Columns March/April 2020

Productivity and Project Kickoff Tips for Success

By Cindy Currie | STC Fellow and Kit Brown-Hoekstra | STC Fellow

One of my goals this year is to improve my productivity. What recommendations do you have?

Build systems and habits that keep you on track even on the days when you are less motivated. Systems allow you to automate some of your more tedious tasks so that you can perform consistently with minimal effort—for example using direct deposit to your savings or automatic bill pay. Habits build behaviors that help you make consistent progress in your work or toward goals, for example laying out your clothes the night before, instituting a morning routine, or using the Pomodoro method to focus on tasks.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear provides a framework that helps you break behaviors into the smallest unit of effort and then build on those to create better systems and habits. The book includes worksheets and tools to help you track your progress. Over the long term, incrementally improving will get you further than trying to do everything at once. Incremental improvements allow you to see real, sustainable progress over time, especially if you are marking your successes. If you fail one day, it’s easier to restart when you know that you are in it for the long haul. When you try to do everything at once, and inevitably have a bad day or fail, it’s harder to restart.

A lot of productivity is changing your mindset and focusing on the right things. Make sure that your goals are SMARTER (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound, evaluated, and rewarded).

When travel resumes sometime in the future, I anticipate that my company will need me to travel. What tips do you have for staying fit and productive on the road?

Traveling a lot, especially after the extended hiatus we are currently experiencing, can be hard on your body, mind, and social life. Developing travel routines will help you stay fit and productive. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get a good suitcase that you can carry on and that has wheels.
  • Set up a travel backpack or briefcase with extra charging cords, office supplies, extra USB drives, etc. Keep this stuff in your pack.
  • Keep a supply of travel toiletries on hand and replenish after every trip.
  • Look at your wardrobe and identify clothes that travel well, are easy to clean, mix and match well, and look professional. Include a set of workout clothes in your mix.
  • Invest in noise canceling headphones, an eye mask, and compression socks or tights.
  • Make yourself a pre-travel checklist to help you remember things to pack.
  • Take $100 in emergency cash with you, especially if you are traveling internationally.
  • Whenever possible, schedule your flights at least two weeks in advance. For long flights, consider using miles to upgrade your seat.
  • On long flights, be sure to stand up, stretch, and walk around a few times.
  • Fly in the day before whenever possible so that you don’t have to rush to the meeting and can use the quiet time in the hotel to finish any last-minute preparation.
  • Keep notes and lists of tasks, and use a planner (either online or paper). Spend time weekly to review tasks and prepare for the upcoming week.
  • Schedule time each day to work on tasks, so that you continue to make progress and can pace yourself.
  • Use flight time to catch up on your reading, meditation, or rest. Take advantage of the fact that people can’t reach you. It does no good to push yourself to the point of exhaustion. Take time to recharge.
  • At your destination, get settled, and then take yourself for a walk. Breathe some fresh air to clear your head from the trip.
  • Spend time prioritizing action items and following up on contacts each day so that you stay organized.
  • After your trip, unpack immediately, and put things away. Then complete your expense report. Make sure that you assign action items and follow up with your team right away.
  • Once everything is clean, put it where it’s ready for the next trip.
I’m planning my first kickoff meeting for a project, and I’m super nervous. What do you do to ensure the kickoff is a success?

The kickoff meeting sets the tone for the project, and helps the team get off on the right foot with each other. Spending time preparing will help to ensure that the project is successful.

  • Identify which stakeholders should be in the meeting.
  • Pre-meet with the project sponsor or owner so that you can ensure that you are aligned on scope, schedule, and goals. Depending on the project complexity, you might also need to meet informally with the core team to make sure you know their goals and pain points.
  • Create an agenda, and ensure that the team is invited at least a week before the meeting.
  • Cover these topics, minimum:
    • Introductions
    • Project background
    • Project purpose
    • Project scope
    • Project goals
    • Project management logistics
    • Expectations and communication
    • Next steps
    • Q&A

Your manager picked you to lead the project for a reason. Trust yourself and your team. Take this time to establish rapport, particularly if you will be working with each other remotely.

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