allotments of 90 minutes with one recess and one lunch break during the day. My goal is to see if it helps me cover more work and do deeper work throughout the week than I would otherwise.
3. Take active breaks for real (Evie Nagy)
I have terrible back problems that get worse when I sit or stand still. And there’s plenty of evidence that taking breaks and moving around is critical to productivity and creativity. But despite knowing all this, I routinely go hours without moving anything other than my typing fingers and not notice, and then I get tired and distracted.
Experiment: I want to find out why this general wisdom is so hard to follow in practice and whether it’s worth committing to. I’m going to set a reminder in Slack and truly stick to getting up every 45 minutes. Just whatever I’m doing, no excuses — get up, stretch, get a glass of water and walk once around the office floor (if I find I need to hit the loo every time, maybe I’ll do the water every other round). Will it help me get more done and feel better, or will I find that it takes me off track?
4. Cutting meeting times in half (Julie Kim)
Much has been said about meetings — how to run them, how to skip them, how to not have them at all. While I’m no meeting-loather — mind you, I’m a manager, so I don’t need big chunks of heads-down time the way makers do — I’m always looking for ways to spend my waking hours more productively. The goal isn’t doing more in the same amount of time, like packing three meetings into the time you’d normally have one. Rather it’s making the time to bring our A-games to the work we already do and accessing fresh brainspace for better ideas and new projects.
Experiment: Cut all meeting times in half (30-minute meetings = 15 minutes and 60-minute meetings = 30 minutes) and use the “extra” time to recharge before the next thing. Will I actually put these minutes to good use or will they become wasted slivers of my day? Bonus: I excuse myself from three meetings — as in get up in leave — where I feel I’m not engaged or 100% needed. (This is a fairly common tip, but I’ve always wondered: how does one actually do this without seeming like a total jerk?)
5. Tune out distractions with calming background noise (Trina Robinson)
Fully concentrating on work in a large office can be challenging when there are so many possible distractions to contend with, such as conversations within earshot or a deskmate who’s always on the phone. This is something I‘ve struggled with throughout my entire career. In my current setup, I occasionally leave my desk in search of a quiet space. Then it dawned on me, maybe I was going about this all wrong. What if instead of trying to eliminate all distractions, I created a new one of my own choosing? I’m reminded of my high school world history teacher who played classical music during exams to help students with relaxation and focus. I aced his class, which made me curious if I‘d be able to reappropriate this technique in the workplace.
Experiment: Use sound to help focus on the task at hand and block out office distractions. I’ll use the app Noisli, which provides several different ambient sound options, for 90 minutes a day while working at my desk, and see if it improves my ability to focus.
Convene a morning “water cooler” session in Slack (The whole team)
We did our brainstorm for these experiments for a set time in Slack, and the discussion was so lively and full of ideas that we realized we should try doing it every day — not about productivity experiments, but about anything at all. A required daily team water cooler stop, about any non-work related topic.
Experiment: Every day, one person will pick a one-word prompt, and we’ll go to it for 15 minutes. Will it energize our brains, improve our rapport and connection that carries throughout the day? Take us miles off the rails for an hour?
We’ll let you know in a month!