Higher productivity leads to more profitable companies and increased client success. However, no one likes to feel like they’re being judged on their output while a giant clock ticks away on the wall. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink states that, “intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity, controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity.” In short, solid throughput can be really good for your company. But it has to come from within each person or it ends up being kind of lousy for everyone. In this article we’re going to cover some strategies for creating an environment that bolsters productivity on development teams, many of which can be applied to any department.
“The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive—our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution.”
Having The Right Tools
As someone who spent more time than he cares to admit developing on a laptop screen, let me tell you to do yourself a favor and get an external monitor. Get them for your team. Get good ones. Get two. Get six. I’ve never regretted an increase in monitor space. Plus the more monitors you have, the more opportunities you have to start yelling “Buy! Sell! Buy! Sell!” and make people wonder what you actually do for the company. But really, just the simple change of being able to look at the design, code, and browser without switching views adds up to a lot of compounded time savings.
Other peripherals that can add value to the workday include a solid mouse and keyboard. I started using a mechanical keyboard last year and I’m never looking back. It’s an absolute joy to use. Sorry ,not sorry, for all my clickity-clacking. As a big proponent of keyboard shortcuts, a solid keyboard has a funny way of just making you want to to be able to do everything with it. The more us developers can do with the keyboard, the more productive we become. And it just makes us feel cool. Like this. Hot tip: enable the global command+shift+a shortcut to mute Zoom and you can toggle on some silent note taking.
Knowing Switching Costs Are Real
Switching costs refer to the loss in productivity that comes from switching from one task to another. Some studies estimate that it can take up to ten minutes for someone to refocus on a task after they have been interrupted. But what about multitaskers you ask? They don’t really exist. People who consider themselves to be multi-taskers are just more adept at keeping their switching costs low.
Whether switching costs are low or high, they are a fact of life. As much as developers might prefer to be heads down working on a tough problem, most are going to be needed for some form of random communication throughout the day. Know your team. Some devs can remain productive mixing quick responses in with their work. Others might do better with blocked time for responses offset with deep focus time. So work to create a set of expectations that allows devs to be their most productive while avoiding creating any bottlenecks and staying available to the team. The implementation can vary based on work style however the expectations are the same. Just make sure to keep the communication flowing.
Recognition and Recharging
Devs work on tough problems and having time to recharge is crucial. Plus, a lot of tricky problems get solved in our subconscious while we are away from the computer. Encouraging developers to let certain problems rest and generally taking time for themselves can help avoid burnout and lead to higher levels of productivity.
Recognition is also important. Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” It’s known that compliments are most effective when they are specific. So instead of saying, “Hey Hal, you’re a great guy!” you could say, “Hal, when you completed the latest feature on the XYZ Corp website recently it helped the client in the following ways…”
Give Your Future Self a Hand
Development includes a lot of repeated tasks. And all it takes is a second or third time doing the same thing and not remembering how you did it last time to yell, “stop the press, we need to write this down”. Take a moment to pause and write down the issue, determine an effective way to capture it in documentation, and then put that treasure map in a place where you’ll find it the next time. As much as you think you’ll remember it later that day, you never will. So take a second, write it down, and play Santa to your future self.
In conclusion, productivity comes in a lot of flavors. A burnt-out team member isn’t productive.
At Gravitate, we like the kind of productivity that motivates employees, empowers creativity and supports the entire team. We also aim to create a culture where team members take ownership of their own productivity.