The balancing act between work and life is a difficult one to achieve, especially in the onslaught of communications and information that any individual experiences on a daily basis today. With relentless information overload and round-the-clock work environments, it isn’t surprising that around 65-75% of organizations are struggling with what’s called the ‘overwhelmed employee’ trend.
What can make navigating all this easier, however, is borrowing from the wisdom of others who have found ways to mitigate these new-age challenges and sustain productivity.
We talked to a few of our own productive superstars here at Freshworks about how they stay at the top of their game everyday, and this is what they had to tell us.
Sudha Padmanabhan is a product manager at Freshdesk. Her biggest productivity challenge was figuring out smart ways to work – using the right process or approach for the right tasks.
“It’s like when you’re in college, you have a deadline looming but you leave studying for the last thing you do at night. But I get a lot of work done in the morning, so most of those days I might as well have slept and studied in the morning.”
So that’s where it all started for Sudha, back in college, figuring out her productive prime time to optimally plan her work. Pretty soon, she had a method to turn to for all her responsibilities.
“It can take years of being with yourself to figure out how to play with your peculiarities – when you’re most active and engaged, where your pitfalls lie – but once you do, you can devise ways to get work done smartly. Otherwise, you’re trying your best but you still find yourself hitting a wall.”
“For example, I know I often feel blocked when I have to do creative tasks like writing a blog post. So I do these in Pomodoro sessions, so that I get myself moving on the idea. Once I have a draft, I can keep reworking it until it’s perfect.”
Sudha plans her work for the day by making to-do lists on the OneNote app that are short enough that she doesn’t feel demotivated. “If your list is super-long, it’s easy to give up trying to get all items done. I try to keep my list to 3 items so that I’m incentivized enough to get through them, and then I can add a few more for bonus points.”
Sudha also loves the book ‘Eat That Frog!’ by Brian Tracy. She uses its proposed method of saving the first bit of your day to work on the biggest, most challenging task – the one you’re most likely to put off. “The task doesn’t look like a frog anymore, it kind of looks like an ant now, so it’s manageable and I feel less overwhelmed.”
With over ten years of experience now performing different roles in the corporate arena, Sudha talks about how the shift from engineer to product manager demanded a new style of working. “When you’re in engineering, you’re thinking about how to solve problems and how to solve them better. You want to focus on one thing and do it really well. In product management, you’re balancing multiple important dimensions and stakeholders at once. Prioritization becomes key.”
It’s a different story for our technical program manager M K Balaji. By day, MKB spearheads our growth scaling program, moving a 100+ team into Agile. By night, he’s a talented playback singer who performs at about twenty shows a year.
MKB’s biggest productivity challenge lay in time management. “I’d want to do some one thing for each dimension of my life everyday. This sounded good on paper, but in practise, it made me feel exhausted, or else discouraged because I didn’t get to everything on my list. 24 hours just wasn’t enough for everything I wanted to do.”
He began to solve this problem by starting to think of time frames in weeks instead of days. Using the Wunderlist app, MKB puts down everything he wants to get done by the end of the week, with deadlines on items wherever possible. He looks at this list every other day and speeds through his items, adjusting for time as he goes. While time management is a priority for MKB, work is done very organically and without too much planning. “Wasting time sometimes is okay, I think it only helps you value your time even more. You need the occasional cheat meal with everything.” Because he’s pretty absent-minded, he doesn’t hesitate to take help from the people around him or use tools for the same.
At the end of the week, he reflects on how he’s spent his time. If he sees anything that needs changing, he keeps it in mind for the next week. “I think time management is more about feeling good about how you’re spending your time overall, rather than what you’re actually doing with every hour of the day.”
Reflecting on time spent also helps MKB proactively weed out those unimportant items that somehow always find their way onto to-do lists. “I remove or add items with the view to further each major dimension of my life, and check for a healthy spread of activities between all my goals.”
MKB talks about how a major component in managing time efficiently lies in managing deterrents to the same. For example, the average middle or upper management worker spends about 35-50% of their time in meetings, an important engine for productivity which nevertheless needs regulation to stay effective. “I’m particular about keeping proper time and cut-offs for meetings so they don’t spill over. I also ensure that agendas are intimated to attendees upfront, complete with time estimated for each item.”
He recognizes the role of stress as an impediment to productivity, and suggests having a system for action as a way to cope with it, “When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I use Eisenhower’s urgent-important matrix to prioritize, knock off the items in the first quadrant, and so on, until the situation normalizes again.” He also invests in activities that help him sustain his energy throughout the work week. “I start my day with the task that most interests me to set the right tone for the rest of my time at work. I make sure to spend time with my family and on my singing career and other interests because that makes me inspired and happy, so I have more to give at work too.”
The problem of productivity today is all about how we can optimize our increasingly fragmented lives for the best desired results. Productivity is quickly becoming a skill to be mastered, but with resources and inspiration from real people in similar situations, the challenge doesn’t need to become an overwhelming one.
What role do you perform in your organization and how do you manage to achieve your productive best? Leave us your comments in the section below! If you liked this post and want to see more, don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly blog newsletter.