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Four fixes to become a more productive digital team

by Erica Gunn  |  July 26, 2022

4 min. read
A woman thinking about digital assets and how to use them efficiently.

If there’s a job that needs to be done with regularity, there should be a bot for that.

Every time we stop what we should be doing to answer a question, reply to a message, or search for a file, it is a tax on our productivity and creativity. Elon Musk calls it a “mind-killer.

But we seem to accept context switching—constantly flipping between different tasks—as a routine feature of our workflows. We expect ourselves and our teams to be great at multitasking when the evidence shows we’re a “uni-tasking” species that just happens to be busy all the time. If we calculated the cost we pay in team productivity, in lost hours and ingenuity gone up in smoke, we would re-engineer our work. We would change working behaviors and use digital technology differently.

The price we pay

When our highly-productive “flow state” of concentration gets interrupted, it takes us an average of 23 minutes to recover our focus. But we all know that the hybrid and remote work world comes with plenty of interruptions. We spend 20% of our working day switching between different messaging channels, cloud storage systems, or project management systems just looking for information, according to research by Cornell University’s Ellis Idea Lab. Other research has found that the average employee uses 35 business-critical applications and switches between them more than 1,000 times a day. We need to think differently about productivity and collaboration at work, and about how to streamline and simplify tasks to reduce interruptions and context switching. It starts with four basic productivity principles.

1. Files and data must be accessible anywhere.

If there’s one lesson that the pandemic taught us all, it’s that work is truly mobile—it travels with us, rather than being fixed to one place (like an office). Most productive teams in the new work world have realized that files and data need to be accessible everywhere too. If the file you need is stored on one person’s desktop, it may as well be locked away in an office filing cabinet back in the 20th century. Our research shows that more than half of marketing teams are working with scattered storage—typically with more than 10,000 different files lost on team systems. How do they solve the problem? That’s calls, emails, or Slack messages to colleagues asking, “Where can I find …?” That takes us right back to Elon Musk’s mind-killer of context switching and interrupted concentration. With secure cloud storage and remote access to collaborators, there is no need for interruptions. And we’re not talking about science fiction. This is technology that’s here right now.
Two co-workers discussing how to transfer digital assets via various channels.

2. Search should be automated.

Our research also showed that it was not unusual to see 7,000 important files so disorganized that there was no metadata to help make search and discovery simple, even if they were accessible in the cloud. Search has become one of the most familiar features of our digital lives, but when it comes to the workplace, we still don’t apply the simple rigor we should to make it work. That includes applying naming conventions, keywords, and descriptions when we save files. If we all get that step right, it becomes quick and easy to retrieve data later with an automated search. There’s no need for slow and time-consuming manual searches, or to interrupt anyone else for help finding files.

3. Repetitive tasks should be automated.

If there’s a job that needs to be done with regularity, there should be a bot for that. Even the simplest form of automation, such as project notifications, can save valuable minutes and preserve that precious flow state of concentration. It doesn’t matter how small or how complex the task, if it’s a repetitive task in the day, week, or month, the golden rule of the hybrid and remote work world is to automate it.

4. Time-consuming tasks should also be automated.

In the same spirit as repeat tasks, if there’s a task that is going to swallow more time than it’s worth, it’s another task that’s ripe for automation. The classic example here is reporting. Can you schedule a report or dashboard to be populated automatically rather than manually? And if so, how much time can you reclaim for concentrated work on more strategic or creative tasks?
Two co-workers decide abouthow to publish digital assets on different channels.

Let it flow

The irony of our era is that we have more digital technology at our disposal than any preceding generation. And yet, all too often, we do not use it the way we should to extract the most benefit. When it comes to context switching, there’s evidence of a 40% decline in productivity when we flip between tasks instead of maintaining a concentrated flow state. If we really want to solve the productivity problem, it starts with giving our teams the right tools for the job and encouraging them to use them in the way they are meant to be used. No workarounds or shortcuts. Imagine a work environment, wherever that is, with fewer interruptions and distractions. Let the productivity flow.

Originally published on Fastcompany