I remember my first week as a Project Manager well. It was around two years ago and I was in the privileged position of being able to use my own laptop and equipment. This was a prerequisite of mine to accepting the role, due to the productivity software I use on my Apple devices – yet I remember the looks I received like it was only yesterday.
“Why is he so special?” Already, it looked like I was different.
After my introduction to my new colleagues and I spent the day getting to know the team, I scheduled in my first meeting. The agenda was contained within the electronic invite, with dial-in instructions for those that couldn’t attend in person as well as a clear instruction at the top – “This meeting will start at 10:30am. Please respect everybody’s schedules and in a position to start the meeting at this time”.
It won’t surprise you to know that not everybody adhered to this request. The meeting did indeed start at 10:30am with 5 of the 8 attendees. I was happy that the main decision makers were all present, so when people started turning up at 10:35am, 10:40am and one even at 10:50am, there was a sense of real shock when I politely asked them to leave and refer to the minutes that they would receive within an hour of the meetings closing. I explained my reasoning – I’d only scheduled the meeting for half an hour and needed to optimize all thirty minutes, there wasn’t time to spend recapping the missed points. Naturally, there are other reasons, however this was enough to sow the seeds as to how I like both myself, and others, to work.
Unorthodox, but the bar was now set. It was out of my respect for other people’s time and workloads that I introduced that policy. From that day onwards, nobody turned up late for my meetings.
Over the course of the next week, I demonstrated other practices that most of my colleagues deemed ‘unorthodox’. I’m lucky enough to own a pair of Bose On-Ear wireless headphones. Lucky in that
a) I love music and the sound quality is great
b) they are large and impossible for people to miss when I am wearing them!
These are my ‘I’m in the zone’ headphones and people know that I’m in the middle of some focused work and cannot be disturbed. That can be the problem when working in an open-plan office – if you are not on the phone, you can appear to be ‘fair game’ for a discussion on some topic, work-related or otherwise. I use my headphones as a signal and encouraged others to do the same.
I also encouraged working hours to…drop! The water-cooler culture was high and the output from my team versus the time spent in the office just wasn’t proportionate. Everybody could have improved. So I encouraged everyone to follow the Pomodoro Technique and split their work into focused chunks during the days. 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off represents one Pomodoro and they would receive a longer break after four completed ‘Pomodoro’s’. We spent a week whereby I would let them go home after eight completed Pomodoros with an hour break for lunch, as long as they sent me a completed list of actions completed for the day. When we reviewed them, they couldn’t believe how much they’d been able to achieve with this ‘unorthodox’ approach.
There are so many examples of unorthodox techniques that we can employ, yet are fearful of going against the status quo and inherent culture of the companies we work for. My point is this. Productivity is personal. You will take your approach with you wherever you go. You’ll employ it at home, in a new job – it will stay with you. You need to be true to yourself and work to the ideals that you, yourself, hold dear and believe in. Your methods will not suit everybody – as an example, there were some coders I worked with who couldn’t do a thirty minute Pomodoro yet would happily sit there for an hour or longer working in a state of pure focus. However I can guarantee that they will suit some of the people around you and if you can pull them up, then maybe ‘unorthodox’ can become the new ‘orthodox’.
Imagine how much we could achieve if we did that.
By Lee Garrett