Toolkit For Increasing Your Productivity

May 2017

By Adrienne Moulton, Marketing & Communications Specialist, RMC

We all at times struggle to manage the whirlwind of priorities pulling at our day-to-day activities in life and in business which negatively impacts and stifles our ability to be productive. April’s Lansing Area Software Tester (LAST) Meetup featured Matt Dupuis, Software Engineer Practice Manager at TechSmith. He presented on “Tips & Tricks to Increase Your Productivity” which offers some insights that can be applied to both our personal and professional endeavors.

Matt first noted that to help jumpstart the process one must create a “To-Do List” . . . but cautioned to avoid putting on this list habitual items or everyday ‘gimmie’ tasks or activities that only take 5 minutes to complete. If you can get it done that quickly, you might as well do it, get it out of the way and move on. Now to fine-tune this point, Matt mentioned that rather than listing “tasks” we should think in terms of SMART goals. SMART goals are defined as Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-boxed.

With your SMART goals identified, Matt said to evaluate and ultimately limit your work in progress. He spoke of the “Rule of Three”. This is where you identify your top three goals and should be done on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. When you scope the goal activities, it makes it easier to zero in on them. It should be noted that you can identify less than three goals, but not more than three to preserve effectiveness and efficiency. Once you pinpoint these goals, be sure to write them down. Choose whichever method works best for you, whether it be digital (Mobile Apps, Outlook etc.) or physical (sticky notes, notebooks etc.). Writing down goals helps to visualize them, and crossing them off or throwing away sticky notes when the goal is completed produces a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Top three goals in hand, the next order of business is to prioritize which goal to tackle first. Matt referenced one effective technique is to use the Triple Constraint triangle method. Each side represents a factor: Time, Cost, and Scope/Quality. Adjusting one side can cause the other sides to move, so this helps with awareness of how other sides or factors are affected when you change one side (factor). Drawing out a triangle and labeling the sides may help with visualizing the effects.

Another technique Matt recommended is the 9 Square Prioritization Matrix. This tool allows you to rank tasks (or goals) on impact and implementation. You can also use any other two factors as you see fit. The high priority tasks are those that rank higher on impact and are easier to implement.

9 Square Prioritization Matrix

It is a huge step in the right direction to set priorities, but it would be senseless unless you actually work toward and ultimately accomplish the goals. Matt highlighted a few tricks for getting things done, and the first trick is to schedule task completion. The Pomodoro Technique is one that is used by many. This is where you focus on one goal, set a timer to 25 minutes, and work on the task until the timer goes off. When the timer goes off, take a short three to five minute break and then return to the task and set the timer for another 25 minutes. The purpose of these time boxed work intervals is to focus on the task at hand and cut down on distractions. A key to making this technique work as efficiently as possible is to spend your break doing something healthy such as taking a brief walk. It is also critical to close your email and any chat tools and to avoid any mobile devices to alleviate all distractions within your control. After a few Pomodoro cycles, you will be amazed at how much you’ve completed!

At the end of the day, to ensure that you get things accomplished it’s up to you to keep yourself honest. Some find it beneficial to share their task list with others to help hold them accountable. Self-reflection status reports are also essential to staying on track. Matt explained that weekly checkpoints should be a regular occurrence to review what went well, areas to improve, as well as SMART goals for the following week. Accountability is easier to obtain if you write down or print out the results of each of these status reports.

In order to set you up for success on your endeavor to improve time management and SMART goal completion there are a few final tips to point out from Matt’s presentation. He stressed that you should ask for feedback on specific tasks from peers or Managers, which will help when doing your weekly checkpoints. You also want to be aware of when you need to say “No” when asked to take on additional projects. It’s important to limit your work in progress and be mindful of your bandwidth, because you don’t want to become overloaded. As Matt said, “Enthusiasm is Key!” Don’t volunteer for things you aren’t enthusiastic about because completion of the project, task or goal will prove difficult if you lack intrinsic motivation.

The tips and tricks outlined above are valuable but keep in mind they are only as effective as you make them. Also be sure to take into account that it takes 21 days to form a habit, so if you’re going to try some of these out be sure to give them a fair shot at becoming part of your operating rhythm.

Matt Dupuis graduated from The University of Michigan, with a degree in Computer Engineering.  From there, he ventured to Thompson Reuters, in Dexter, Michigan, where he began work as a Software Engineer, writing tax software for accountants.  While there, Matt advanced to the Accounting Development department to work on the Accounting CS product.  During his tenure, he was promoted to Lead Programmer.  Soon after, he began development on Thomson Reuter’s accounting and payroll web services.  Matt currently serves as the Practice Manager for software engineers, working to develop Camtasia, at TechSmith, in Okemos, Michigan.  In that role, Matt works with the engineers on their development goals and makes sure Camtasia has the development talent it needs to be successful. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjdupuis.

Watch the live recording of LAST’s April Meetup on “Tips & Tricks to Increase Your Productivity” here.