In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to use productivity apps for group working.
Hello and welcome to episode 70 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week I am answering a question about how to use the productivity tools we all love with our team so that everyone knows what needs doing and when.
Before I get to the answer, I’d like to thank everyone who has enrolled in the 2019 edition of Your Digital Life. I am so honoured and blessed to be able to help so many people with their productivity and time management (and goals). I do this for you, and I want you to know I am always willing to help in whatever way I can to remove stress, overwhelm and help you all become better organised and more productive.
If you haven’t enrolled in the course yet, now’s a great time to do so. There’s updated videos, a brand new workbook and of course you get a FREE copy of Your Digital Life 2.0, the book. More details about the course are in the show notes. So check it out, if you really want to become better at managing all your work and commitments, this is certainly the course for you.
Okay, on to this week’s question and that means handing you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Daniel. Daniel asks; I work in a small team with three core people. We share a calendar for events, Todoist for tasks and Evernote for project notes. Do you have any tips for getting better collaboration with these tools?
Hi Daniel, thank you for your question.
This is one of those areas of productivity I find a lot of small teams miss out on. I know most companies now use a company and department-wide calendar either through Microsoft Exchange or Google, but other tools we all love and use every day for our personal lives have built-in collaboration features too and when used with our calendar tools can help keep teams on track and also allows managers to know instantly what is happening without having to distract an employee with questions. Of course, these tools work exceptionally well when you are working with remote teams.
Let’s look at a to-do list manager first. Now I am very familiar with Todoist, and I do use Asana for my Kanban project view—both of which have excellent collaboration features. I know many other to-do list managers out there, including Trello, allow for collaboration. When set up, this feature allows you to allocate tasks to your team. This means there is some accountability within your team and you can all see a project develop. Often there is a shared inbox so team members can take ownership of a new task that comes in.
From a managerial perspective, this has obvious benefits. At any moment in time, you can review a project to see how it is developing and be alerted to any bottlenecks or issues. This does depend on how you set it up though. One tip I give companies I work with is to create an area or sub-project within the main project called “issues”. This area is where team members can add issues that come up and if necessary assign the issue to the person who can best deal with it. We have to be realistic here, it would be a very rare project that had no issues at all. Issues and problems are just a part of life and need dealing with. Having a place within a project where everyone involved can review these issues generally leads to them be solved much quicker than if they were hanging around in someone’s head.
Using a notes app such as Microsoft’s OneNote or Evernote is also a great way to collaborate. Both these note-taking apps have fantastic abilities to collaborate with team members and one of the best ways to use it is to keep meeting notes that can be added to by all the people involved in the project. Keeping meeting notes and planning steps in there creates a kind of Wiki area where existing and new team members can get up to speed very quickly with a project.
One of the greatest advantages of using tools such as these is there is less need to go around disturbing people with unnecessary questions so they can get on with their work in a much more focused way.
However, while all these tools are great to have, the difficulty is getting everyone on board with them. In my experience within teams, you have a mix of people. Some love technology and will enthusiastically adopt new technologies, particularly if they can see the benefit of using them. Others are less enthusiastic and need a bit of encouragement to get them onboard. And of course, these tools only work if team members are using them properly and updating the information regularly. So how do you do that?
The most important thing is to make sure all members of your team are fully trained to use these tools. I’ve found when working with companies that these collaboration efforts fail not because people resist using them, but because team leaders do not invest enough time to train their colleagues. When a team leader introduces a new tool to help with collaboration that they have been using for many years they are afflicted with the “curse of knowledge”. They know the tools too deeply and so when they explain how to use them to their team members they explain it in such an advanced way the team members are left confused. When that happens the tools do not get used.
A few tips here:
Firstly, create a shared note that can be used as an onboarding tool. You can put in there all the instructions on how to use the apps and, more importantly, why you are using them. Leaders should also invest enough time with their team showing them what they expect to see and how to do it.
The important thing is your team understand the clear benefit to them for using these tools. If you do not ‘sell’ the benefits and explain why these tools will make their lives much easier, they will resist using them.
I should point out that if your company does not allow third-party apps on company computers you can still create the same functionality using Microsoft Office or Google Docs. You can use spreadsheets for tasks and Word or Docs for notes. It’s not ideal, but when done well, can still give the same benefits to the team as a whole.
Another tip for team leaders is when you do adopt these collaboration tools, you must stop checking with your team if they have done their assigned tasks. I have found that when leaders do not trust the tools, that trickles down into the team. Remember, the biggest benefit to using these tools is everyone is clear about what needs doing, by when and who is responsible for each task. If leaders are still calling, emailing and interrupting their team members with requests for updates then the whole system falls apart. Success with implementing these tools starts at the top. Without the leaders fully engaging with them, then it just is not going to work.
Other tools such as Slack and Twist can also be a big help here, but I do have a word of warning. There are a lot of collaboration tools available and if you adopt too many of them things will go wrong and miscommunication will happen. This all comes back to keeping things simple. If you are thinking about beginning a system like this then keep it as simple as possible. By that I mean to restrict the number of tools you are using for collaboration. For example, use only one tool for notes and one tool for tasks. Better yet, find an application where everything is kept in one place. While I do not recommend that for personal productivity, within a team, with many different technology abilities between members, it is far better to go with the “less is more” philosophy.
The most important part of this is you get everyone on your team involved and committed. If just one team member is not fully committed to using these tools it will not work effectively. I’ve worked with teams where the leader hides behind their lack of technology awareness and abilities by continuing to pick up the phone and ask their team for status updates. This has to stop if the leader wants it to work. In reality, the team leader needs to be the most knowledgable about the apps. When leaders adopt these tools completely, it is not long before the whole team does and when that happens you achieve that seamless collaboration system where everyone knows what needs doing, what is being done and at a glance can see exactly where a project is.
We are rapidly moving towards a remote working world. Where people all over the world can work together as if they were all working in the same office. Because of time differences between continents, these tools make the whole process easy and effective. A great example of this working is Doist, the company behind great apps like Todoist and Twist. They are a fully remote company with people all over the world. From Asia to Europe and North and South America, their teams work together across multiple time zones and when one team member is at work, their colleague is fast asleep in a completely different time zone. This kind of working allows managers and leaders to employ the best people in the world, no matter where they are based, and they know the work is getting done with a quick view of a project in a to-do list manager.
So to sum up, Daniel, if you want this way of work to work effectively, you need to make sure that team leaders are fully onboard with the tools and that every team member is properly trained to use the tools you want to use. Managers and leaders need to understand that if they want an update on a project they must not fall into old habits and pick up the phone, they need to go into the project in the to-do list or notes app and get the answer to their query from there.
When your team see that the leadership are using these tools, it does not take long for everyone to fall into line and use them too.
Thank you, Daniel, for your question and that you to all of you who have listened. I hope this episode has given you some food for thought about how you can work better within your team. Now it’s up to you to “sell” the benefits to your leaders and see if you can become a leader in the new world of collaboration.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.